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zk woman: kirli saunders - nsw aboriginal woman of the year

kirli saunders is the 2020 nsw aboriginal woman of the year. she’s a proud gunai woman, an award-winning poet, and international children’s author. driven by social activism, self-expression and the need to dream.

kirli wears the emotive in black


if you weren’t an author and poet, what would we find you doing?

i’d be an artist like my pop! i’m lucky this year to be shaping a body of work for an exhibition with verb syndicate gallery, exploring identity, decolonisation and connection in returning, a visual poetry project that will see me take poems, gift them to the earth and capture the process with mixed media artworks. i’m really grateful to be supported by my local first nations communities and australia council for the arts to share this journey with everyone.


kirli wears the bid in pecan


what drives your work?

social activism, the need to self-express and the dreaming underpin my work. especially the dreaming - a spiritual grounding and guidance that has been shared with me by yuin and gundungurra elders and custodians along my journey. they identified me as a story teller and teacher quite young, and in all that i do, i hope to add to community by telling stories and supporting little ones on their paths. 


describe your personal style

outside of project management and writing, i love to ride motorbikes and surf, i love my boots, jeans, leather and a moto-tees, but you’ll also find my in a colourful boho dresses, with my berkies, woven earrings and a delicious hat. i was raised by the ultimate linen goddess, so i find myself drawn to natural fibres.


what's the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

i live life at a fast pace. as a kid, i was called hurricane kirl, my nickname is kirli whirli.

dad’s advice is a grounding and often sought antidote: ‘stop and smell the roses’.

i carry it with me everywhere i go.



zk woman: kirli saunders - nsw aboriginal woman of the year