NAIDOC Week 2024 program staff group

Keep the fire burning: Celebrating NAIDOC Week at the Kirby

A look back at this year's event at the Kirby Institute.

News | Published on 10 Jul 2024

In celebration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, culture and health research, the Kirby Institute hosted a special NAIDOC Week event on the traditional lands of the Bidjigal peoples at the Kirby Institute on Thursday 4 July.

NAIDOC Week aims to recognise and celebrate the history, culture and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. This year's theme, 'Keep the fire burning! Blak, loud and proud', celebrates the unyielding spirit of First Nations communities and invites all to stand in solidarity, amplifying the voices that have long been silenced (NAIDOC, 2024).

NAIDOC Week event 2024 panellists

The panellists spoke about their work and what NAIDOC Week means to them.

A look back at this year’s event

The NAIDOC Week celebrations started with a Welcome to Country from Aunty Lola Ryan, a Dharawal Elder, artist and community leader. Chair Robert Monaghan, Manager Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Research, then detailed some key achievements of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Program.

“A few years ago, we started this journey on how we rebuild the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander research unit here at the Kirby,” he said. “We come from humble beginnings of only one, and fast forward that to today and we have some amazing young people coming through, with a workforce totalling 12 and growing. It’s an amazing achievement.”

Rob Monaghan chairing NAIDOC Week 2024 event

Robert Monaghan chaired the event.

Robert is a descendant of the Bundjalung (on his Grandmother’s side) and Gumbaynggir (on his Grandfather’s side) Nations, and his family and extended family are from the North Coast NSW alongside the Clarence River at Baryulgil. He has worked within the Aboriginal community-controlled health sector with national, state and local governments for over 25 years.

Meet the panellists

At this year’s event, we were joined by a panel of four Kirby Institute staff members, who each discussed what the NAIDOC Week theme means to them personally.

Mel Fernando

Mel Fernando is a proud Wiradjuri/Kamilaroi/Yuwaalaraay/Euahlayi Woman from Dubbo in Western NSW. She has 18 years of extensive experience in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, public health and local health districts. Mel’s role at the Kirby involves integrating Indigenous methodologies, cultural governance, frameworks and principles of data sovereignty into all programs and projects she oversees, while continually advocating for these initiatives. She is also an Aboriginal artist and digital graphic designer. Her designs are influenced by history and the stories from her grandparents, parents, Elders, country, waterways and her deep-rooted passion and strong connection for and with community.

Heather McCormack

Dr Heather McCormack is a Wiradjuri woman and a Scientia Research Fellow who has come to the Kirby Institute following a 16-year career in communications, health promotion, and program management across the sexual health and blood-borne virus sector. Her career history includes roles within not-for-profit organisations, a frontline sexual health service, and most recently a five-year leadership role in the NSW Ministry of Health. Heather was recently awarded her PhD, making her the Kirby Institute’s first female First Nations PhD graduate.

Emily Phillips

Emily Phillips has a background in Medical Science and Public Health, holding a Bachelor of Medical Science (Honours) and currently completing the Master of Applied Epidemiology. Emily is the Program Manager at the Kirby Institute for the MRFF-funded Rapid Applied Research Translation (RART) project, which focuses on the scale up and sustainability of infectious disease point-of-care testing for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

Kyana Kayago

Kyana Kayago is the Senior Project Officer/Jurisdictional Coordinator for the First Nations Molecular Point of Care Testing Program. Kyana is a Wardaman/Wagadagam Women with a background in clinical social work practice in paediatric settings and social work education. Kyana comes to Kirby Institute with a Bachelor of Social Work (Honours) and is currently enrolled in a Masters of Development Studies at UNSW.


Indigenous map with gum leaves

Gum leaves on a map of Indigenous Australia represent the lands where staff from the Kirby Institute are from.

The event concluded with a lunch catered by Kallico Catering featuring Indigenous foods, including spicy kangaroo pastries, crocodile and lime damper canapes, and native-flavoured cupcakes. Assorted crafts were also available to enjoy, and all Kirby Institute staff were invited to share the lands they are from on a map of Indigenous Australia.

National NAIDOC Week celebrations are held across Australia in the first week of July each year (Sunday to Sunday). This year, it runs from 7–14 July.

Find out more about NAIDOC Week.


NAIDOC Week 2024 banner
Media Contact

Lucienne Bamford, Communications and Engagement Manager

+61 432 894 029

Header image credit

Some of the UNSW Kirby Institute’s First Nations staff at a NAIDOC celebration: (back row, l-r) Heather McCormack, Stacey Foster-Rampant, Glen Duncan, Hayden Crowley and (front row, l-r) Emma Pagett, Robert Monaghan, Kyana Kayago, Aunty Lola (Gujaga Foundation), Ashton Williams, Emily Phillips and Mel Fernando. Photography: Lucienne Bamford.