Two Ballarat projects are finalists in Reconciliation Victoria's 2020 HART Awards.
The Koorie Engagement Action Group, supported by the City of Ballarat, were nominated for the January 26 dawn ceremony, the first event of its kind in regional Victoria in the local government category.
HART stands for Helping Achieve Reconciliation Together - now in its sixth year, the awards recognise projects and initiatives that help create lasting change.
The Lake Wendouree ceremony, which featured a smoking ceremony, speakers from across the community, and a powerful delivery of the dates of massacres, was attended by more than 1000 people.
A City of Ballarat media release noted the event "commemorated the Sovereign First People who fought and died in the frontier wars".
It also "brought the community together for an inclusive ceremony to promote understanding, respect and advance reconciliation in the Ballarat community."
Other members of KEAG include Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal representation from the Department of Justice, Department of Health and Human Services, Federation University, Victoria Police, the Ballarat and District Aboriginal Cooperative (BADAC), the Wathaurong Aboriginal Corporation, Centacare and Child and Family Services Ballarat.
KEAG committee member Sissy Austin said people in the Ballarat Indigenous community were still talking about the event months later.
"It's created a wave of ongoing conversation within the Ballarat community, which is awesome," she said.
"We're honoured to be nominated, but it puts our event on a platform and hopefully allows other people and communities to see what we put together, and others are inspired to do something similar."
She said the event had "kickstarted a journey" among non-Indigenous people in Ballarat as well.
"It's pain, and it's hurt, and it mirrored the feelings that people feel on days like Anzac Day," she said.
"When the community comes together and attends events like that, and shows the support is there, change comes from the ground up."
Another KEAG committee member, Nikki Foy, said the significance of the event had moved some people to tears.
"There was one fella talking about what it meant to him, and the challenges he would face growing up as a proud Aboriginal man," she explained.
"He really got quite emotional - he said "I should have known about the massacres, I should have been more aware, I knew they happened but not to the extent that they read it out" - and for our young fellas, it's not something we read in a book, it was real.
"It holds them to account, they need to be strong, because paving the way for advocacy for Aboriginal people starts and continues with them.
"It was a real sense of change, and that's a new part of history for Ballarat, and I hope it continues into the future."
City of Ballarat deputy mayor Belinda Coates said the first event was much bigger than expected.
"It had such a powerful impact on taking people's hearts and minds about the understanding of issues - that's at the core of what the HART awards are about, looking at issues around advancing reconciliation," she said.
"We have to be fully prepared to listen and have those difficult conversations, and create a safe space for that to happen."
City of Ballarat mayor Ben Taylor confirmed the event would be ongoing each year, with council's support.
"For Ballarat, running that dawn service was really important to do," he said.
"People have seen the success of that event, and it'll be ongoing each year, we want to continue to run it."
He cautioned next year's ceremony could look slightly different due to the pandemic but would occur "in some form".
Reconciliation Victoria's co-chair Michelle Isles said KEAG should know it beat out a strong field to become a finalist this year.
"The power of the HART awards is the nominations are able to get to the truth, and sometimes the injustice, of what's happening in our communities, but they do so in a way that's inclusive that open it up for the whole community to embrace," she said.
"I watched it online - I was part of the judging committee - and it was powerful to see the diversity of people able to attend.
"There has been contention about that date, and I think it was a clever and considered way to get the community to reflect on the significance of that date, and the history, and thinking about ways the community can embrace healing and celebrate the Aboriginal people that have been part of the history of Ballarat."
The Bakery Hill Kindergarten was also nominated in the new educational and early years category, for its Kunuwarra program.
Ms Isles said the use of Wathaurong language, particularly in a kindergarten setting, was crucial.
"There's something really powerful about language, and when the children start using it, it extends to the whole community, and then you see the history of a place and people in a different way," she said.
"I'm excited we've got an education category, there were a lot of entries, so it's great there's this Ballarat representative there - I imagine the judges would have seen the power of language and ability to bring connection to families and the community is bringing the change we want to see."
Bakery Hill Kindergarten was phoned for comment, but no response was received by deadline.
The winners will be announced online on June 5.
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