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Ricci Marks Award nominations

The Ricci Marks Award offers $5,000 for two Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 16-25 years. A special commendation award is offered to a third recipient for a bursary of $1,500.

Ricci Marks Award

$1,500 - $5,000
Nominations are now closed.

The Ricci Marks Award encourages and supports young Aboriginal leaders to pursue their aspirations. In 2022, two young people will each receive a $5,000 bursary and a third young person will be recognised with a $1,500 Rising Star Award.


  • This award is available to Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander people, who:

    • are aged between 16-25
    • are currently undertaking training, education, arts, sports, culture and community leadership
    • have lived in Victoria since 1 January 2020
  • Submissions for this award are now closed.

    Nominations must include:

    • a statement from the nominator outlining why the young person is being nominated
    • the details of a community member as a referee to support the nomination
    • a statement from the nominee supporting their nomination
    • a high resolution photo of the nominee along with a completed and signed photo consent form:
  • First Peoples - State Relations invites all Aboriginal organisations, individuals, community groups, schools, employers and others to nominate young people for the Award.

    An internal shortlisting panel will assess the nominations and choose the shortlist.

    Shortlisted nominees will be invited to attend a selection interview before an external selection panel made up of community members.

    All nominees and their guests will be invited to attend an Award Presentation Ceremony, where the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs will announce the winners.

  • The Ricci Marks Award originated in 1997 as the Aboriginal Young Achievers Award.

    The award recognises individual achievements and aspirations of young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 16-25 years, in training, education, arts, sport, culture and community leadership.

    About Ricci Marks

    In 2004 the Award was named in memory of Ricci Marks, a recipient of the Aboriginal Young Achievers Award in 2000, who tragically died in a car accident. Ricci Marks was a proud Wotjobaluk man from Halls Gap. He worked as a cultural officer for the Brambuk Aboriginal Cultural Centre. He was also highly regarded as a footballer, playing with the Heywood Football Club.

  • 2020 award winners

    Jess Bennett - Ricci Marks Award winner

    Jess - Ricci Marks Award winner 2020

    Jessica is a proud Ngunnawal woman, who grew up on the river on Wiradjuri country. Currently living on the beautiful lands of the Wurundjeri people, Jessica is proud of her culture and grateful for her Grandpa and Mother for teaching her how to connect to country, a practice that continues to keep Jessica grounded.

    A Monash University (MU) student, Jessica is completing a Bachelor of Laws (Honours) and a Bachelor of Arts majoring in Human Rights and Indigenous Cultures and History. During her time at MU, Jessica represented the Law Faculty at the United Nations University Scholars Leadership Symposium in Bangkok in 2018. At this symposium, Jessica delivered a speech to over 1,000 scholars from all over the world about the resilience of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in Australia and the importance of recognising the rights set out in the United Nation Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

    When not studying, Jessica works as a Programs Coordinator at the Korin Gamadji Institute (KGI). Her role involves designing and facilitating programs for young Indigenous people to affirm their cultural identity and strengthen their leadership skills. Jessica also works part-time as the Indigenous Office Bearer for the Monash Student Association; a major function of this role is to advocate for Indigenous students to the University leadership. This role means working with the William Cooper Institute to increase the engagement levels of Indigenous students. Jessica also serves as the Victorian Director of the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Women’s Alliance, and volunteers as a Culture Squad Ambassador for Culture is Life.

    Jessica attributes strengthening her own cultural identity to the likes of Belinda Duarte and Uncle Luke Murray, her Grandpa and community elders who taught her about goal setting and execution. Jessica hopes to be able to make the journey safer and easier for those who come behind her to build unity and to fight for the right to continue to carry and celebrate culture. One of Jessica’s proudest achievement is that her work, especially through her role at the KGI, empowers young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to connect to culture and become confident leaders in their communities.

    Jessica aspires to become a barrister and promote therapeutic jurisprudence, specifically for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the legal system. Jessica’s dream is for government to genuinely and authentically recognise and collectively work towards Aboriginal self-determination, so that culture is preserved and celebrated for many generations to come.

    Jaya Blandthorn - Ricci Marks Award winner

    Jaya - Ricci Marks Award 2020 winner

    Jaya is a proud Wemba Wemba woman from Swan Hill with direct connections to Yorta Yorta, Barapa Barapa and Taungurung countries. Jaya has competed in numerous sports from an early age, representing the Victorian Stars Netball team before progressing to national representation on the Australian Aboriginal Budgies Netball Team over several years. Across her sporting career Jaya has received four times 'Best and Fairest,' 'Best Defensive Player' and 'Team of the Year.' Jaya has captained many teams, always striving to leverage her sporting ability and her connection to community to provide mentorship and pass on knowledge and leadership skills to younger Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal youth of Swan Hill. Her community involvement is centred on acceptance, connection and reciprocity to community.

    Jaya’s talents have been recognised through many awards. In 2017, Jaya’s final year of secondary school, Jaya was awarded the Rotary Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Tertiary Scholarship from the Rotary club of Balwyn. The scholarship enabled Jaya to move away from home, 4.5 hours away to Melbourne, to pursue her education goals at Monash University (MU). Since commencing study at MU, Jaya has been actively connected to her Aboriginal peers and student community. In 2018, Jaya was the first female to be awarded the inaugural William Cooper Indigenous Scholarship recognising her leadership and ability to inspire others. She was selected for the Indigenous Leadership Program and employed by the Indigenous Engagement Unit as a student ambassador. This role included mentoring first year Indigenous students and working with a team to deliver the “Experience Monash Indigenous Winter Camp” for prospective Indigenous students in Years 10-12.

    Currently undertaking a Bachelor of Nursing full-time, with aspirations of completing a Midwifery degree, Jaya’s dream is to work with rural and remote Aboriginal communities to provide mobs with high-level healthcare, administered in a culturally appropriate way. Jaya aspires to do what she can to close the gap in health and education outcomes.

    Tyson Neal - Rising Star Award winner

    Tyson - Ricci Marks Award winner 2020

    Tyson is a young Gunditjmara Arrernte man with a passion for impacting community. He is an active member of community who learns and performs cultural dance. Tyson, although young, is a strong advocate for mental health and suicide prevention. Tyson thrives off sport and considers it an effective tool for managing mental health. Whilst quiet, Tyson is a leader having captained his football team for 3 years in a row, played for AFL Victoria’s Laguntus team for the last 2 years, and participated in several AIME programs.

    Tyson feels his biggest achievement, and the one he holds closest to his heart, is delivering a speech to all his peers at St Joseph’s Geelong. The speech was about young men speaking up and asking each other, 'Are you ok?' In a time of grief Tyson identified that the practice of asking the question 'are you okay' was not occurring. Tyson positioned himself to deliver a powerful speech about mental health and suicide prevention to his school community. This had a strong impact on his school community from the Principal right through to the students and even the Alumni.

    Tyson went on to lead the establishment of a Mental Health Action Group with the assistance of Headspace Melbourne, a not-for-profit for youth mental health. Tyson aspires to continue his pursuits and passions by studying Sport Physiology or something similar.

    Ricci Marks Award winners 2019

    Ricci Marks Award recipients Ashley Paxton, Staycee Charles, Bianca Lauricella and Courtney Ugle

    Ashley Paxton – Ricci Marks Award recipient

    Ashley is a proud Waywurru woman born and raised on Boon Wurrung country. She studied a Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Business at Monash University, before going on to complete her Master of Psychology at the University of Melbourne. Ashley is currently the youngest registered Aboriginal psychologist in Victoria.

    Ashley has volunteered as a mentor with the Australian Indigenous Mentoring Experience (AIME) and the Kingston Koorie Mob. Currently working as a psychologist with the Victorian Aboriginal Health Service, Ashley is passionate about promoting healing for her people, and rewriting mainstream ‘whitewashed’ approaches to psychology.

    In support of her nomination, Ashley shared the following piece of prose: "Psychology. I read your content. But I am not reading your content at a superficial level. Nor am I reading your content to pass through your system of education… I am reading in attempt to understand your system of thinking. To try and understand how you have been able to justify practices that have oppressed, dispossessed and dehumanised my people… Yes I study. But I am not studying because I want to be a part of your system. I am studying because I want to change your system".

    Staycee Charles - Ricci Marks Award recipient

    Staycee is a proud Gunditjmara woman who has accomplished much at the young age of 22. She was awarded a Wannik Education Scholarship in her final years of VCE for demonstrating high potential to succeed. Staycee studied a Bachelor of Science in psychology in Canberra and in 2017 became the ACT State Coordinator for Seed Indigenous Climate Network.

    She is currently the regional coordinator for Seed in Hamilton, Victoria, working to mobilise a movement of young Aboriginal people in support of climate justice. Staycee admires the resilience of her Gunditjmara mob who have fought to keep their culture alive. She aspires to become a member of the First Peoples’ Assembly of Victoria where she can continue to give voice to the values and interests of her community.

    Bianca Lauricella – Rising Star Award recipient

    Bianca is a proud 18 year old Wotjobaluk woman. This year she was elected to the role of school captain at the Horsham Special Development School for her outstanding contributions to her local community. She is a talented netballer, having represented the State of Victoria on multiple occasions. She is an active member of her local Goolum Goolum Cooperative, participating annually in their Wimmera River Challenge.

    Bianca aspires to one day play for the Australian All Abilities Netball team. She also hopes to one day join the Victorian Police, as she is passionate about increasing Aboriginal representation in law enforcement. In support of Bianca’s nomination her Nana Hazel expressed that “not many people with intellectual disabilities get nominated for these Awards or think that they are good enough. Bianca is one of the future leaders for her people and has grown into a deadly Koorie woman.”

    Courtney Ugle – Rising Star Award recipient

    Courtney is a proud Noongar woman originally from Bunbury in Western Australia. She moved to Melbourne to pursue her football career and in 2018 was named captain of the Essendon Victorian Football League Women’s team. In Melbourne, she has worked with Djirra to coordinate the Young Luv program; an early intervention and prevention program which promotes healthy relationships to Aboriginal youth.

    Currently, she is the Female Football Development Coordinator at Essendon Football Club, working to increase female participation in football across the state. Her ambition is to play AFL at the highest level. At 23 years of age she has endured some enormous hardships; having lost her father to suicide at the age of 12 and her mother to domestic violence in 2016. Courtney does not want these struggles to define her. She seeks to be an encouraging force for young Aboriginal women around Australia and is motivated by her past to pursue her dreams and continue to positively influence her community.

    Ricci Marks Award winners 2018

    Rising Star recipient Mikayla George, Ricci Marks recipient Jedda Costa, Aunty Annita Marks and Ricci Marks recipient Amber Barker-Lovett

    Amber Barker-Lovett – Ricci Marks Award recipient

    Amber Barker-Lovett is a strong and proud Gunditjmara and Wemba Wemba young woman who is committed to making a difference in her community. Amber is actively involved in Koori youth programs in Ballarat and has been a mentor for the Ballarat to Sydney Koorie Youth Leadership Trip, the Dungulayin Mileka Team in the Massive Murray Paddle, AIME as well as the Koorie Academy of Success.

    Amber is passionate about keeping Aboriginal culture alive in the Victorian community, reviving an Aboriginal women and girls dance group called the Namarilly Bagarooks (‘Dancing Daughters’) in 2014. In 2015, Amber was named Ballarat’s Miss NAIDOC and also received a City of Ballarat Youth Award. This year Amber was nominated to be the youth representative for the Ballarat City Council’s Koorie Engagement Action Group. As a member of this group, Amber ensures that the voices of Koori young people in the community are heard and taken seriously by the council.

    Amber’s current role as a Koorie Youth Engagement Officer at Ballarat and District Aboriginal Co-Operative has enabled her to mentor and advocate for Koori young people. She recently coordinated and delivered a campaign focused on the issue of the drug ice and its impact on the community.

    In the future, Amber aspires to work with disadvantaged Aboriginal young people, particularly in the justice system. She has a vision to see young peoples’ rights valued and their voices heard.

    Jedda Costa - Ricci Marks Award recipient

    Jedda is a proud Wemba Wemba, Yorta Yorta and Mutti Mutti woman, born and raised on Wurundjeri land. Jedda is in her final year of a journalism degree at RMIT and is passionate about fair and balanced media, especially regarding the reportage of Indigenous affairs.

    Throughout her studies Jedda has attained a number of amazing internships including SBS-NITV and ABC. These internships offered Jedda hands on journalistic experience where she was able to showcase stories from different Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. It is her dream to travel around the world to share stories about her culture: the oldest continuing culture on the planet.

    In addition to her tertiary studies, Jedda was elected as the first ever Indigenous officer at the RMIT student union where she helps to voice the needs and concerns of Indigenous students to the wider university.

    Jedda was also a communications officer at Culture is Life, a not-for-profit organisation that supports and promotes Indigenous-led solutions to strengthening culture in order to prevent youth suicide. During her time at Culture is Life, Jedda became a co-founder of the Culture Squad, a collective of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who give voice to the views and cultural expression of our young people by producing strength-based content for their social media channels.

    Jedda acknowledges the beautiful and strong Matriarchs who have come before her and continue to guide her on her journey.

    Mikayla George – Rising Star Award

    Mikayla George is an elite athlete determined to represent Australia internationally. Mikayla has a full scholarship in the Australian Aerial Skiing program at the Victorian Institute of Sport. She is one of the first Aboriginal aerial skiers in the program and is on a journey to compete at the next Winter Olympics in 2022.

    Mikayla is a great role model for her community, demonstrating what can be achieved through commitment and determination. She is the 2016 Australian and Victorian Tumbling Champion and the 2017 Australian and Victoria Double Mini Trampolining Champion. In 2017, Mikayla was named Victorian NAIDOC Sports Person of the Year.

    In addition to her dedication to sport, Mikayla maintains and grows strong connections to her community. Mikayla is a member of the Djirri Djirri Wurundjeri Dance Group and is actively involved in community programs with the Koori Youth Group, Koori Holiday program, and Aboriginal Gathering Place in Doveton.

    Mikayla is currently in her first year of a Bachelor of Applied Science (Exercise and Sport Science) at RMIT, and already aspires to complete a Masters in Physiotherapy.

    Past Ricci Marks Award recipients


    Tahlia Biggs
    Zoey Marks
    Natasha Reid (Rising Star)


    Dylan Clarke
    Taneisha Webster
    Elise Muller (Rising Star)


    Keyanna Hood
    Shannon Ryan
    Cameron Balcome (Rising Star)


    Lucy-Rose Doolan
    William Austin
    Ngaree Blow (Encouragement Award)


    Bronwyn Mongta
    Nayuka Gorrie
    Mason Peter (Encouragement Award)


    Benson Saulo
    Vehonda (Bonnie) Smith
    Edward Bryant (Encouragement Award)


    Greg Kennedy
    Samantha Walker
    Tamika Hayes (Encouragement Award)


    Lowell Hunter
    Clarisse Slater
    Sarai Atkinson (Encouragement Award)


    Sherylee Welsh
    Allan Miller
    Zack Green (Encouragement Award)


    Leigh Saunders
    Troy Walker
    Kasey Edwards (Encouragement Award)


    Dorothy Bamblett
    Jamie McConnachie


    Allan Murray
    Isaac Haddoc


    Joleen Ryan
    Nayuka Hood


    Dixon Patten


    Tracey Rigney
    Alister Thorpe


    Jirra Lulla Harvey
    John McGuiness


    Peter Shane Rotumah
    Eileen Harrison


    Ricci Marks
    Kwaii Sinclair


    Jody Ryan


    Nicole Cassar
    Jeremy Clark


    Yolanda Walker

Reviewed 05 September 2022