Firm Foundations

For the past few years, I have had the wonderful opportunity to engage young people across Australia and the world at various conferences, workshops and events. I am often asked to share my story and what led me to the path that I have been so blessed to follow, but in doing so I never begin at my story because the path that I am on has been made strong by both my parents, their cultures and their faith. I have simply made decisions in my life that have always been informed by strong values and passions instilled in me from an early age.

My mother is Aboriginal. She was born in Bordertown, a very small town near the border of Victoria and South Australia. It is through her that my siblings and I are connected to the Wemba Wemba, Wergaia, Jardwadjali and Gunditmara Aboriginal nations of western Victoria. My mother grew up in a time of great division between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people. Until she was 11 years old she was classed by the Australian Government as ‘fauna and flora’ and not classed as a citizen of Australia. It is very hard for people to understand the impact this has on someone’s identity, not only being ‘state-less’ but not even being considered human.

Mum and DadShe spent most of her formative years living in a tin shed with dirt floors in a paddock on the outskirts of Bordertown. The walls were made out of crushed kerosene tins, and most of their furniture and toys were collected from the local rubbish dump. It is true that one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.

Growing up in a time when it was government policy to forcibly remove Aboriginal children from families and place them in state schools and homes, my mother and her 8 siblings were fortunate to never be removed, but for my Grandmother it was a time of great worry, danger and suspicion. My Grandmother, who is turning 100 years old in September this year, remembers nights when my Grandfather was away shearing or on odd jobs, when she would have to open the door with one hand and a shotgun in the other.

My father is from New Ireland Province, Papua New Guinea. We don’t know how old he really is because he was born on a beach in New Hanover, so he got to pick a date for his birthday. Each year it changes depending on when he wants presents from us. His father was from Neikonomon, which is located in the mountains of West Lavongai, and his mother was from Lafu on the west coast of New Ireland. From an early age, my father always had a curious mind. He fondly recalls leaving school at a very young age and following his father around New Ireland, who was a medical practitioner. He speaks 5 dialects and would often disappear for weeks, sometimes months, walking and exploring different villages across the Province. I think this is why he is such a people person. My father came to Australia over 30 years ago to follow his calling to become a Minister.

Their stories and individual journeys still amaze and inspire me. They met in a very small rural town called Cootamundra, in New South Wales, where they both attended Bible College. The story of how they both came to Bible College is a novel in itself; filled with courage, faith and determination – which I hope to write one day.

Faith has always played a significant role in our lives, as well as being at the service of others in our communities. My father once told me that he didn’t like the term ‘a sense of responsibility’ because it means doing something because of an external requirement, but if service is your core, if having a servant’s heart is what forms the flesh on your bones then ‘a sense of responsibility’ is not required because helping others is just an extension of yourself. It has been this idea that has driven me in my life. It has brought me courage when pursuing opportunities or overcoming challenges, because there is an ultimate belief that my life has purpose.

This path has enabled me to work with young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders across Australia to empower their voices on issues that impact them. Issues like climate change, mental health and suicide.

Below is a campaign called ‘unity in the community’. Our team of young people developed at the National Indigenous Youth Leadership Academy in 2014. We engaged 50 Indigenous young people from across Australia – provided the tools and skills to develop youth-led social action campaigns. Here is just an small insight into the talent and passion in our communities.

The Man Cave

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This has been one of the questions that Hunter Johnson, Jamin Heppell and I have been asking ourselves as co-founders of The Man Cave; a preventative mental health program that engages boys and young men through workshops that deconstructs masculinity and redefines what it means to ‘be a man’ in Australian society today.

Since October 2014, The Man Cave has worked with over 240 boys aged 14 – 18 years of age through workshops that engage schools and communities. Our workshops provide a safe space to have meaningful conversations that we, as young men, don’t often have the opportunity to have, that explore our masculinity, our vulnerabilities and our mental health.

In a recent online article with Generosity Magazine, co-founder Hunter Johnson wrote that; The Man Cave was created to combat the epidemic of mental health disorders and emotional illiteracy facing Australia’s youth. We fundamentally believe that instead of crisis management and band-aid solutions, we must focus on preventative measures and mental wellness strategies that become life-long tools.

This article also notes key statistics that impact communities across Australia:

As a preventative program, we believe that developing a deeper understanding of self and others, we can address these issues that plague our society.

In March, we were fortunate to work with 63 students from three schools in Tamworth, NSW to launch the 2015 Tamworth Schools White Ribbon Program.

The Man Cave workshops exist to:

  • deconstruct traditional masculinity and the role of mass media in shaping the stereotype of what it means ‘to be a man’
  • develop emotional wellness and positive psychology strategies and heighten understanding of their correlation to mental health and domestic violence
  • provide practical skills such as mindfulness, meditation and self-awareness to guide the challenging transition for boys into adulthood.

Our program incorporates positive psychology, sociology and research, in a professionally facilitated full-day program that is fun, impactful and enables boys and young men to define what it means to ‘be a man’ for themselves – which is often, being a (hu)man.


Rosie Batty; the 2015 Australian of the Year, who has risen above her own personal tragedy and the great loss of her 11 year old son, Luke, who was the victim of domestic violence at the hands of his father in a very public assault, said at the launch of the public campaign ‘Not Alone’ that:

“When we consider that 2 women a week are being murdered (at the hands of partners or ex-partners), and when we consider 1 in 3 women has experienced physical violence, and when we consider 1 in 4 children is also affected by violence, we realise it is everybody’s problem.”


TMC Team.001We want to grow The Man Cave to impact more boys and young men across Australia to support them to take the inevitable journey from boyhood to adulthood but with the life tools to not only survive, but to thrive.


The Man Cave has the ability to accept tax deductible donations.

Contact me for information to make a tax deductible donation to The Man Cave

 

Stay up-to-date on all things The Man Cave on Facebook

Legacy: Trust Delegated

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I recently returned from Pormpuraaw, which is a remote community on the Cape York Peninsular. We were invited to facilitated three days of workshops with over 100 young Aboriginal people from the surrounding communities. Together we worked towards a vision for communities and recommendations from the young people to community leaders and government. During the course of the week, I was able to witness the beauty of our communities from the wonderful young people living and working together to the breathtaking landscapes and nature that we are so fortunate to walk alongside.

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We looked at what is the current experience of young people in communities – the good and the bad. Then we asked them to leap 10 years into the future and reflect on the shape of communities in 2024. The challenges faced, the victories and the things that make them proud to have overcome and achieved. It was a wonderful exercise in vision creation that allowed large issues or generational issues to be viewed from a different perspective, a perspective of hope.

On our long flight back to Melbourne, I took the time to reflect on the vision the young people created during the week, and the reoccurring theme which was the young people consistently want the next generation to be able to walk with feet strongly planted in culture and communities and have the opportunity to pursue their dreams; no matter what they are or where they may take them. A pretty inspiring vision.

To me this spoke of the powerful notion of ‘Legacy’ and delegating trust to younger generations. Trusting the lessons we are able to pass on, and empowering choice with the belief that it is not our journey that the next generation must walk, it is their own.

An old high school teacher of mine said to me that the only way to achieve immortality is to pass on knowledge. It is something that has stuck with me since grade 9 where I sat in his science classroom in Tamworth. It sparked something in me; how will people remember my words or my actions? But, I realize now it is less about words and deeds and more about what will people do after hearing my words or seeing my actions – to me that isn’t about being remembered in the pursuit of immortality, it is about acknowledging your own mortality and empowering or trusting someone else’s ability to become immortal. This is true legacy.

If the next generation will inherent the world we leave behind then we need to acknowledged that this isn’t our world at all – we are simply seat warmers for the next people and all we can do is ensure the world is in the best state possible when it is their time to lead.

This isn’t about the physical environment or climate science, it is actually about every aspect of our lives that leaves a mark on someone else. It is about the decisions we make on a daily basis, it is about the way we look out for each other and it is the way we engage, support and teach our young ones.

The truth is that no one can know the future but you can help shape it today. Take sometime to consider the following…

What lessons will you leave behind?

What actions will you inspire?

What will be your legacy?


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Leadership in a new light

Over the past week I have had the amazing opportunity to be guest tweeter for @EduTweetOz – an initiative started by 3 wonderful educators. @EduTweetOz uses Twitter as a platform to engage teachers, educators, facilitators and people working with young people to encourage discussion and debate about Australia’s education system as well as share their knowledge and skills to a broader audience.

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Having the opportunity to engage with teachers from across Australia gave me an insight into the passion they have for their work and students. Also the frustration that exists but not in the classroom rather the rigid system that emphasizes teaching to an exam and not to meaningful outcomes for students like preparing students for what happens beyond the classroom. These 140 character long insights from educators made me really appreciate the need for quality teachers but more importantly a system that supports creativity, connection and the realization that learning is a lifelong experience.

During the course of this year and again this week, I have been reflecting on my definition of leadership, which was ‘being able to create room behind you for others to fill’. I have come to a growing realization that this definition no longer fits my current beliefs about leadership.

Instead my belief of leadership has come to align with one of my favorite quotes:

“The best way to find yourself, is to lose yourself in the service of others”

– Gandhi

This quote doesn’t speak to a title or achievement but rather a lifestyle and a belief in others. It speaks to selflessness and positive action.

Through the National Indigenous Youth Leadership Academy I have had the opportunity to engage Indigenous young people across Australia and further explore what is leadership and its relevance to our young people. It has been an amazing adventure that has led me to examine my own beliefs, values and my own journey.

We have explored and had many long discussions with a number of elders and family about the idea of leadership in a traditional and cultural context. We came to the understanding that leadership was a concept that wasn’t specifically taught, and honestly how do you teach ‘leadership’ in a community context…? Instead, leadership was an outcome of a life of learning. Leadership didn’t come with a title, it came with knowledge of stories, song, dance and understanding which was taught, shared and expanded upon as a young person grew and matured.

Seeing leadership in a new light has led to a deeper appreciation of sharing knowledge, lifelong learning and the important role individuals can play in the lives of others. My time as guest tweeter for @EduTweetOz has emphasised the amount of leadership that exists in our classrooms. It has also emphasised the incredible need in our communities to ensure our education system supports our educators’ skills, knowledge and passion to ensure students across Australia begin their lifetime of learning in the best possible way. That’s true leadership.

 

On Twitter? Follow @EduTweetOz and @NIYLA_

Find out more about the National Indigenous Youth Leadership Academy and like them on Facebook