Voice. Treaty. Truth. But why does it matter? – NAIDOC Week 2019

As #NAIDOCWeek2019 comes to a close, we at Amnesty remember the theme of Voice. Treaty. Truth. as we reflect on an inclusive Australia, celebrating all people as equals and working to bridge that gap between the disadvantaged.

2019 is also the United Nations International Year of Indigenous Languages, so it’s time for that shared cultural knowledge to be heard through one voice in the community and through the people.

We profiled six different Indigenous Australians over NAIDOC Week from different walks of life and disciplines including politics, advocacy, arts, sport and literature, as we celebrated #7DaysOfNAIDOC. 

This year’s theme echoes the importance of language, politics and culture – and what a wonderful place to start, as we honour Ken Wyatt, Australia’s first Minister for Indigenous Australians, who is actually Aboriginal.

  1. Ken Wyatt MP – Politician
Pictured: Ken Wyatt, MP

Liberal candidate and Nyoongar man Ken Wyatt became the first ever Aboriginal person in the House of Representatives.

He held his maiden speech draped in a traditional ceremonial cloak of kangaroo hide (bookha) and wearing the feather of a cockatoo. In a rare moment of Australian political history, both sides of politics joined to give him a standing ovation.

Ken said he was now preparing for the constitutional recognition debate, and he wanted to be ready.

“To lose a referendum because we hadn’t done our work properly would be a major setback for at least 10 or 20 years,” he said.

“People have expressed their concern at the lack of definition and the lack of clarity as to what the Voice is. We are going to have to articulate the full detail.”

2. Anita Heiss – Writer

Pictured: Anita Heiss, writer

Next up is one of Australia’s most well-known Aboriginal writers, Anita Heiss.

Anita’s writes books ranging from historical novels, to children’s books and poetry collections.

She is constantly working to enhance her readers’ understanding of Aboriginality for which she has been labelled a ‘destroyer of stereotypes’.

Anita is also a Lifetime Ambassador of the Indigenous Literacy Foundation, an Advocate for the National Centre of Indigenous Excellence, an Ambassador of Worowa Aboriginal College, and an Adjunct Professor with Jumbunna Indigenous House of Learning at UTS.

Upon stumbling across a copy of ‘Harry Potter’ at a school in the Pilbara during a writing workshop, she began to think about commercial fiction opportunities and started to write a series of ‘Koori chick-lit’ novels – a genre that had never previously existed.

The novels featured four Aboriginal women in their thirties in Sydney, and focused around real problems and lives of Indigenous Australian women.

”These are Aboriginal women who did not appear in contemporary Australian literature until I put them there,” she said.

”The whole point to all my writing is to portray the positive stories about Aboriginal people, because everyone else is doing a great job with the negatives.”

3. Adam Goodes – Footballer

Pictured: Adam Goodes

Adam Goodes is a champion Australian Rules (AFL) football player with the Sydney Swans, and he was also Australian of the Year 2014.

Adam is involved with several Aboriginal sport and community programs and he has spent time working with troubled youth, including those in youth detention centres.

Adam is a great role model and advocate for the fight against racism both on and off the field. Because of this, he has endured more than 12 months of booing from audiences between 2014 and 2015, which led to an “I Stand with Adam” campaign against racism.

Adam said he wanted to use his voice and his experience to make a genuine difference.

“If people only remember me for my football, I’ve failed in life. I live by that quote,” he said.

“If I’m only defined by my sport, I really have failed. Yes, I’ve opened myself up for more criticism, but I’m a professional athlete. I get criticised every week. I’m used to it. It doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt, but you get used to it.”

4. Allan McKenzie – Artist

Pictured: Allan McKenzie painting a mural

Allan McKenzie’s following has grown at a very fast pace and he is now known internationally with his fans. He has original pieces selling worldwide within minutes of posting them on Facebook.

His success has just seen him launch his own clothing line, ‘Tradeline Designs’, through a leading Australian manufacturer. Allan said he hopes this will inspire others to venture into business for themselves.

He is a passionate advocate for Aboriginal artists to know their rights as an artist, how to protect their intellectual property, and to know the commercial value of their work.

Allan’s art is extremely unique with its micro detail and explosion of colour, and people resonate with the complex stories that are provided alongside each piece.

He said his passion is to work creatively through his art as a medium, and that he found this to be immensely rewarding.

“I love that something optically pleasing gives you the door to open for someone becoming educated about culture. It gives them the ability to learn the story behind the beauty and being able to ‘see’ the lesson or story told in the painting.”  

Allan McKenzie

Allan said that the cultural-connection meant everything.

“It’s vital, for our emotional well-being, our Country’s sustainability, our strong family’s generational footprint, our Culture and its kinship systems/stories/values and lessons to be kept alive and practiced. The emotion, responsibility, peace and connection culture brings only empowers the individual,” he said.

“What happens when the individual is empowered, confident and has self-worth, so does those around them. What happens to that community is then a ripple effect of this strength and positivity.”

5. Tracy Westerman – Adjunct Professor/Psychologist

Pictured: A/Professor Tracy Westerman

Adjunct Professor Tracy Westerman is a Njamal woman from the Pilbara region of Western Australia. She holds a Post Graduate Diploma in Psychology, a master’s degree in Clinical Psychology and Doctor of Philosophy (Clinical Psychology). She is also a recognised world leader in Aboriginal mental health, cultural competency and suicide prevention, achieving national and international recognition for her work.

Tracy has spent over two decades working to reduce the burden of mentally ill health and suicide in Aboriginal communities.

She was a finalist in Australian of the Year 2018 and was honoured with the title of Australian of the Year (WA) in 2018.

Tracy said she has learnt a lot from her parents and mother especially, as an Aboriginal woman in 1964, she had to go to court to get her Australian citizenship.

“Both my parents didn’t go to school past Year 3, they came from significant disadvantage, but they modelled work ethic to us, and in one generation my mum raised a daughter who is a West Australian of the Year and who has a PhD.”

A/Professor Tracy Westerman

“I am living proof of why a young person should never let anyone convince them that they aren’t capable of achieving their dreams,” she said.

6. Ash Barty, tennis player

Pictured: Ash Barty following the ladies singles final win

Lastly, we take the time to celebrate Ash Barty, world number 1 in women’s tennis.

Ash Barty began playing tennis aged four and throughout her earlier years, her tennis career went from strength to strength. At just 14, she was being picked for international tours, and at age 15, she won the 2011 Wimbledon Juniors. By age 16, she then took a well-deserved break to go fishing and play cricket.

Now, 23-year-old Ash has taken the world by storm and is currently ranked number 1 in the world, being the first Australian woman to reach that spot since 1976. This was to follow a ranking of 623 in the world in 2016, with her comeback to the sport.

As a young, warm, disciplined, gifted and emotionally mature Indigenous woman – who loves the game, plays it exceptionally well and regards that as a privilege – Ash might also be the hero that Australian tennis needs.

Ash said she is pleased that there were now more opportunities for kids to play tennis, both male and female, of any race.

“I hope we can continue to create those opportunities and let kids know that this is an option for a career. And even if it’s not, it’s a sport that they can play for life,” she said.

As we celebrate and acknowledge these incredible Australians in their different fields, we salute the diversity and inclusivity of a multi-cultural Australia, starting firstly with the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

Voice. Treaty. Truth. Let’s work together for a shared future. Happy NAIDOC Week to you all, from all of us at Amnesty. As individuals, we continually fall short, but together we are united.

Words by Jacqui O’Leary

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