Barrier breaker's limelight

DIANNE Ball has a simple way to explain the work she does.

"It's about breaking down barriers," Ms Ball said.

The Wahroonga Aboriginal Corporation co-founder has been named an Order of Australia (OAM) in Sunday's honours for her work, which also includes working as a board member of the Raymond Terrace Health One Family Practice and as deputy chair of Awabakal.

For me Australia Day is a day of survival, to celebrate that our community is still there with the broader community.

"I was quite surprised," she said. "I've always been the person beyond, in the background being a shadow."

"My ancestors, my aunties, my nan ... they inspired me."

Despite her preference to avoid the spotlight, Ms Ball's work has conspired to make her prominent.

She has been recognised as a finalist in Lifeline's Steel Magnolias awards, and in 2018 she received both a certificate of commendation from NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian and a pride of workmanship award from Raymond Terrace's Rotary Club.

She is also a founding member of the Raymond Terrace Driver Training Program.

Originally from Armidale, Ms Ball moved to the Port Stephens township in the 1990s after a stint working for the NSW State Land Council in Sydney. She said the town's services, particularly for indigenous residents, have come a long way since.

"My sister and I walked the streets and set up an organisation, Wahroonga Aboriginal Corporation," she said.

The body guides clients through programs including emergency relief, family support, housing, employment and medical services with support from Port Stephens Council.

"I go in and I be that voice to help our people to access services that are already existing," she said. "I don't get paid for it, I don't get funding for it, but if I can make a difference to a woman's life or a family's lives, that's my reward.

"If a person who is non-indigenous comes looking for help, I won't turn my back on them. I'll try and find them some help and point them in the right direction."

Ms Ball said she had no ambivalence about receiving her recognition on January 26 despite the date's links to white settlement of Australia.

"For me Australia Day is a day of survival, to celebrate that our community is still there with the broader community," she said.

"Other people have got their own opinions, but at the end of the day we are celebrating our culture."

This story Barrier breaker's limelight first appeared on Newcastle Herald.