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

Shifting Sands

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I believe that grit is an undervalued element of life. Grit can mean the difference between standing strong or simply standing by. It can be the difference between pushing through or being pushed over. Grit even sounds like its a gritty word as it forms on the back of your tongue, rolls across the roof of your mouth before the decisive and abrupt end to the textured word.

We disguise or misrepresent the importance of grit by associating it with the annoyance in your shoe after a visit to the beach or the unwelcome crunch in your salad sandwich. This association of grit as dirty or annoying has led us to dismiss the true power of grit when we sense it in others. We say things like “here we go again” or “when will they be satisfied?” It is often accompanied with an eye-roll or a disapproving shake of the head. But, we need to rethink grit and its value in our society.

I don’t know where grit comes from, but I like to think that it has two key elements; courage and integrity. The origins of the words courage and integrity refer to whole of heart, innocence and blameless. To me, grit speaks to a dedication to justice.

In recent times, we have witnessed great social shifts in Australia. From our Government’s hardline approach to refugee and asylum seekers, discussion of privatising universities, which would impact the cost of and access to tertiary education, and dramatic budget cuts to the social services including organisations delivering programs to our most vulnerable and those most in need of support. This constant bombardment of regressive rhetoric and action creates a sense of ‘what can I really do’. This is creeping into the minds of the most steadfast human rights defenders, not to mention the everyday person who cares about issues, wants to be engaged but doesn’t feel like their voice matters. As these social shifts happen across Australia, cracks form and things we value fall through. Hopelessness grows, empathy diminishes and frustration peaks.

One such social shift which has fuelled this frustration has been the planned closure of over 100 remote Aboriginal communities, which will impact thousands of Australians; men, women and children. It will signal, in many cases, a disconnection from traditional lands and traditional ways of life for a large number of Aboriginal people in Western Australia.

“One has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws.”

– Martin Luther King Jr

On Friday April 10, people from across Australia came together and in one voice denounced the planned closures of these remote communities. They disrupted streets, bystanders and public transport to exercise a democratic right to protest. Flinders Street in Melbourne became the meeting ground of up to 5,000 people who are passionate about equality, care about community and who possess grit. They were met with disapproving head shaking, the rhetoric of ‘here we go again’, the slander of being labeled ‘bleeding hearts’ and ‘lefties’. The newspaper headlines read ‘Selfish Rabble Shut City’ and the Lord Major called it ‘self-indulgent’.

But as the disapproving cries rang out from mainstream media, it was swiftly drowned out by those who possess the fundamental belief that we are our brothers keepers, we are our sisters keepers – the belief that one community being impacted by laws that undermine universal human rights, does not just impact that community, it impacts all of our communities.

When we stand by while people and communities suffer in our own backyard we allow gaps to appear in the fabric of our society and the things we treasure to fall through.When we allow the value of one person’s life to be measured over another person’s life, our society ultimately pays the price. When we dismiss grit as an annoyance, we dismiss the courage and integrity of those willing to show grit.

The message here, beyond the importance of possessing true grit, is that if you find yourself being labeled the rabble, think about who had been labeled the rabble before, and draw strength from their dedication to justice in the face of unjust laws, draw strength from the friction created through grit.

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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

Become a Polished Man

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Twelve months ago, I found myself in an audience surrounded by 300 young people at the Sydney Opera House. We were about to hear a personal story from one of Australia’s leading young social entrepreneurs, Elliot Costello. I’ve known Elliot for sometime and watched as his organisation YGAP has gone from strength to strength and changed the narrative about volunteering and charity for young people.

I was eager to hear from him about the lessons he had learnt and the challenges he’d had to overcome to build his organisation from a vision to one that has impacted over 30,000 young peoples lives through 6 initiatives. Instead of a story about himself and his mission, he shared a new story, a story about the realities that many children across the globe face; Thea’s Story.

 

Twelve months after being just another inspired face in a room Elliot called me. “Mate” he said, “Let’s talk.” We talked about Thea, the impact she and others like her had had on Elliot and what YGAP were going to do about it. Enter… The Polished Man.

Polished Man is an innovative fundraising campaign that aims to challenge men to end violence against children. We are calling on each Polished Man to paint one nail for two weeks to represent 1 in 5 children who experience violence globally. Unfortunately, 90% sexual violence against children and most physical violence against children is perpetrated by men. This global statistic is unfathomable but it really hit home for me when in Australia the statistic is 1 in 28 Aussie children will experience violence – that was my High School math class, or my science class or even my bus trip to and from school each day.

In August, I became a proud Polished Man Ambassador, along with men from various walks of life. From AFL legends, emerging Rugby Union stars to radio personalities and musicians – we came together to say, “it is time to stand up and not just stand by” when it comes to ending violence against children.

 

I put it to you…

Sign-up, Paint One Nail, Raise Money and Raise the Conversation

Raise the conversation about how men can help end violence against children. There exists a code of silence around violence in our communities – only speaking up can break this silence.

I’m proud to be an Ambassador for such an important cause and the great work that YGAP does across Ghana, Rwanda, Malawi, Bangladesh, Cambodia and Australia! Money raised by the Polished Man Campaign will be invested in local organisations that work daily with children and families affected by violence.

 

 

Mind Garden Projects Launch!

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I am very excited to introduce Pinyas and Vincent, the headmasters at two remote schools in Papua New Guinea passionate about their students success through education. Through Mind Garden Projects, we will be supporting their schools to provide the basic resources they need to ensure their students have the best opportunity to receive a life changing education.

Help us to support Pinyas and Vincent provide a better education to children in remote villages in New Ireland Provence in PNG; by giving to our Crowd-Funding Campaign to reach the $17,000 target.

Support Mind Garden Projects here. 

Ussil Elementary School has a library without books, which affects the students’ literacy and numeracy skills impacting their grades and success later in life. Neikonomon Community School is so remote and lacking in resources that it takes Vincent a 12-14 hours on a round trip across open seas and trekking through jungle to simply print materials and get resources for his students and teachers.

We have an opportunity to support these schools and provide them with resources they need to ensure their students have the opportunity to gain a life changing education.

Join us to support Mind Garden Projects crowd-funding campaign

Our goal is to raise a total of $17,000 to support the schools with resources like books, stationary and power sources.

We are offering the following perks to our wonderful donors:

  1. Donate $20 and get a shout out on social media
  2. Donate $50 and get three postcards
  3. Donate $75 and get a campaign t-shirt
  4. Donate $100 and get a large photo and thank you letter
  5. Donate $250 and get a small canvas of a photograph from PNG
  6. Donate $1000 and get a large panoramic framed photograph
  7. Donate $2500 and get a wooden carving from PNG

To donate: https://www.chuffed.org/project/mind-garden-projects/ 

Please help raise awareness by sharing this video and campaign on Facebook & Twitter

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Thinking that Grows…

P1030098 After a whirlwind 6 months with the National Indigenous Youth Leadership Academy and a number of other initiatives, Kate (my fiancé) and I decided it was time to take 3 weeks off and head to warmer weather. We set off to my fathers land in Papua New Guinea to meet up with my parents, older brother and my older sister and her partner.

WARNING: This is not a holiday blog post… It is a blog post about how small ideas and conversations can grow into something special

We were fortunate to spend time on my Grandfathers land at Neikonomon on the island of New Hanover – it was my first time to walk this land. We spent the majority of our time on my Grandmothers land at Lafu on New Ireland. Both islands are located in New Ireland Province, which is north of the mainland of Papua New Guinea. It is a 3 hour flight from the Capital City, Port Moresby to Kavieng the capital of New Ireland. Lafu is a very special part of the world and being surround by our extended family only adds to the sense of paradise. No electricity, no phones and no internet is easy to deal with as you slip into village life. P1030004 Kate and I visited two schools in the New Ireland Province. Ussil Primary School, which is a 20 minute walk from Lafu, is a school that many of my family have or currently attend. We were asked to speak to students who were participating in a school holiday program to assemble photocopied reading books for their library. The Headmaster walked us around the small school and led us into the library, which could have been mistaken for a storage room as it contained empty shelves and old teaching resource books. Ussil has over 140 students and only a handful of reading books.

Have you ever been in a library with no books…? Until Ussil, we hadn’t.

After our time at Lafu, our family left New Ireland on a 6-hour boat ride from Kavieng to Noipoise on New Hanover. On the way we stopped at a small beach – it was the place that my father was born. Following the 6-hour boat ride, we continued up a small freshwater river to Wass and continued by foot for 40 minutes through jungle and shin deep mud to Neikonomon. My father grew up in Neikonomon and spoke very fondly of the small and beautiful village. The Neikonomon Community School had been closed for the past 3 years but a newly appointed Headmaster is breathing new life into the old school building. The school has 40 students enrolled in 2 classes but the demand for the school is much greater than the current resources can manage. Being such a remote school transporting resources is difficult and it is often overlooked by the Provincial and National Governments. Even simple things like printing or buying new stationary is a 6 – 8hr journey to Kavieng which costs fuel, boat hire, food and accommodation. P1030132 Following this experience and reflecting on our own opportunities through education we have both received. Kate and I are developing Mind Garden Projects to support schools like Ussil Primary School and Neikonomon Community School. Mind Garden Projects sources and develops education resources to support literacy skills in children and teens in schools across New Ireland Province, Papua New Guinea. Mind Garden Did you know that Papua New Guinea has over 840 languages and dialects across the mainland and provinces. The common language that is spoken largely across the country is Pisin, which is derived from multiple languages; but it is common for 3 – 7 languages to be spoken by individuals. However, literacy skills among children and youth continue to be low. In 2004, the literacy rate for 15 – 24yr old men was estimated to be 64% and 59% for women. These estimations vary across location but rank lowest in remote locations.

Mind Garden Projects is an opportunity to impact the lives of children and teens in New Ireland Province to pursue the future they want by supporting their education and the teachers that inspire them. Kate and I will be launching the Mind Garden Projects crowd-sourcing campaign in August. This campaign will raise money to support our first initiatives in Ussil Primary School and Neikonomon Community School.

How can you join us?

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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?

Leading a resurgence of political participation in our generation.

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(Original Speech from TEDx Bond University 16th May 2014)

There is a beautiful story from where I grew up, on the lands of the Gomeroi people of NSW. It speaks of a cycle that has been weaving itself through humanity for thousands of years. It says that when we pass away our spirit returns to the Warumbal; the milky way, to sit in the smoke of the fires that our ancestors have lite for us. It is there that we reflect on our life, the connections we made, the late night philosophical conversations, the search for knowledge and the mark we left behind.

When it is time for us to return to continue this cycle, we come in the form of shooting stars and lay within the earth. When we are born, it is not the act of conception but rather our spirits choosing us and our time.

This story tells me that we are all here for a reason, that the problems we face are the problems we are meant to face and the small interactions we have with strangers, friends and family are exactly where we are meant to be.

And it is with this understanding of the significance of now, I would like to acknowledge the traditional custodians of the land on which we meet, I would like to pay my respect to the Elders past, present and those who look down on us from the smoky shimmer of the night sky. It is this understanding that Welcome to Country’s weren’t tokenistic or just ceremonial practice but rather it is an acknowledgement that for our eyes to meet we are on a journey. We share the same short moment in life, and we seek nothing but the chance to live out our lives in purpose and in happiness.

We exist in interesting, challenging and exciting times. Our ability to connect globally to access news and current affairs at our fingertips has lead to a generation of agitators, questioners and the ability to mobilise across communities and national borders. It has sparked our curiosity and heightened our sense of contribution, legacy and impact.

I am not saying that this hasn’t occurred throughout Australian history, in fact our nation has a rich history of social movements that have been lead by those working in a system to change a system and those that work outside a system to effect positive change.

From the frontier wars led by warriors holding strong to their traditional lands against the tide of settlement, to leading the way for the women’s vote. From bark petitions that hang proudly in our nations capital to station walk-offs from Cumragundga to Wave Hill.

And social movements of more recent times that led to over 90% of Australia’s voted as one to acknowledge Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders as citizens in our own nation, and national demonstrations calling on governments to take action on climate change and to end poverty in our lifetime.

But as more and more young people grow frustrated with the current state of politics, what would it take to lead a resurgence in political participation in our generation?

To amplify our skills, tools and networks to inspire, support and mobilise young people to stand-up and announce, our hopes, ideals and politics won’t be quarantined to the skate parks, street corners, or to our twitter feeds. That no longer will young people be the silent recipients of policy but rather the co-designers of the world we will inherent.

There is a wonderful quote by Dr Martin Luther King Jr, in which he said:

“The hope of a secure and livable world lies with disciplined non-conformists who are dedicated to justice, peace and brotherhood.”

I believe 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 that wield an ability to hold the mirror up to society and say something is not right. It is these people that devote their lives to the pursuit of positive change throughout the world.

It is these people who hold a vision that transcends class, economic status, race and religion to connect strangers, neighbors, friends and family in a mutual understand of what it is we should aspire to. These people are the disciplined non-conformists that I believe Dr King was referring too.

We need Disciplined Non-Conformists. We look to them and say things like “I am glad someone had the guts to say that” or “you said exactly what we are feeling” even “I am glad somebody is thinking like you.” We need them because they aren’t afraid to raise their hand in a room of ‘yes-men’ and say no, not this time.

Non-conforming is easy, you can be a brat, a punk, a heretic, break systems, dismantle and dismiss but to stand for something, create systems, build support, share an idea, inspire change, that takes discipline. It takes the right mix of ego and courage to believe you can succeed where others have failed or where others wish to stand in your way.

We need Disciplined Non-Conformists. We need you.

We stand at a significant point in our nations history in which we do not follow the patterns of previous generations. Young Australians are more likely to pursue higher education, more likely to travel and live overseas and more likely to start our own businesses then our parents’ generation.

But what happens when passionate, driven and socially aware young people meet a system that rewards conformity? What happens when Disciplined non-conformists meet a system that label them brats, punks, and heretics, excluding them from truly engaging a system? We switch off.

Over the past 10 years there has been a dramatic decline in political party membership and participation from young Australians. I am not a member of a political party; in fact I encourage swing voting if it is based on policy rather than personality.

In 2013, Roy Morgan Research ran a political poll in the lead up to the September Election Night. They asked voters which party would they vote for and why. The responses were mixed but here are some responses they received.

“The alternative, Tony Abbott, is a serious threat to democracy.” – Labor Supporter

“No faith in the Labor party, its people or its policies.” – Liberal Supporter

“The two parties are nasty, hypocritical people who flip flop on any issue.” – Greens Supporter

The sense of public frustration that plagues political parties is very real. This decline in political participation exists, I think because there is a disconnect between people, policy and a vision, we can subscribe too.

A system that rewards conformity and excludes thinkers, and those with the audacity to dream and create a vision, is a system that will not only limit itself but can limit a nation.

In 2013, I decided to run a bit of a social experiment. I called it The Visionarium: From a nation that hasn’t seen it all… The Visionarium was an online survey that ran for 6 weeks and engaged people through Twitter and Facebook. It was designed for 2 main reasons:

  1. To provide a platform for people to share their vision of the kind of future they want for Australia, and
  2. To remind myself that no matter how frustrated I was with the current state of politics, the shortsightedness and negative rhetoric, everyday Australians, like me, young and old, share common values, frustrations but also had their own visions of what change we hoped to see in our communities, nation and world.

In a month over 80 people responded to the call to action. Here is a word cloud of the key words that arose from the Visionarium.

Visionarium

  • Equality; this related to gender equality, marriage equality and social equality.
  • Fair; relating to a fair society, pay and access to services
  • Respect; how we treat our elders, each other and ourselves

But it was the words that were slightly less frequent, that stood out for me:

  • Compassion
  • Generosity
  • Inclusive

For me, I believe these values transcend race or religion, borders and boundaries. It is the fundamental belief that I am my brothers keeper, I am my sisters keeper.

That rolling back the Racial Discrimination Act in 74 of our most vulnerable communities in the Northern Territory doesn’t just impact those communities; it impacts all of our communities.

That one person, whose rights are denied in an immigration Detention Centre for seeking a better life, impacts all of our rights, it impacts all of our freedoms.

I’d like to share two quotes that came out of the Visionarium:

“I want a vibrant democracy where talking about politics isn’t taboo and people are engaged. I also want debate that is based on facts, science and research, rather than perceptions.” – Josh, 19, VIC

“My dream is to see a generation who are not only aware of what is happening in the world around them, but wanting to engage with it, whether that be socially, politically or in their careers. My vision is for the nation to be cleaner, smarter, safer and kinder than it has been, for it to have strong, intelligent leadership and for it to be highly regarded by all in the international community.” – Emma, 20, NSW

The Visionarium was a reminder that ours is a nation of Disciplined non-conformists, even if we don’t see ourselves as such. There is a quote by Thucydides in which he says:

‘The bravest are surely those with the clearest of vision of what lies ahead, glory and danger alike, yet not withstanding goes out to meet it.”

This quote speaks of the audacity to step into the unknown and trust your intent. It speaks of the balance between courage and ego to believe you process something that will enable you to whether the storm of criticism, to overcome barriers and to be relentless in your pursuit of the change you wish to see in the world.

As we stand on the precipice of our time, looking across the path of history that has brought us to this point. We can see that the frustration frequently lies in the tension between an established system that rewards conformity and a society that aspires to provide greater education opportunities, to achieve greater social impact, that understands our role as a global citizen and the importance of a strong and growing economy.

What would it take to lead a resurgence in political participation in our generation?

It would take a political party that greater reflects our generation, that believes a nations greatest resource is its people, a party that rewards curiosity, consultation and participation. It would take a political movement of Disciplined Non-conformists.

It is this idea that behooves us to remember, change is not a matter of chance, it is a matter of choice, it is not something to be waited for, it is something to be achieved.

They say ‘decisions are made by those that show up’. It is our time to show up.

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The TEDx Clip will be posted soon…

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Check out previous blogs: The Visionarium and The Disciplined Non-Conformist