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Spotlight on AJ Williams-Tchen: Social work’s highest honour

Published: 11 April 2022

Prominent Aboriginal social worker AJ Williams-Tchen finally had the chance to celebrate being the inaugural Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander Social Worker of the Year Award for his innovative social work practice, including educating communities on cultural awareness, trauma-informed approaches, all underpinned by his commitment to Reconciliation.

When the Award was given in November last year, it was during Melbourne’s extended lockdown during the Delta COVID-19 wave. The Award ceremony was held online as part of the 26th Asia-Pacific Regional Social Work Conference 2021 on 13 November 2021.

The Australian Association of Social Workers hosted a celebratory lunch for all winners on Friday, 8 April 2022, where AJ was congratulated in person as it is now safe to do so.

Mr Williams-Tchen said, “Winning this award means that I have been recognised by my peers for the work that I do in mental health, Reconciliation, mentoring and research. I want to be seen as a role model for other Indigenous social workers and I want to use my platform to highlight the issues that Aboriginal people face in terms of health, education and employment.

“For example, Australians need to know that our history is not as far back as it is often seen. The Stolen Generations were not hundreds of years ago, but only acknowledged and apologised for in the last 15 years. There is transgenerational trauma and it still affects people today because the gaps that it causes is in the present.

Mr Williams-Tchen said he wanted to shine a light on true history.

He said, “We need to listen to and bring together people’s lived experiences, understanding true histories and narratives in order to create harmony within families, communities and cultures. Every country has a rich history that involves an Indigenous narrative. We need to hear these narratives, spoken through an Indigenous lens and ensure we create futures where no one is left behind.”

AASW Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Board Director Professor Sue Green said, “We are proud to be able to present AJ with the prestigious award of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander Social Worker of the Year and to congratulate him in person last Friday.

“He is a most deserving winner as an advocate for the Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander community and for Indigenous social work. Congratulations AJ, on your initiative, innovation and self-appointed leadership.”

About AJ Williams-Tchen’s winning entry

AJ won the Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander Social Worker of the Year Award in large part due to his outstanding leadership shown throughout the pandemic, including the redevelopment of his business Girraway Ganyi Consultancy. In March 2020, Girraway Ganyi Consultancy was booked out in advance for 15 months, but as COVID hit his whole face-to-face business evaporated as clients removed all face-to-face workshops. This also meant laying off staff. However, AJ was able to move his entire business online delivering Mental Health First Aid courses, cultural awareness programs, and mentoring programs in new ways and formats. Girraway Ganyi Consultancy developed the YouTube channel that was awarded ‘Highly Commended’ in the 2021 Victorian Hart Awards show casing a number of short projects around ‘Elder stories’, and ‘Youth Fact Vaults’, as well as sucessfully facilitated the “Ngaying Wirimbirra’ (take care of mind) program that saw the trainining of 160 new Aboriginal community members in mental health first aiders . Even though this process took a number of months, AJ has been able to expand his business in terms of employing additional staff; he now has bookings until late 2022.

About AASW’s National Excellence Awards

In 2021, the AASW launched the inaugural National Excellence Awards, the social work profession’s most prestigious awards. Read about all the winners:


About AJ Williams-Tchen

AJ Williams-Tchen is an Aboriginal man of Wiradjuri / Wotjobulak background. He is an Accredited Mental Health Social Worker who works in private practice (Girraway Ganyi Ganyi Consultancy) delivering counselling services, mentoring programs (for workplaces + schools), mental health literacy programs and cultural awareness workshops. With 30 years of experience in health and community services, AJ continues to provide advocacy and social work practice in ways to increase the voices of those that have been historically silenced, and shares his experiences of issues of Stolen Generations, Aboriginal issues, trans-generational trauma and mental health in ways that allow social work colleagues and the profession, strategies and pathways alleviate disadvantage.

Professor Susan Green
Professor Susan Green is a Galari woman of the Wiradjuri nation and the Association’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Director. Sue holds the role of Professor in Indigenous Australian Studies and GCWLCH Co-ordinator at Charles Sturt University. Sue has had an extensive history spanning 20 years in Indigenous Higher Education across several roles such as student support and teaching. Her research interest includes Welfare History, Indigenising Social Work education and practice, Cultural Responsiveness and Cultural Support, Colonial History and Decolonisation. Her main interest is ensuring that Wiradjuri Language and Culture underpins all aspects of her personal and professional life. Susan is Chair of the Association’s Reconciliation Action Plan Working Group and a Member of the National Ethics Committee.

To interview AJ Williams-Tchen or Professor Susan Green, please contact Angela Yin on 03 9320 1005

AASW - Australian Association of Social Workers