Please note: Some of the content on this page was published prior to the launch of Creative Australia and references the Australia Council. Read more.
Media Releases

Announcing the recipients of the 2023 First Nations Arts and Culture Awards

Musician, activist and Kamilaroi elder Uncle Bob Weatherall and award-winning artist and Wardandi elder Aunty Sandra Hill are among the recipients of the 2023 First Nations Arts and Culture Awards.

The two eminent artists were awarded the prestigious Red Ochre Award for outstanding lifetime achievement in the arts and their contribution to the recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander arts culture and community, both nationally and internationally, during a special event broadcast by National Indigenous Television (NITV).

The First Nations Arts and Culture Awards are held each year on May 27, marking the anniversary of the 1967 referendum and the start of National Reconciliation Week.

This year also marks the 50 years of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Arts Board of the Australia Council founded in 1973, along with the first Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Arts seminar on Aboriginal Art in Australia held the same year.

Australia Council Executive Director First Nations Arts and Culture Franchesca Cubillo said:

“The First Nations Arts and Culture Awards recognise and celebrate the outstanding work and achievements of First Nations artists, who contribute their unique and diverse talents across a range of artforms from music and visual arts to theatre, literature and beyond. We can all learn from their rich cultural insights and storytelling as we mark the 50th anniversary of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Arts Board of the Australia Council.”

Two inspirational young First Nations artists were awarded the Dreaming Award, established to support the creation of a major body of work through mentoring and partnerships.

The recipients of the Dreaming Award are:

  • Phoebe Grainer, a Kuku Djungan, Muluridji, Wakaman, Tagalaka, Kunjen, Warrgamay and Yindinji woman from Far North Queensland, to help develop her play, “Pearl Ada Elsie”, in partnership with Sweatshop and Darlinghurst Theatre Company; and
  • Naarah Barnes, a proud Aboriginal woman from the Gija mob in Western Australia for the development of her musical theatre project “Broadway but Blak” – a cabaret concert that takes the audience through a journey of musical theatre from a First Nations’ perspective.

The First Nations Emerging Career Development Award, open to Australian First Nations artists aged 18-30 to pursue their professional development, was presented to two recipients:

  • First Nations and Zimbabwean singer-songwriter Dean Brady, to help with the costs of songwriting collaborations with some of Australia’s top songwriters; and
  • Proud Kamilaroi producer and playwright, Emily Wells, to help with her development as a playwright and producer through cultural exchange with leading Maori creatives.

Yalanji singer-songwriter Deline Briscoe is the recipient of the First Nations Arts and Culture Fellowship.

Red Ochre Awards for Outstanding Lifetime Achievement

  • Uncle Bob Weatherall
  • Aunty Sandra Hill

Dreaming Awards

  • Phoebe Grainer
  • Naarah Barnes

First Nations Emerging Career Development Awards

  • Dean Brady
  • Emily Wells

First Nations Arts and Culture Fellowship

  • Deline Briscoe

The awards also recognise three further exceptional artists who have received Australia Council Fellowships: Merindi Schrieber (Australia Council fellowship for Community arts and cultural development), Leah Purcell AM (Australia Council fellowship for Literature), Dr Peta Clancy (Australia Council fellowship for Visual Arts).

The Australia Council and National Indigenous Television (NITV) are proud to partner on the broadcast of The First Nations Arts and Culture Awards 2023, which aired on NITV on Saturday 27 May at 7.30pm and will be available on SBS On Demand and the Australia Council’s YouTube channel.

Media enquiries:
Matt Fisher, Director Communications
Australia Council for the Arts
Phone: (02) 9217 9317


Uncle Bob Weatherall – Red Ochre Award for Outstanding Lifetime Achievement

Uncle Bob Weatherall’s outstanding lifetime commitment, contribution and achievement spans more than 60 years. He is a pioneer whose impact has created significant generational change in the cultural rights of First Nations Peoples at a national and international level.

Uncle Bob is a Kamilaroi and Ngemba man, born and raised on the Balonne River in Southwest Queensland. His life’s endeavour is driven by the reclamation and transmission of knowledge for future generations. He is a senior creative and cultural knowledge holder, executive, and a respected social justice activist who traverses art, culture, heritage, language, country and lore. He is a writer, musician, performer and cultural mentor.

Uncle Bob’s father was a drover, shearer, and ring barker, and he and his brothers worked in the shearing sheds before moving to the nearest big town of Toowoomba in the 1960s. He attended Darling Downs Institute in the 1970s, studying performing and visual arts, and worked briefly as an actor with Black Theatre in Redfern, alongside Bob Maza, Athol Compton, Betty Fisher and Jack Charles. Bob’s music career has encompassed folk, jazz, rock and now the significant artistic and cultural project “Restless Dream”.

From live performances in community and at festivals, his love of theatre and music has consistently informed Uncle Bob’s life as an activist and advocate, and he has embraced his role as a storyteller in any cultural, political or community engagement alongside mentoring the next generation.

Aunty Sandra Hill – Red Ochre Award for Outstanding Lifetime Achievement

Aunty Sandra Hill’s contributions to First Nations arts in Western Australia is unparalleled, and of regional, state and national historical significance. For nearly 40 years, she has mentored, influenced and trained emerging First Nations artists, worked in and supported First Nations community organisations, and inspired nationally important conversations in truth-telling, culture and contemporary arts practices.

Her arts practice saw her work featured in the finale of the National Indigenous Triennial and has seen her works acquired by several major galleries and collections in Australia and overseas. Her unique practice has involved working in three streams simultaneously over her career – cultural immersion, public arts, and fine art.

Her 52 public art works interpret significant cultural and historic sites throughout Noongar country are of immense historic value and have responded to, and expressed, the voice of the Elders and community through some of the most important periods in Western Australia. She has recently been recognised for her community contribution, taking up leadership roles on the Karri Kaarak Corporation, Southwest Land and Sea Council, Cultural Advice Committee (Native Title Prescribe Body Corporate) and the Undalup Association.

Phoebe Grainer – Dreaming Award

Phoebe Grainer is a Kuku Djungan, Muluridji, Wakaman, Tagalaka, Kunjen, Warrgamay and Yindinji woman from Far North Queensland, and a graduate of the National Institute of Dramatic Art (NIDA), completing a Bachelor of Fine Arts (Acting). Phoebe spent most of her childhood moving through the Northern Territory and Broome, WA. This experience shaped Phoebe’s world view, opening her up to different communities, cultures and ways of living.

Phoebe’s credits include co-editor and contributor for Blacklight; an anthology of writing by Indigenous creatives from Western Sydney and beyond, and Racism; a collection of short stories, poems and essays from the margins of Australia. Ms Grainer’s writing has appeared in The Lifted Brow, SBS Life, Red Room Poetry and Sweatshop Women Volume One and Two. Ms Grainer was a playwright in the DTC’s Next In Line program, ILBIJERRI’s BlackWrights program and in Griffin Theatre’s 2021 Studio. Ms Grainers play Sugar Cane was a finalist for Queensland Theatre’s Queensland Premier’s Drama Award 2022.

Naarah Barnes – Dreaming Award

Naarah Barnes is a proud Aboriginal woman from the Gija mob in Western Australia, living in lutruwita. She is a graduate of the University of Tasmania, where she won the 2019 OSSA prize, and she spends her days wrapped in the creative world, performing, writing, singing, acting, dancing and teaching.

Naarah’s work in the First Nations arts scene has led her to work on her passions, expanding into new art forms, including lead Aboriginal roles in national musicals, and composing for new First Nations TV shows.

Dean Brady – First Nations Emerging Career Development Award

Dean Brady is a 19-year-old First Nations and Zimbabwean singer-songwriter and performer based in Meanjin.

Descended from the Gugu Yalanji and Birrigubba people and the Matabele Zimbabwean people, Dean Brady was born into a musical household: his parents were both members of the legendary “outback Motown” group Banawurun, and he grew up hearing their band practise in the living room and listening to his mother singing old soul songs as she cooked dinner.

As a child, he would perform Michael Jackson songs for friends and family, obsessing over the pop icon’s moves and sound, and even at a young age was tracing a lineage of soul singers that, eventually, would all be woven into his own musical DNA: Stevie, Marvin, Frank Sinatra, Usher.

Emily Wells – First Nations Emerging Career Development Award

Emily Wells is a proud Kamilaroi producer and playwright working across theatre, contemporary dance and festivals. Emily is passionate about using performance to spark conversation and societal change, supporting artists to thrive in the creative process.

As a producer with BlakDance, Emily produced small to large scale presentations, gatherings and creative developments for First Nations choreographers across Australia. Alongside a fierce team, Emily collaborated with local and international artists and organisations, and led the world premiere of Karul Projects’ SILENCE: the first First Nations contemporary dance work to be commissioned by Brisbane Festival.

As a playwright, Emily was selected for Playlab’s year-long script development programs Alpha Processing in 2021 and the inaugural Sparks program in 2020, delivered in partnership with QPAC and Moogahlin Performing Arts. Thanks to this support, Playlab produced the premiere of Emily’s debut theatre work Face to Face at Metro Arts, Brisbane in 2022.

Emily graduated from the Aboriginal Centre for the Performing Arts and obtained a Bachelor of Entertainment Industries (Distinction) from QUT. Emily has worked closely with leading First Nations independents and companies such as ILBIJERRI Theatre Company, Karul Projects, Digi Youth Arts and Isaac Drandic, and has worked closely with and for La Boite Theatre Company, Queensland Theatre, Brisbane Festival, and Walt Disney World.

Deline Briscoe – First Nations Arts and Culture Fellowship

Deline Briscoe is a strong Yalanji woman of song (a singer-songwriter and producer) from the Daintree Region of Far North Queensland.

Deline’s Career spans over two decades with some of Australia’s most celebrated vocalists including Archie Roach, Lou Bennett, Paul Kelly, Shane Howard, Emma Donovan, Airileke, Andrea Keller, Iain Grandage and has toured the world with two vocally exquisite ensembles; Black Arm Band and Mission Songs Project.

Her roots are planted deep in Yalanji culture and Gospel vocals, and she combines the two worlds in her 2018 Album “Wawu”. The stunning solo album sees her collaborate with producer Airileke (Yothu Yindi), pianist Stephen Maxwell (Jimmy Cliff) and ARIA Award winning composer Andrea Keller, recording an exquisite piece of art in the track “Sonrise”. While the ethereal “Tree” (co-written with Bart Willoughby, based on a poem by Kevin Gilbert), is a Hymn to creation and nature. Reinventing the Tiddas track “Ignorance is Bliss” in a hip-hop, jazz infused version that moves your soul featuring their Harmonies.

The mood of “Wawu” is compassionate and redemptive. In both subject and style, the album’s acoustic hiphop/jazz/roots fusions draw parallels with Lauryn Hill’s groundbreaking The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill.

Deline’s live vocal delivery can change hearts, minds and even the weather. Interweaving Wulngkabadi (Yalanji traditional singing) with a jazz, hip-hop, soul infusion. Her extraordinary compositions are enriched by brilliant musicians, Airileke (drums) and Stephen Maxwell (keys/bass).

Media enquiries:
Matt Fisher, Director Communications
Australia Council for the Arts
Phone: (02) 9215 9137