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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Seven BIG questions!

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At the beginning of the year, I always find myself in a reflective state of mind about the year that I have just had and what I would like for the year ahead. Normally, January and February are awash with social events with friends and family, then settling back into work before I really get time to think.

I know that I am not alone in this.

Over the past few months, I have had a number of close friends ask if they could grab a coffee with me or call me and talk through their feelings about their life and future. It can be an incredibly scare prospect to put all your hopes and fears on the table even with a friend, and to try and make sense of all the thoughts swirling around your head.

One thing that I have appreciated lately, while I have been reflecting on my own journey and next steps, has been when you are asked the right question. The right question can cut through the niceties of friendship and goes to the heart of what you really want to be asked, but mightn’t actually know it.

So I have pulled together seven questions, that have really helped me consider what I am doing with my life, my next steps and also what drives me.

As a facilitator, we believe that; the knowledge is within the group, and it is our role to create the space for the sharing and learning to take place. So with that in mind, I would encourage you to take the time to answer these questions for yourself – cause the knowledge is within yourself. Find a quiet place, if thats how you like to reflect, and write down your honest, authentic answers. No one has to know the answers, there is no right or wrong, there is only you, your thoughts and the questions that create the space for this exploration to take place.

The Seven BIG Questions…

What are 3 things that you are most proud of about yourself?

What makes you happiest in your life?

What do people thank you for?

What do you like helping people with?

If you knew that you couldn’t fail at something, what would you do?

What makes you want to stay awake all night?

What would you like to be remembered for?

These are some BIG questions. I recently asked a friend about what makes her happiest in her life, and she found it difficult to answer. That is ok. If that does happen, allow yourself the time to really contemplate, sit with that thought and consider why this question is difficult to find the answer. It might lead you to identify barriers in your life that you might wish to address or overcome.

In this case, I will include one more question.

What can I do to:

  • Change this?
  • Enhance this?
  • Overcome this?
  • Remove this from my life?

I hope this is helpful, it has been helpful for me. I would recommend, if you are comfortable, sharing your answers with someone you trust.

If you know someone who might benefit from these questions, please share this post with them.

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?


Donate to Mind Garden Projects

A Gathering of Inspired Minds

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The National Indigenous Youth Leadership Academy (NIYLA) brought together 50 Indigenous young people from across Australia to connect, share and lead youth-led campaigns on issues they are passionate about. It was an amazing week, and one of the toughest I’ve endured as a facilitator. It had up’s and down’s but amazing things happen when you get like minded people together.

We gave the 50 young people less than 48 hours to identify the issue they were passionate about, plan their campaign; what is was going to achieve, who it would be targeting and shoot a campaign video. We set the expectations high and we are so proud to say that they exceeded every single one!

In less than 12 months, NIYLA has brought together 100 Indigenous young people from across Australia in 2 National Gatherings, launched 10 youth-led national campaigns on issues they are passionate about and has reached thousands and thousands of Australians.


 

How can you support NIYLA and the amazing #Fifty4Change Campaigns?! 

Share, Like & Comment on the youth-led campaign! If you know an organisation that might be interested then send them a clip and connect them to the campaign teams! 


Below are each of the 2014 #Fifty4Change Campaigns! Check out their Facebook page and campaign clips!

Yarn Up 4 Change: (Mental Health)

We are a group of twelve Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander young people from Across Australia who are encouraging our friends and families to have a yarn about mental health issues in our communities. Our vision is to break the stigma associated with Mental Health issues and empower our communities to identify issues and seek help before it becomes an issue – WATCH THEIR CAMPAIGN CLIP

Step Up, It’s Your Responsibility: (Juvenile Justice)

Step Up, it’s your responsibility is a group of nine Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander young people whose vision is to minimise the number of Indigenous youth coming in coming into contact with the juvenile justice system by promoting role models by asking communities to step up and be positive role models in the lives of our young people – WATCH THEIR CAMPAIGN CLIP

The ATI Project: Aspire to Inspire (Education; lifelong learning)

The idea of being helped or saved has changed we are no longer trapped in side a box, we are breaking down the walls, we are aspiring to learn, we are aspiring to change. Aspire to Inspire is a group of 8 Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander young people whos vision is to empower communities to share their aspirations and inspire others – WATCH THEIR CAMPAIGN CLIP

Beat the Boredom to Break the Cycle: (Healthy Lifestyles)

We are a group of young Indigenous people from across Australia who would like to see change in our community through making healthy lifestyle choices. We are concerned about the youth of our community being bored and turning to drugs and alcohol as a relief from issues surrounding them. Our vision is for a world where our young mob live work and play in a health way – WATCH THEIR CAMPAIGN CLIP

Put Unity in Community: (GBLTIQ Young People)

Unity in the community is a youth based initiative designed by twelve Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander young people with the ambition to bring about positive change to the perception of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex and Queer community. Our vision is to fight discrimination through awareness and support – WATCH THEIR CAMPAIGN CLIP


 

NIYLA Brands all

 

We believe that leadership is about putting your values into action. Our young ones have identified their shared values and are putting into action through their social action campaigns!

What are you going to Put into Action?

A community or a bubble…?

Changemaker

I recently attend a national summit for changemakers called Unleashed that took place at the beautiful Sydney Opera House. NIYLA was fortunate enough to support 20 of our young Indigenous leaders to attend to focus on their campaigns and to continue to develop their leadership skills and voices on issue that they care about.

As I sat in the auditorium of the Opera House, surrounded by 300+ young people aged 15 – 29yrs of age, I was surrounded by likeminded and passionate people. We were listening to inspirational speakers, who were sharing stories of the social impact they have achieved through their organisations.

NIYLA’s students are 15 – 18yrs of age and for many the notion of social action, campaigning and changemaking are very new and almost a different language to what they, and many others are accustomed to. I can’t imagine terms like ‘agents for change’ or ‘global citizenship’ being used regularly during lunchtime in schools around Australia. I reflected on my first introduction to these terms, I was slightly older 20 or 21 and very confused by what these terms meant, but slow it became part of my language and now they simply roll off my tongue and into conversations about leadership.

When I worked in the bank, my vocabulary consisted of General Ledgers, liquidity, term deposits, interest rates and later, retention rates, transitions and completion rates. It wasn’t until I left the bank at age 22 that I truly realized that these terms have little relevance outside of the banking world. Sure, interest rates and term deposits are things people deal with and come into contact with on a daily basis but not to the extent I believed when inside the bank.

The question I wrestle with constantly when it comes to leadership and social action is are we building a community or are we creating a bubble when we define ourselves as Changemakers? Below is a definition of community and bubble from dictionary.com

Community:

“A social, religious, occupational, or other group sharing common characteristics or interests and perceived or perceiving itself as distinct in some respect from the larger society within which it exists.”

Bubble:

“Anything that lacks firmness, substance, or permanence; an illusion or delusion.”

Changing the way we refer to ourselves doesn’t change our actions and by trading words in and out of our vocabulary doesn’t change their meaning, but what if their meaning outside of simply being words has no substance?

What does it mean for those who do not use these words when they describe the very same actions we take? Are they cast from the community or do we teach them a new way, our way of speaking…?

And finally does language exclude those from the community or bubble in which we exist?