What was your Fellowship focus, and what inspired you to apply?
I lecture university students about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health and culture every semester. A tremendous opportunity to upskill the future workforce. However, I became increasingly burdened by repeatedly talking about the deficit statistics about our people. I wanted to focus on what the current strength-based outcomes around the world might be. What ‘healing stories’ from the impact of colonization could I bring back to share with the communities and organisations here in Australia? So, I applied for a Churchill Fellowship to visit other Elders from Indigenous Nations around the world to network, share and exchange knowledge.
Were there any stand out personal moments or challenges during your Fellowship?
Surprising moments were never ending. For instance: The serendipitous ways that the relevant people appeared at the right time in the right place for me to interview or direct me along my journey in the right direction. For example, I met an Elder in an Indigenous Higher Education Unit and he told me his story in 30 minutes, then he was gone!
There were a few challenges along the way, but none insurmountable. Public transport to where the interviewees were (I had to ask people and plan my travels well), and the challenge of loneliness being away from family (I spoke via Messenger and email whenever I could).
Since returning there is there challenge of not being able to keep up with my recommendations along with my workload in my employed area. It may require better planning and time management perhaps or retire from work!!
What were you able to bring back to Australia? Has your focus changed since your returned?
On my Fellowship I certainly did encounter and return with many stories of resilience, pride and growth. Overall, there was a major change in my perception of Indigenous issues from one who often taught about deficit statistics to now listening and observing ways that highlighted the strength and resilience of Indigenous peoples. I have come to appreciate the fact that it is the First People’s Knowledge, Language, Ceremonies and Rituals that breathe life into their respective communities.
My focus has expanded in many areas. One of them is the Repatriation of Aboriginal children who left Australia 170 years ago in wooden ships and died overseas shortly after their departure. Children are placed on land at birth – and need to return to land. From my trip I now know of two children whose remains need to be repatriated, one little boy buried under the Vatican in Rome and another buried in a convent in Middlesex in London. Another is my zeal to hear other peoples’ stories and how they have overcome or are overcoming their challenges.
This year’s NAIDOC theme ‘Because of her, we can!’ celebrates the essential role that women have played – and continue to play – as active and significant role models at the community, local, state and national levels. What would you most like to celebrate?
I want to celebrate Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women’s perseverance and resilience in the past so that today’s women can face the challenges of today and in the future. Our Ancestors and Elders faced disadvantage, but they did not lose Hope. They were invisible to society, but we stand on their shoulders, making our people visible.
Suggestions for other Indigenous women considering applying for a Churchill Fellowship
As Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women, we have so much to offer society with our Ways of Knowing, Being and Doing. There are projects that we can do that others cannot do because of who we are and what our Ancestors have been through. We need to explore so that our youth can be inspired to go forwards. There are people to help guide us in whatever inspiration we have. We just need to ask.