2021 Indigenous Alumni Award
Bachelor of Education 1992
Executive Director, NSW Aboriginal Safe Gambling Services
Ashley Gordon is a passionate believer that disadvantage in Aboriginal communities and the issues associated with it, including drug, alcohol and gambling addiction, can only be tackled through authentic engagement and collaboration with Aboriginal people. An Aboriginal Australian from the western-New South Wales community of Brewarrina and a descendent of the Gamilaroi and Ngemba people, Ashley has dedicated much of his life and career to not only addressing the fundamental gap in services available to Aboriginal communities but also to dismantling the stigma associated with seeking help.
Although he is well known as the first ever signing to the Newcastle Knights Rugby League Football Club, Ashley's reach into the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities stretches far beyond his contribution to rugby league.
"My main role is to focus on Aboriginal people and the disadvantages that they're currently experiencing. It's working with the people, those with addictions to drugs, alcohol, and gambling, and then also looking at the services side and the challenges service providers face working with, and engaging, communities,” said Ashley.
“Probably the biggest challenge for these services is that many aren't being visible or building enough connections in the community. It takes time to build trust and provide the service with empathy and in a way that is culturally appropriate.”
Integral to the success of any service infrastructure is removing the stigma associated with asking for help, said Ashley. “When you talk about help-seeking, there is a stigma associated with that. We need to break down those stigmas and those stereotypes when it comes to why people don't want to seek help.”
Among his many contributions are roles as Aboriginal Studies lecturer at the University of Newcastle, Indigenous gambling researcher with Southern Cross University, member of the National Ministerial Expert Advisory Group on Gambling, NSW Aboriginal Health and Medical Research Council of NSW and National Advisory Panel for Screening, Assessment and Treatment Guidelines in Problem Gambling.
Ashley’s dedication to giving back to his community is something that inspires his work and drives him to help enable more Aboriginal and Torre Strait Islander people to further their education and careers. In partnership with organisational psychology firm, OPRA Psychology Group, Ashley has played an integral part in increasing leadership and career development opportunities for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander executives.
“I did my Bachelor of Education at the University of Newcastle, and that helped me in so many ways, not just in terms of my knowledge, but my communication. People will open the door to me because of my qualifications, so my education really assisted me in continuing to grow and being recognised as an academic. I'm proud that I can hang that on my wall and show that I'm a qualified teacher.
“I think we need more leaders or more people of influence that can help us regarding engaging and supporting the community. The leadership that I'm talking about is a focus on people's identity, focusing on what their values are and ensuring that they can pass that on to other people. It's challenging others to influence and to lead.”
Ashley sits on the National Suicide Prevention Trial Evaluation Indigenous Committee and in 2021 he was invited to join the Newcastle Permanent Charitable Foundation as a Community Director. He also runs a learner driver program which provides Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people with access to vehicles and culturally appropriate support to assist disadvantaged people to obtain, retain and regain their driver’s license.
“I don't think you can identify as being an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person and not be accepted and engaged in communities, so it's very important that we take that seriously. In our culture it is about giving back. It is about recognising where you come from. So, I've got to remember that I have a role now in giving back to others who are disadvantaged. And if I neglect that, I'm not being true to myself.”
“At the end of the day, there is still a road to go. There are still things we could be doing better. It's not about giving us anything except respect and to just listen and learn. Let's grow together because Aboriginal people, we love this country as much as anybody. It's about time we worked together, not separately. We are all one and we can learn from each other.”
The University of Newcastle acknowledges the traditional custodians of the lands within our footprint areas: Awabakal, Darkinjung, Biripai, Worimi, Wonnarua, and Eora Nations. We also pay respect to the wisdom of our Elders past and present.