Beyond the Dream- TEDxCanberra 2016
I have a voice.
However, it is not the voice you might expect from a young Aboriginal man.
We meet here today on land where decisions have been made for Indigenous people for almost 100 years, a place where our people still live, dream and grow. And today, right now, we have a new voice to be heard.
It is the land of the Ngunnawal and Ngambri, and I would like to acknowledge my brothers and sisters in the room today, and pay my deepest respects to the elders of the past, present and those of the future.
I am a Worimi man from the Mid North Coast of New South Wales. My family stem from the first recorded birth in a cave in the mountains of Gloucester, a connection that continues to live on hundreds of years later through me.
It was not until my late teens that I became aware of my Aboriginal heritage. Forced to grapple with their true identity and the government policy at the time, my great, great grandfather committed suicide in an attempt to protect the family he had created. An intentional act to resist and hide a rich history, one that has drifted from the hearts and minds of so many…
With this history, my voice could be an angry one, sharing the tragedy and horror, the inequality and the injustice. But, it is not.
Since connecting back with my culture, I have been on a journey to understand who I am and who we are as a people. What our culture and story lines are as Indigenous People around the world, and what we are here on this Earth to achieve.
My views have grown and been nurtured on the land of my people, where my family continue to farm today. It is a place of soul, of spirit and of wisdom, whispered through over 40,000 years of agrarian practices and dreams, to feed our families and to feed our minds. This is a feeling and sentiment shared among my Indigenous brothers and sisters right around the world, a feeling of true connection, and home.
As an Indigenous, agricultural and environmental campaigner, I have found myself constantly dreaming to the future. I feel a responsibility to create something better, to make up for the shortcomings from the past, and from today.
Through my visits to the remote communities of northern Australia and to the Mission of my people in Forster, the potential lies dormant. It’s in the hearts and spirit of our youth, in the eyes of our tired Elders and in the land we are connected to around us. Our song lines, the golden threads that have weaved us together for generations have the wisdom for the future and that knowledge is there to be shared. I would like my voice to be the voice of invitation, of connection- to weave our Indigenous song lines with the greater story of the world.
We are the people from the dreaming, with our culture protected in the story and song lines of our old people, a culture with interpretations hidden in art located in the caves and the art works we share, and a culture thriving through the dancing shared in the sand and dirt of the bush and on the concrete encapsulating the sacred land in the cities.
We are people who have fought around the world. The names of Malcolm X, Rosa Parks, Muhammad Ali, joining the Aboriginal Activists here at home with the likes of Charlie Perkins, Vincent Lingiari and Mum Shirl, in an attempt to simply allow life.
In the early 1960’s black society from across the globe consolidated in the promise of a dream, a dream of freedom, equality and respect. We rallied behind the vision of Dr. King, hoping that his intuition and foresight would wash upon the shores of Australia, and be extended to our Indigenous brothers and sisters around the world.
Yet from the red dirt desert core of our nation, the heart of the Amazon Rainforest or the origins amongst the sea ice of the Arctic, our Indigenous culture remains forcibly detached and forgotten from mainstream society.
But we, we have the opportunity to change this.
While the vision for the dream lives on in all of us and the motivation to make it happen has bred Indigenous success, it is time we stopped fighting. It is time we let go of the angry, black voice that has been adopted in the past and that we instead hear a new voice. A voice of promise, true reconciliation and positivity.
Today I want to share the story of the quiet voices- the majority that motivate and inspire action through culture and mentoring, rather than demanding change through anger fuelled public demonstration. We have a new voice to be heard to create change and action, to work together for a better future. It is the voice of connection, beyond inclusion.
By understanding and incorporating Indigenous values into modern society, we gain more than equality, justice or survival. We have the opportunity to create a world of true sustainability, prosperity and abundance for all of society as one. We just need a shared, true, singular vision of what that is.
So what does incorporating Indigenous values look like?
What values are so entrenched into Indigenous culture that we can use together to create a meaningful future?
Where do we begin?
Connection. Sustainability. Story
We are the people OF the land. It is the place that our culture, spirits and stories lie, where the core connection is made and relished. It’s where we go to truly feel at home- to revive, relax, refocus. From the earth that we walk on, the water that flows around us and the air we breathe, our connection to place, at that time, is what makes us who we are.
But our meaning of connection goes beyond that- it’s the connection to self, to purpose, to community that keeps our dreaming stories and our culture alive. It’s a connection that stems through the rich dark blood flowing through our people around the world. It binds us and connects us, no matter what mob, tribe or people you belong.
Our connection is not forced, or demanded. It is felt and shared, as we take the opportunity to share our culture and dreaming with others.
This is our opportunity to connect. To connect with who we are, where we belong and what our purpose is. The actions to do this are simple- share a little bit, listen deeply to others with purpose and understand more about their background.
At the Paris climate talks last year, I met my brothers and sisters from Kiribati. They shared with sorrow the fear of them losing their country and culture to rising sea levels and we shared our mutual hopes for the future. We discussed the fear of them becoming climate refugees, similar to our friends from war torn countries and how we could connect through story to provide us all with opportunity to keep our culture alive. In their story I found a human connection, that we are all more alike than different- that we are all one people, that we can all connect.
Through connection, we will get to communicate our societal dreaming, our vision for the future and work out how we can all get there together. A common dream, as one.
Land is the source of connected life, a place which supports and nourishes Indigenous culture, customs and wisdom. It is a place where dreaming and spirituality bond with the material world for sacred meaning, where a lack of possession encourages preservation for the future. This forms the commitment to those who walk the land after us, rather than those that walk the land with us today.
While we, too, want change for today and tomorrow, Indigenous people focus our decisions on creating a sustainable impact 7 generations into the future. This means that short term profits and gains should be surrendered for long term benefits- sustainability means more than just today or tomorrow, it is a kept wealth for the future.
Dream to your descendants of the future in 7 generations time- what actions have you made today that may potentially impact them? What can you change right now to ensure that you can communicate with them, or create a better future for them hundreds of years from today?
For me, this understanding and appreciation of sustainability drives my advocacy work, informs the way my family manage our farm and pushes me to keep moving forward to develop something we can all be proud of, not just for tomorrow, but one for hundreds of years into the future.
It is shared when my parents and fellow farmers across the nation plant more native species for the wildlife on their farm and skip a year of growing crops, refusing to denuder their property for a short term cash crop windfall. Instead they breathe, look over the land of their ancestors and dream beyond this year’s profit, deciding to protect the farm and allowing it to thrive for their great grandchildren.
I am privileged to work with people adapting these thoughts into their businesses and farming practices today. They each share a passion of the future, not just for the youth of today, but those a hundred years later who will also seek a life of promise and prosperity.
To ensure we share the past and today, we need to embrace story. Story is where our wisdom, law, Aboriginal Lore and culture lies and is passed down- it is our identity. It is where we find our purpose- why we are here and what we should become. It is how we connect, relate and discover our past.
It is the stories and song lines that define us, telling and teaching our people their purpose, their reason of living. They have lived on through the minds and memories of our people, ensuring that they are told with elegance and precision, depending on age, location and life. They are the whispers of more for society, what we have, where we can go and where we have come from.
Formed and told through the dance and celebration, the songs and music, and the art on the walls and canvas, our stories are timelessly bound for interpretation and reflection for the future. Today our stories can be kept in any medium and any time, an opportunity to teach lessons of today, to the people of tomorrow. It means actually recording, not just hoping that the time to share will come later.
In our culture, it begins with being Welcomed to, or Acknowledging the land in which we meet, hearing the stories of those who walked here before us, before together sharing the story and dreaming of the future.
Story has taught me the way of our people, the opportunities that may exist and how to reconnect with our lost past. It has been the lost ends, the unsaid words and hidden emotions now flowing that have informed and shaped the journey I am on today, and where I am going.
My story has been formed from the combination of what I learn through my people when we get together, the sacred words and lessons of our Elders, my interactions with other Indigenous people from around the world and the whispers when the wind blows, the rain falls and the waves crash on the beach. It has become the story of change, of spirit, of opportunity.
By the edge of the river at our farm, I imagine sitting with all my brothers and sisters, singing song lines of the past, listening to each other, laughing together, crying together and dreaming together.
And as we honour and hear of the stories of the past, we join together to dream and sing the new song lines for the future.
Hear my voice; it is the voice of connection. An invitation for change.