Honouring our humanitarians

From left: George Newhouse, Gary Samowitz and Nicole Mekler. Photo: Jess Cohen.

SYDNEY’S George Newhouse and Nicole Mekler have been recognised for their outstanding humanitarian work, taking out Stand Up’s Ron Castan Humanitarian Award and Young Humanitarian Award respectively last month.

Recognising Jewish individuals who have attained excellence and renown in their chosen humanitarian fields, the awards honour the significant legacy of distinguished barrister and human rights advocate, the late Ron Castan, to the Australian public and the Indigenous community.

Newhouse is a well-known solicitor who utilises his legal skills to advance human rights and improve access to justice for vulnerable Australians.

“Ron Castan is a star in our legal constellation and to receive an award in his name is one of the highest honours a practitioner can attain,” Newhouse said. 

As an advocate for Aboriginal rights, Newhouse has contested government and corporate actions against Aboriginal communities, and has also appeared in many coronial inquests into Aboriginal and asylum-seeker deaths in custody. He is particularly drawn to projects that help stamp out racism against Aboriginal litigants and protect their rights.

Newhouse said growing up around Holocaust survivors has made him aware of the impact of racism and discrimination on others. “My heritage has driven me to help the most disadvantaged people in the nation, particularly our First Australians, people with disabilities and refugees. 

“I was reminded of the words ‘never again’ throughout my life and now, more than ever, it is vital for those of us who have a voice to empower those who are oppressed.”

Mekler, meanwhile, embodies her dedication to humanitarian causes, and the empowerment of Aboriginal young people in particular. She works at Just Reinvest NSW, an NGO that aims to address the over-representation of Aboriginal people in the criminal justice system through a justice reinvestment framework, and has also given hundreds of hours of her time as a volunteer working with Aboriginal young people.

“I love doing the work that I do as I’m constantly learning from the people around me and am amazed by their unwavering dedication to strengthening others,” Mekler said.

“I’m also lucky to work with young people who absolutely inspire me, through their resilience, compassion, determination and insight – well beyond their years. To be welcomed into their lives is a privilege.”

Stand Up CEO Gary Samowitz said through these awards the organisation aims to “recognise the efforts of outstanding Jewish Australians, like George and Nicole, who are continuing [Ron Castan’s] fight for human rights”.