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Ready, set go: Nova Peris happy to take the baton

Fifteen years ago, when Nova Peris first confided an interest in entering the national Parliament, the leading indigenous advocate Professor Lowitja O'Donoghue was decidedly unimpressed.

''I didn't take it that seriously because I didn't think she was anywhere near it at that point,'' O'Donoghue recalls. ''I thought, 'You've got to get your feet on the ground, girl'.''

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Peris running again... for the Senate

Julia Gillard has endorsed Olympic gold medalist Nova Peris to top Labor's Northern Territory Senate ticket, bypassing normal pre-selection processes.

Peris's confidence was understandable. Having been the first indigenous Australian to win Olympic gold, as a hockey player in 1996, she was about to achieve another first: switching to athletics before the Commonwealth Games and becoming the first Australian to win gold in different sports.

Peris, now 41 and a mother of three and grandmother of one, agrees with O'Donoghue's assessment. ''I wasn't ready then,'' she says. ''But I am now.

''To have the chance to be the first Aboriginal person for the Labor Party at the federal level, and the first female Aboriginal person in federal Parliament - it's huge. You're not just representing Australia as a whole but our people and their hopes and expectations as well.''

There have been times Peris has created controversy by speaking without thinking an issue through but she insists those days are behind her.


''I've entered into my 40s a lot wiser,'' she says. ''Quite often in Aboriginal affairs, you speak from the heart and not the head but I've learnt that, this time around, you've got to speak from the head first and then the heart.''

Aside from encouraging children to stay at school and pursue their dreams through her academy for girls in the Northern Territory, Peris has devoted herself to a host of other issues since retiring as an athlete, from relating her experience tackling depression to pressing the case for some form of treaty recognising the original Australians and their culture, traditions and languages.

Watching from the sidelines will be the woman Peris considers to be her role model, O'Donoghue, who happily supports her tilt at Parliament. ''If she's ready for it, why not?'' she says.

The big difference between pursuing sporting goals and political ambitions, she adds, is that you are more in control on the hockey field or the athletic track.

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