Time icon

Parliament House is currently

Nova Maree Peris OAM

View full image

Senator for the Northern Territory
Australian Labor Party, 2013 to 2016

Nova Peris (b. 1971) is a trailblazer for Indigenous Australians in sport and politics. She is the first Indigenous Australian to win an Olympic gold medal and the first female Indigenous federal parliamentarian.1

Born in Darwin, Northern Territory, Peris is a descendant of the Gija people of the East Kimberley, the Yawuru people of the West Kimberley and the Iwatja people of West Arnhem Land in the Muran Clan. Her grandmother was a member of the Stolen Generations. Peris was raised by her mother Joan Peris and stepfather Les Chapman.2 Exhibiting prodigious athletic ability from an early age, she made her senior international debut in field hockey in 1993. A key member of the Australian women’s hockey team, in 1996 in Atlanta Peris became the first Indigenous Australian to win an Olympic gold medal, and in 1997 she was named Young Australian of the Year and awarded the OAM. Retiring from hockey to pursue track events, Peris won two gold medals at the 1998 Commonwealth Games in Kuala Lumpur and was a member of the Australian athletics team at the 2000 Sydney Olympics. Peris remains the only Australian athlete to reach the finals of two different sports in consecutive Summer Olympics.3

Peris participated in the 1998 Constitutional Convention, advocating for an Australian head of state, a new Australian flag, and Indigenous recognition in the Australian Constitution.4 She became a National Treaty Facilitator for the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission and led initiatives to improve girls’ education, including the Nova Peris Girls’ Academy in Darwin. Selected by Prime Minister Julia Gillard to stand as the Labor Party’s lead Senate candidate for the NT in 2013, Peris’s victory saw her become the first Indigenous woman elected to federal Parliament, highlighting alcohol abuse, the effects of climate change, and reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. Peris retired prior to the 2016 election.

Peris continues to work to advance Indigenous health and well-being, education, mentoring and sport, and established the Nova Peris Foundation. She is an ambassador for the Australian Indigenous Education Foundation, patron of the Australian Indigenous Doctors’ Association and the Firesticks Alliance Indigenous Corporation, and sits on the board of the Indigenous arts and rehabilitation organisation The Torch. In July 2021, a bronze statue of Peris was unveiled at Melbourne’s Federation Square, a collaboration between artists Gillie and Marc and Jandamarra Cadd, who painted Peris’s HMC portrait. Two of Peris’s three children spoke at the unveiling in commemorating their mother’s achievements in sport, Indigenous health, education, and human rights.5

Jandamarra Cadd
Jandamarra Cadd (b.1973) is an Australian Indigenous artist of Yorta Yorta and Dja Dja Warung descent. His distinctive contemporary portraiture style is recognised for its expressiveness and use of traditional Indigenous painting techniques. Inspired by the language of painting from an early age, Cadd went on to graduate with a Bachelor of Arts from Deakin University. He credits his affinity with painting as an expressive tool for healing and for overcoming challenges in his early life. The winner of numerous major awards, including as a finalist in the Archibald Prize in 2014 with his portrait of Indigenous singer/songwriter, Archie Roach, Cadd also won the People’s Choice Award for the Black Swan Prize for Portraiture in 2015, and the Sunshine Coast Art Prize in 2016. In 2017, he was a semi-finalist in the Doug Moran Portraiture Prize and a finalist in the Clayton Utz Art Award, and in 2019 he became the first Indigenous artist to paint a portrait for the Historic Memorials Collection. A regular exhibitor in both group and solo exhibitions, Cadd’s work is held in numerous public and private collections throughout Australia.6

Nova Perris
by Jandamarra Cadd, Yorta Yorta, Dija dja Warung people
Oil on canvas
175  x 110 cm
Historic Memorials Collection, Parliament House Art Collection.

1. Information in this biography has been taken from the following: N Peris and I Heads, Nova: My Story: The Autobiography of Nova Peris, ABC Books, Sydney, 2003; N Peris, Nova: Finding My Voice, Wilkinson Publishing, Melbourne, 2018; N Peris, ‘First speech’, Senate, Debates, 13 November 2013, pp. 253–58; C Sheridan, ‘Nova Peris’, National Museum of Australia, 30 April 2019; K O’Brien, ‘Lunch with Nova Peris’, The Canberra Times, 16 February 2019, p. 6; National Australia Day Council, ‘Nova Peris OAM’, Australian of the Year Awards; ‘Peris, Nova (b. 1971)’, Indigenous Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University; N Bonyhady, ‘Former senator Nova Peris felt ‘compromised’ in Canberra’, The Sydney Morning Herald, 3 March 2020. Websites accessed 29 July 2021.
2. Peris and Heads, op. cit., p. 25.
3. Peris, Nova: Finding My Voice, op. cit., p. 239.
4. Peris and Heads, op. cit., p. 162.
5. K O’Brien, ‘Nova Peris honoured in bronze in Melbourne’s centre’, The Age, 15 July 2021, accessed 29 July 2021.
6. Information in this biography has been taken from the following: C Wilder, ‘Jandamarra Cadd – master artist – bridging the divide’; ‘Jandamarra Cadd: the artist’, artist’s website; L Whitburn, ‘Artist Jandamarra Cadd is creating life from early pain’, Sunshine Coast Daily, 25 March 2018; ‘Jandamarra Cadd’, Indigenous Law School, University of NSW. Websites accessed 29 July 2021.

Connect with us


We acknowledge the traditional owners and custodians of country throughout Australia and acknowledge their continuing connection to land, waters and community. We pay our respects to the people, the cultures and the elders past, present and emerging.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are advised that this website may contain images and voices of deceased people.