Nearly two decades after rebuilding her life and career in Australia as a migrant, Albany’s Asha Bhat has been awarded the Order of Australia Medal for her service to WA’s Indigenous community in this year’s Queen’s Birthday Honours.
Ms Bhat has led Southern Aboriginal Corporation as chief executive since 2013, providing family and domestic violence legal services, housing and homelessness support, employment opportunities, suicide prevention and health promotion for the Noongar community.
Outside of her day job, she is a passionate community volunteer and has spread her time across a variety of community initiatives and committees including the Albany Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and Albany and Regional Volunteer Service.
Ms Bhat is presently the chair of the Albany Family and Domestic Violence Action Group and the WA volunteer team leader for national women’s charity Share the Dignity.
She was named City of Albany Citizen of the Year in 2017 and given the judge’s choice Collaborator Award in the Pro Bono Australia 2022 Impact 25 Awards in March.
Ms Bhat said she was surprised and humbled to receive the OAM after a nomination from Denmark’s Dr Gillian Sellar.
“Personally, I feel very proud to be able to set an example for other women migrants like myself who came to Australia with very little and for other disadvantaged groups to show that through hard work and strong commitment, they too can be successful,” she said.
“I must acknowledge that this is not just my award, I would like to dedicate this award to SAC staff, the board and the Noongar community that I support. I am very proud of what we have collectively achieved together”.
Ms Bhat migrated from India to Australia in 2004 with her husband and son before making Albany home in 2008.
She said her experience as a migrant had driven her to be a vocal advocate for diversity and marginalised communities.
“I am an advocate because I know what it is like to be on the receiving side of the spectrum and how much the support meant to me, and I would love to do that and help even one person,” she said.
Ms Bhat said her background had helped her connect with Aboriginal people and their culture, leading to a 14-year career in Indigenous affairs.
“As a migrant Indian woman who grew up in India and witnessed much social disadvantage, I have always been passionate about contributing to a fairer world and SAC has allowed me to do this,” she said.
“Migrant women have an unique set of challenges when moving to another country with a different language and different culture.
“I have experienced discrimination at the higher levels of the employment and found it extremely challenging to break the glass ceiling.
“Prejudices against migrants from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds are the most critical of those barriers.
“Aboriginal people experience racial discrimination all the time and I am committed to advocating and supporting Aboriginal people to improve their safety and wellbeing.”
Ms Bhat said her proudest professional achievement had been leading the expansion of SAC’s family violence prevention legal service to the South West, Wheatbelt and soon Perth.
In March, SAC and Aboriginal Family Legal Services won a State Government tender to provide legal services in Perth to Indigenous people who have experienced family violence or sexual assault.