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

TMC Images

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

Seven BIG questions!

Contemplation_by_KevLewis

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.

Curiosity: First step to changing the world

Unleashed

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.

Value Tree

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: