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

 

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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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Curiosity: First step to changing the world

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In my blog ‘The Disciplined Non-Conformist’ I stated that ‘In every generation there are people who are born into the world that possess a keen eye for human error, injustice and oppression and wield an ability to hold the mirror up to society and say something is not right.’ In the past I often found myself wrestling with the question; is leadership an intrinsic attribute that you are born with or is it something that is taught or learnt and gained through experiences and practice.

Over the past few years I feel that I have come to an understanding that it is in fact both. The ability to lead is the same for everyone, no matter who your parents are, and where you are from or what your economic status may be however circumstance and opportunity does limit or amplify your capacity to lead. I believe that everyone is born with the innate ability to question the world and it is through experience and lessons learnt that we are able to refine the process of questioning and for some, to develop the ability to turn these questions into ways to better understand and change their world.

In the process of developing the National Indigenous Youth Leadership Academy, I have been able to draw on my experiences and engage brilliant minds that have enabled me to set off on a trail of exploration and discovery. Through this journey we have developed our philosophy of leadership, our unique approach and vision for the future of young people in communities. It hasn’t been easy trying to break a mold of programs that have come before or preconceptions of what the Indigenous space ‘needs’ but over the past 2 years we have begun to develop and establish ourselves as leaders in a busy space.

We have set out on an ambitious journey to build a generation of changemakers by providing the opportunity and experiences for Indigenous young people to gain the skills, build their national networks and discover a shared purpose to lead positive change in communities across Australia.

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One thing that I highly value in a young person (well, people in general) is curiosity and I believe it is the foundation of leadership. Having an inquisitive mind, I think, is something that everyone is born with. It is part of our DNA. Curiosity is like the childlike version of inquiry; it is fun, quirky, eccentric, profound but it is often overlooked or undervalued in schools. A curious person is a tinkerer, always poking and prodding for an answer to a question that often begins with ‘why’ or ‘how’.

We believe a Changemaker begins with a curious mind. It is identified through the questions they ask, how they view themselves in relation to their community and their own ability to contribute to society. For the young people we have the privilege of working with, having a curious mind is the young person trying to understand how their world works and what is their role in it.

This is where curiosity meets purpose…

Purpose will be discussed in my next pieces. To ensure you don’t miss out on the next blog, make sure that you subscribe or follow my blog! You can also follow me and NIYLA on: