Langford based Aboriginal elder Robert Isaacs says he is overwhelmed after being appointed a Member of the Order of Australia as part of the Queen’s Birthday Honours.
Dr Isaacs received the honour for his service to the indigenous community, social justice, education, health and housing.
He said it was hard to know what to say given the number of accolades he’s received over the years including being named West Australian of the Year, Aboriginal of the year and Freeman of the City of Gosnells.
He also received the Perth National Aboriginal Islander Day observance committee award last year and the Order of Australia medal in 2000.
“All I can say is that the community I have been working for had put their trust in me on matters that they have concerns about,” he said.
“The work I’ve been doing is in Aboriginal affairs and that seems to be in my blood as an Aboriginal man.”
Despite a difficult start to life as a member of the Stolen Generation, Dr Isaacs has spent decades at the forefront of Aboriginal education, employment and housing.
He has held a number of key positions including senior policy advisor to the housing and Aboriginal affairs ministers.
He has also chaired several boards including the Clontarf Aboriginal Education College board of management.
He established the college at the site of his old school to provide a better start for young Aboriginal people.
“I was taken from my mum at the age of six months and raised in institutions until I was 17,” he said.
“When I was told to leave Clontarf at the age of 17, all I had was a dirty little suitcase and I was told to go out and get a job but nobody had ever counselled or prepared me to be out there – to be confident or matching it with others.
“I was told not to come back so I kept a cool head, I never got myself in trouble but I thought I’m going back there some day.”
Since then there had been huge improvements in Aboriginal affairs but he hoped to inspire young people to keep working for more improvements.
“There’s a good news story that’s not promoted in the press and it’s that we have come a long way in health, education, employment and housing,” he said.
“But I’ve been saying for a long time that there’s a great opportunity for the youth to take up the torch.
“I say to the youth of the day, especially at Clontarf, there’s a great opportunity for you to be leaders of the nation, one of you could be the premier, the prime minister or whatever you want to be. If I can do it, you can do it.”
Dr Isaacs said the most important thing going forward in Aboriginal affairs was to listen and communicate effectively.
The Queens Birthday Honours list was announced on Monday.