In short:

The Royal Australian Mint is releasing a commemorative 50-cent coin designed by a 27-year-old Indigenous artist ahead of NAIDOC Week.

The committee says her design featuring the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander flags, native plants and emu track  “epitomises what NAIDOC is about”.

What’s next?

The annual NAIDOC awards ceremony will be held at the Adelaide Convention Centre on Saturday and broadcast on ABC TV at 7:30 local time.

A young Indigenous artist will have her work circulated in wallets around the country to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the National Aboriginal and Islanders Day Observance Committee.

Cortney Glass’s design featured on a new commemorative coin was unveiled in a ceremony at the Adelaide Town Hall on Thursday ahead of NAIDOC week.

The 27-year-old was the winner of NAIDOC’s design competition, which she thought she was applying for a graphic designer role at the time.

When it was revealed her work was chosen from 30 applicants, the Dagoman, Wardaman, Gurindji artist was shocked.

“I got a phone call, and I couldn’t believe it,” she said.

“I kept asking the committee, ‘Are you sure? Like are you 100 per cent?’ 

“They’re like, ‘Yeah, you’re the winner of the concept.'”

Commemorative coins marking the 50th anniversary of NAIDOC will be available for purchase from Friday.(ABC News: Daniel Litjens)

Her design features many aspects of Indigenous culture, prominently displaying the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander flags, native plants and traditional styling of kangaroo and emu tracks.

“It’s really special here today just to see it in the flesh, and to share it and celebrate it, not only with the committee but also with my family,” Ms Glass said.

Ms Glass, hailing from Katherine in the Northern Territory, travelled from Sydney to attend the event with her partner and family.

But she did not tell her family the reason for the trip.

“I just told them it was an art project, and they had a bit of a surprise and shock when they saw what I actually created, which is fun,” Ms Glass said.

NAIDOC’s co-chair Aunty Dr Lynette Riley, who had a role in selecting Ms Glass’s design, was impressed with her discretion.

“She kept it as a secret, even from her partner,” she said.

“I don’t know many people that could do that.”

Coin two years in the making

NAIDOC originally put out expressions of interest for the competition more than two years ago, in preparation for this significant anniversary.

“We did a call out to Aboriginal artists and said, ‘We’ve got a secret project, we can’t tell you what it is, but it’s around this,'” Dr Riley said.

“We had a look at the artwork, and Cortney’s was a stand-out.”

NAIDOC co-chairs Dr Lynette Riley and Steven Satour.(ABC News: Daniel Litjens )

Dr Riley said Ms Glass’s design “epitomises what NAIDOC is about” and recognises Australians going forward as a nation.

“[It means] we are leading the stories and focuses that we want led, and we’re leading it by saying ‘these are the critical issues for us’,” Dr Riley said.

“It sounds like a lot in one little 50 cent coin, but that’s the imagery behind the coin.”

From selecting the design to developing and pressing the coin took more than two years — a timeline which the Royal Australian Mint’s head of sales, marketing and innovation said is typical.

“Most coins take about two years from inception of the idea until the coin is actually developed,” Jennifer Sullivan said.

“Once the artistic design is created, then we have our specialists who make sure that design can be translated into a coin, and even when our coin designers design something, they need to consult with our engineers.”

“Most people don’t realise what a long process it is.”

Ms Sullivan said only three coin programs are commissioned each month, with specialty coins like this one featuring even less.

Preparations ahead of Adelaide hosting NAIDOC week

Thursday’s unveiling ceremony comes ahead of NAIDOC week celebrations, which will be hosted by the City of Adelaide this year.

The annual NAIDOC awards ceremony will be held at the Adelaide Convention Centre on Saturday, acknowledging the contributions, achievements and excellence of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

This year’s theme is “Keep the Fire Burning! Blak, Loud & Proud”.

Dr Riley said the week is a time to reflect on key issues facing Aboriginal people.

“We also want it to be a time of education, to learn about [our] peoples’ histories and cultures, and we want it to be a time to celebrate and recognise the cultures and histories of Aboriginal people,” she said.

Cortney Glass is glad to contribute to NAIDOC week celebrations.(ABC News: Daniel Litjens)

Dr Riley also said she has been welcomed warmly by the City of Adelaide.

“I have been so excited by the generosity, and by the encouragement and the engagement of people here in Adelaide in welcoming us,” she said.

Ms Glass will attend her first NAIDOC event on Saturday, and said it was an honour to contribute to this year’s celebrations.

“NAIDOC [is] a week of celebration, but also acknowledging our history,” she said.

“It’s amazing that [the coin] will be a part of history as well.”

The NAIDOC Awards 2024 will be broadcast on ABC TV at 7:30 local time.