Outstanding Regional Leaders Recognised

Blacktown community basketball initiative, Savannah Pride, has taken out the prestigious 2018 Pemulwuy Prize, presented by the NSW Minister for Western Sydney, Stuart Ayres, in front of 300+ delegates at the Western Sydney Leadership Dialogue’s Out There Summit.

Named after the famed local Indigenous warrior, the Dialogue created The Pemulwuy Prize to honour a leading group that has made an outstanding contribution to the region.  The winner was selected from one of four finalists who were category winners in the Western Sydney Leadership Awards.  (Listed below.)

Mayor Chagai, a south-Sudanese refugee, founded Savannah Pride in 2006 as a way of bringing together South-Sudanese-Australian families through basketball programs in Blacktown.  It was established to build at-risk young people’s self-esteem, developing their life-skills and helping provide a platform for growth, through education and sport.

From its humble beginnings, Savannah Pride has grown to be an all-inclusive community organisation that attracts kids across the area, providing support and an outlet for them to channel their energy. In leading the program, Mayor has volunteered endless hours of his time, not just as coach and administrator, but as a mentor for hundreds of young people in Western Sydney - helping cement Savannah Pride as a place of opportunity. 

His hard work has provided a pathway for many young talented athletes, with Savannah Pride developing some of the world’s most promising basketball players, including a number of young stars currently on college scholarships in the United States, with their eyes firmly on the big stage of the NBA.

“The work that Mayor has done through Savannah Pride is truly inspiring and transcends sport. This is an initiative that has positively impacted the lives of hundreds of young people in the region, offering them the support, direction and discipline needed to be successful on and off the court,” Chairman of the Western Sydney Leadership Dialogue, Christopher Brown AM, said.

To become a finalist for the Pemulwuy Prize, Savannah Pride won the Western Sydney Leadership Award forCommunity Engagement”, beating a stacked field of Leadership Award winners.


Western Sydney Leadership Award for “Regional Advocacy” – Mark Geyer OAM

Known as one of the hard-men of rugby league, Mark Geyer made his name as a tough-as-nails front rower for the Penrith Panthers before going on to represent both NSW and Australia.  Raised in Mount Druitt housing commission home to teenage parents, he left Whalan High after Year 10 and struggled to find employment because of his ‘postcode’. 

After footy, the self-confessed “westie”, became known for his media and charity work, which includes ambassador roles with the Blue Datto young driver safety program, Save our Sons and the Children’s Hospital, Westmead.  He also takes an active role with young offenders.

 “Mark is a fearless champion for Western Sydney, and as a role model, he has helped re-shape the lives of hundreds of young men in the region through his continued advocacy and charitable work.” Chairman of the Western Sydney Leadership Dialogue, Christopher Brown AM, said.


Western Sydney Leadership Award for “Regional Partnerships” – South Western Sydney Local Health District, Ingham Institute, Western Sydney University

Ingham Institute, in partnership with Western Sydney University and Liverpool Hospital has conducted a world-first clinical trial of new experimental medicine to treat advanced prostate cancer.

The clinical trial is being led by Ingham Institute Associate Professor and Western Sydney University researcher Kieran Scott, who has discovered and developed a simple tablet called “c2”.

The trial, the result of years of successful research at the Ingham Institute, had its first patient enter earlier this year through Liverpool Hospital’s new Phase 1 Clinical Trials Unit, which opened in December 2017.

“Western Sydney has a proud history when it comes to health, research and education and through these types of partnerships, we’re delivering world-class outcomes that only enhance our reputation as a leader in medical innovation,” Chairman of the Western Sydney Leadership Dialogue, Christopher Brown said.


Western Sydney Leadership Award for “Excellence in Education” – Marija Yelavich, Western Sydney University (WSU) Law Student

A Western Sydney University law student, Marija (pronounced Maria), has enjoyed success as a publisher, mentor and community advocate.

In taking out the national, and prestigious, ‘Law Student of the Year’ in 2017, Marija was recognised as for her extensive community work as well as her role in enhancing the community’s understanding of the legal profession as the founder of the student club, Dare to Know Publications, which produces the student law magazine Sapere Aude and online animation Bitesize Law.

Marija was elected to join the University Student Council in 2014, and in 2016 worked as a ‘Respect.Now.Always’ ambassador to educate students about safe sex, healthy relationships and sexual assault. She is also a member of the NSW Young Lawyers International Law and Human Rights Committee, and the Environment and Planning Committee

Every week, Marija also volunteers at the Mount Druitt Ethnic Communities Agency – where she is a mentor for local high school students.

“Marija is more than just a law student, she is an activist, mentor, and leader, and the enthusiasm in which she has applied her skills and knowledge to improve the lives of others is worthy of special recognition.  Patriots like her are the future leadership cohort of this region.” Chairman of the Western Sydney Leadership Dialogue, Christopher Brown said.


The Western Sydney Leadership Dialogue is a community advocacy initiative designed to give voice to this dynamic region and boost its social and economic progress.   It is governed by a distinguished Board of Patrons, comprising: 

  • Hon. Nick Greiner  AC
  • Mr Cameron Clyne
  • Hon. Craig Knowles  AM
  • Dr Kerry Schott  AO
  • Professor Peter Shergold  AC