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A passion for Indigenous healthcare and a drive to overcome a tough upbringing are the motivations that inspire Victorian Young Australian of the Year for 2023.

Bendigo’s Darcy McGauley-Bartlett works as an Aboriginal community liaison officer for Victoria Police and has been instrumental in changing policy to ensure fewer Indigenous people enter the justice system — and that they don’t stay there if they do.

The 24-year-old Gunaikurnai man helped create the state’s first Aboriginal Youth Cautioning Program, to ensure all young Indigenous people are eligible for a caution when coming into contact with the justice system for the first time.

“I actually started as an Aboriginal health practitioner at Bendigo and District Corporation, which was an amazing opportunity to find my passion in health care,” he said.

“I then moved to Victoria Police to work with our most vulnerable young people and adults entering the justice system.

“It was a huge opportunity to help Bendigo and Echuca Aboriginal and young people ensure their first encounter with the justice system was their last.”

Mr McGauley-Bartlett received his award during a ceremony at Government House in Melbourne this week, along with recipients in three other categories.

‘I’ve seen the system failures’
Mr McGauley-Bartlett had a difficult start to life, growing up in a dysfunctional environment and struggling through his schooling and his teens.

“I actually grew up in a kinship place with my grandmother,” he said.

“A lot of my family members had been in and out of the system, whether it be child protection or the criminal justice system. I’ve seen the system failures”

It was an off-hand comment by a school teacher that prompted his drive to create change.

“I remember a teacher at high school saying to me ‘Darcy, you don’t write the rules,’ and that really stuck with me,” he said.

“I thought well I don’t write the rules but they don’t work for our people, so how about I be part of the change — and that’s what it’s been about for me, ensuring my community has a fair go.”

Mr McGauley-Bartlett said he was determined to keep Aboriginal health in Aboriginal hands.

“It’s going to be a journey, but I’m here to fight for that journey.”

The Victorian Australian of the Year recipients will progress in their respective categories as nominees for the national award.

National recipients will be announced on January 25, 2023 in Canberra.