Interview - Alexis West: First Nations Producer, SA Australia Day Council

In 2018, South Australian Australia Day Council CEO Jan Chorley decided to approach the upcoming 2019 date a little bit different. She decided that she wanted to include a First Nations voice. After seeking advice from community members, in 2018 she engaged with Gina Rings to produce an Indigenous part of the Australia Day Parade.

What followed was the careful planning and production of Australia’s first, First Nations led Official Australia Day Parade, it was a successful event, which started off with an intimate Smoking Ceremony at 7am in the morning, called Mourning in the Morning, honouring First Nations people.

Fast-forward 12 months later, and Freelance Artist and Birra-Gubba, Wokka Wokka and South Sea Islander woman Alexis West has taken the reigns from Gina and is driving it to become an even bigger event than it was first time around.


Reconciliation SA got to catch up with West (Left, with Matt Plummer from Utopia Arts) and ask her a few questions surrounding her involvement in the production.

 

 

1. What do think about First Nations people being involved in this event?

“2019 was the first year that there was a presence of first nations people leading the parade and it was incredibly powerful to see banners like ‘change the date’ on the 26 of January leading the march. It’s remarkable. Banners like ‘Always was always will be’. So, we are going to be continuing that this year with the input of Aboriginal Elders, community members and first nations people that really want to be a part of making a change.”

2. On becoming involved in this event, what was the decision-making process?

“I was boosting her [Gina Rings] up, saying Sis, what your doing is really deadly, your infiltrating this structure. And when Gina moved on she was tapping me on the shoulder to take over the role and it took me quite some time to really reflect and take it on, and I thought it would be really hypocritical of me to be boosting up my sister when I wouldn’t be able to step into those shoes myself.”

3. What was it like, in January 2019, seeing Elders, mob and banners etc. in the parade?

“even though I wasn’t physically present at the smoking ceremony or at the parade, I was watching what was happening via live feeds and uploads on Facebook, and what I saw and what I heard was incredibly powerful. You could see for the smoking ceremony for instance, just this beautiful and profound remembering and honoring, so whether the date changes or not I think that this is something that nationally we should do. But with the parade it was just really exciting to see the support of people, all the red, black and yelling. It was thrilling from afar.” [West was at the Survival Day event]

4. Do you support changing the date?

“I am Absolutely an advocate for changing the date. Australia Day on the 26th of January hasn’t even always been on the 26th of January.”

5. Who are you trying to reach with your involvement?

“I think a lot of people that are for changing the date don’t want to attend Australia Day events, then there’s people that are somewhat ignorant to how the 26th of January affect First Nations people and then you’ll have those that are absolutely resistant and they’re all about keeping it on the 26th of January. And I just think, don’t try and gag us, if we want to march, and lead that parade, and we want a share with all you mob that we want to change the date, that it always was, always will be Aboriginal land, then big love, I hope you can actually look, hear and see without anger and resentment, but with empathy and understanding”.

6. How many other were involved?

“Those that felt the group wasn’t for them tapped in with advice, opinions and their feelings and tapped out, which helped, and others have been there from the start. It’s been incredibly empowering being a part of that group, having rigorous conversations, critically talking about the day and what it means and how to push forward. Regardless of getting backlash from both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal community. But other First Nation organisers included Njarrendjeri Elder, Uncle Major ‘Moogy’ Sumner, and Kaurna Elder, Uncle Fred Agius, community member Duane Rankine Sr and many more.”

7. How involved was Jan Chorley, the CEO of the SA Australia Day council?

“The CEO [Jan Chorley], whose openly been involved in the Open Circle Discussion group, and the meetings, was aware of what’s happening, with the banners, and had learnt to let go, and to trust us”.

8. What do you say to First nations people who disagree with First Nations involvement in the parade?

“There’s so many ways of fighting, of being a warrior, and shift and make changes. There’s lots of different ways of resisting oppression and fighting for what we believe in”

 

Alexis West is proud of her and all other First Nations involvement in this event. Which again, will begin with a Smoking Ceremony; Mourning in the morning at 7am at Elder Park. Followed by the Official, First Nations led, Australia Day Parade at 6pm.


A Few Ways to be Respectful on January 26

At all times Reconciliation SA aims to actively promote deep respect and pride for First Nations culture and connection to country. The importance of unlearning and relearning the truth about Australia’s settlement is essential if we are truly committed to a just and reconciled society.

This is particularly pertinent on Australia Day, where we take great care to ensure that this deep respect is infused into everything that we undertake as part of our commemorations. But in doing so we acknowledge that the 26th of January is a date that, for many, is a reminder of the hurt, trauma and dispossession of First Nations people from this country, which was directly caused by the arrival of Europeans to this land.

Our desire is that Australia Day is a time, above all, for inclusion, as well as an opportunity for greater understanding of our shared history and how this truth can play a part in the coming together for a unified national identity.

With this in mind Reconciliation South Australia has developed a ‘STARTER LIST’ on a few ways we can all be respectful on January 26, this list is by no means exhaustive, but provides the beginnings for others to start this important opportunity to learn, respect and cherish the longest living culture in the world.

 

 


Inaugural Book Review - Finding the Heart of the Nation by Thomas Mayor

 

 

We are excited to share Reconciliation SA's first Book Review from Book Club participant, Sarah Alpers. Sarah was apart of the inaugural book review gathering on January 13 2020.

 

The small group read from Thomas Mayor's Finding the Heart of the Nation. Read the review below:

Thomas Mayor has written the wonderfully rich and inspiring “Finding the Heart of the Nation. The journey of the Uluru Statement towards Voice, Treaty and Truth.”

In this engaging and insightful book, Thomas describes his travels over 18 months across the country, introducing his precious travelling companion, the painted canvas of the “Uluru Statement from the Heart” to First Nations’ people ‘from all parts of the Southern sky.’

Thomas starts by sharing his own personal journey to Uluru, as a Torres Strait Islander growing up on Larrakia land in Darwin, being a wharfie, a Maritime union official and then an elected delegate to the historic Constitutional Convention at Uluru in May 2017. Following the Convention and supported by his union and key leaders, Thomas embarked upon a mission to start a people’s movement by taking the Uluru Statement to the people, fully aware of his responsibility to protect the sacred canvas and share its powerful message.

Thomas interviews 20 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, some well known and others lesser so, but all are leaders within their own communities, who share their individual stories. By listening with warmth and generosity, Thomas enables his interview subjects to speak deeply and openly about their history, their activism and their connection to the Uluru statement.

From reading about their remarkable lives, I was sorely reminded of the racism of the past and the present, yet inspired by the humanity, humour and resilience of First Nations’ people and their communities. Their stories give depth and substance to the eloquent words of the Statement, and Thomas deftly weaves their voices into the Statement’s broader purpose, to speak to the Australian people calling for a voice, for a treaty and for truth.

The book concludes with a direct and galvanising call to the reader for action, to educate and activate our community groups, schools, councils, sporting clubs, unions, NGOs and the like, to support the campaign for a referendum, for a First Nations Voice in the Constitution.

The “Uluru Statement from the Heart” joins the Yirrkala bark petition and the Barunga Statement as a landmark appeal from First Nations’ people for profound change. This time it is an appeal, not to government, but a heartfelt call for action to the people of Australia. To better understand the deep meaning of the Uluru Statement for First Nation’s people, and to help realise its vision, Thomas Mayor’s book is essential reading - a book that comes from the heart and touches the heart.

Sarah Alpers
22 January 2020


A Coolamon in Canberra – Ivan makes his Mark

Peramangk and Kaurna Elder Uncle Ivan Tiwu-Copley recently travelled to the nation’s capital after an invite from the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS), to attend the  ‘Ngulla Wellamunagaa – Trees that have survived and revived’  Exhibition launch at the National Museum of Australia.

The opening, which was on the 4th of December 2019 featured a Coolamon that was made by Uncle Ivan using the branch from a 400-year-old Red Gum Tree. For two months from October 2017, Uncle Ivan worked on the Coolamon, using an old and small tomahawk, and then spent roughly 100 hours chiselling and hand scraping it. He used a sharp, hand chipped flint stone to get a smooth finish.

The Coolamon was then treated with Red Ochre and oils from plants and trees by Uncle Ivan who followed traditional methods to finish it, ensuring it will be preserved for hundreds of years to come.

The Coolamon was used in a healing ceremony on the 10th Anniversary of the Apology to the Stolen Generations in 2018 at a community event. It represents the ‘cradle and so many mother’s arms that were left empty after children were removed'.

Uncle Ivan was on hand to answer a few questions for Reconciliation SA about the Coolamon and his travels.

1. Can you please tell us about the Coolamon?

This Coolamon was made using traditional methods and took shape by itself, my hands only scraped out the shape and rubbed oil and Red Ochre Into its Fiber. Hands being the key word, whilst thinking of all the Mums, Fathers, Uncles and Aunties that would have been looking at such cradles represented by this Coolamon, and seeing it empty and wanting to touch it to bring back memories of when their children were present. Wondering and waiting for them to come back and in many cases, never.

2. How does it feel to have made it?

This was an honor and a journey of emotions regarding my own mother and families’ experiences.

3. How does it feel to see the Coolamon displayed in the country’s capitol?

This was again a great honor, humbling and an amazing acknowledgment of the event in 2018 of the 10 years on from the Apology and that the organizers and people there on the day had touched the Heart of everyone present by touching and feeling the Coolamon and remembering and honoring those removed without permission.

4. How did this opportunity present itself?

AIATSIS in Canberra asked if I could come to Canberra for the launch and organized travel to the opening with all the other Traditional artists and Stolen Generation story tellers that were involved. 

5. What significance does Indigenous arts and crafts being displayed in such high-profile places have for reconciliation?

The variety of the collection Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art and artifacts displayed in Canberra for the event was about the human connection to the land and what relationships were removed through past policies. It was there for all Australians to see and be a part of the learning process, acknowledgement and understanding thus bringing everyone closer together in the spirit of true reconciliation through stories and cultural expression that has been here for thousands of years as the oldest living culture in the world.

For more information on the exhibition, click below:
https://aiatsis.gov.au/news-and-events/news/continuity-and-resurgence-aiatsis-brings-focus-back-people-ngulla-wellamunagaa

https://www.nma.gov.au/exhibitions/ngulla-wellamunagaa

In a twist of fate, back in Adelaide at the same time, the Healing Foundation was holding an event to honour the Stolen Generations. Stolen Generation Survivor Dawn Trevorrow, was honoured at the event, but her son, Ngarrindjeri Elder Uncle Mark Elliott (pictured - right) was unable to attend the event, as he was in Canberra on a work trip. But Uncle Mark was able to attend the exhibition launch along with Uncle Ivan (pictured - left), and see the Coolamon on display, which was made in representation of the Stolen Generation.

1. You recently travelled to Canberra, can you tell us a bit about your trip?

I was recently employed by the Australian Bureau of Statistics and travelled to Canberra in my first week to join a meeting of all the Aboriginal Engagement Management Unit (EMU) working within the Centre of Excellence for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Statistics (CoEATSIS). It was a great way to meet all the people that I will be working with and learn about the work going into the 2021 Census.

2. What does it mean to you to be able to travel to Canberra to see a part of culture displayed?

By chance a good friend, Ivan Copley, was also in Canberra to attend the launch of the AIATSIS art exhibition, Ngulla wellamunagaa (trees that have survived and revived) as he has a Coolamon in the exhibition. It made me very proud to see a section in the gallery devoted to Ngarrindjeri art and culture, including work from Aunty Yvonne Koolmatrie and other family members..
Seeing this in Canberra brings about conflicting feelings as this was the place where many decisions were made that adversely affected Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and damaged culture and yet here was a gallery, attended by politicians acknowledging country in the local language, which they are encouraged to do and celebrating Aboriginal culture.

3. How did this opportunity present itself?

The ABS are committed to forging strong connections with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people across Australia and supported me to attend the launch. Otherwise it was a matter of being in the right place at the right time.

It would seem it was more fate than “being at the right place at the right time”, as even though Uncle Mark was not able to attend his mothers honouring back in Adelaide, he could see the Coolamon on display, which represented his own mother.

He was also able to observe another display which was on exhibition at the museum. A display of Aboriginal culture which was dedicated to the Elder’s own mob – Ngarrindjeri.

For more information on the Ngarrindjeri exhibition, click below:

https://www.nma.gov.au/exhibitions/home-front/ngarrindjeri-community


Bumpa's Legacy - Not just the ASG

The ASG OG's

In 1973, respected Elder, Uncle Cyril ‘Bumpa’ Coaby, got together with now Greens Party member and respected Elder, Uncle Moogy Sumner, and a few others, to get themselves off the grog. What started as a group of brothers trying to stay sober, driving around in a clapped out old car that needed one its doors held shut with an over-hanging elbow out the window, to get others to follow suite, transformed into the Aboriginal Sobriety Group.

Based in South Australia (but now with interstate clients), the ASG helps to address substance abuse, homelessness, mental health and more, and has been a staple of Indigenous leadership and advancement for more than 40 years, and is only growing. With several sites across Adelaide, Monarto and the Riverland, the ASG aids those in need. This is thanks to a lot of passionate individuals who share Bumpa’s vision and uphold his legacy - albeit with little funding.

 

ASG Rehab Centre - Lakalinjeri Tumbetin Waal

One of NITV’s latest ‘Our Stories’ episodes is Bumpa’s Legacy – which aired on January 2, and explores who Bumpa is, what he is about, his experiences, and his important legacy – the Aboriginal Sobriety Group. Bumpa’s Legacy is currently available to watch for free on SBS on demand.

Written and Directed by Bumpa’s grandson, Darren Harris (pictured, to the left), the film covers how Bumpa, Uncle Moogy and the other members of the newly formed ASG began championing their vision. While the mob from 1973 recall their memories from the beginning, we also hear from current and more recent clients who have either turned their life around, or are in the process, as well as Darren Harris himself.

 

Harris wanted to make a film about Bumpa because “He’s (Bumpa) got all this wealth of knowledge and we need to try and capture as much as we can on film so we can pass it down through generations”.

Harris goes on to say, “It wasn’t just about what he established with the foundation of the Aboriginal Sobriety Group, but his whole life journey. From the bombing of Darwin, evacuation from Darwin, all the way to Katherine, then down to Balaklava, SA.”

“I understand there’s not a lot of attention out there in the media unless its of a negative nature and it’s quite rare that we see our mob succeeding portrayed through the media”, which the ever-selfless Harris says is another issue he wanted to address.

Founder and CEO of Ochre Dawn, Rebecca Wessels (pictured, to the right) was on board as a producer for the short film, which was not her first time on the film set, having assisted on another couple short films for ‘Our Stories’ in the past, one including the journey of her own mother, a member of the Stolen Generation, as well as making corporate films through Ochre Dawn. Rebecca was interested in this film from the beginning, after being contacted about it by Adelaide’s Media Resource Centre.

Rebecca’s experience in youth work, helped convince her that this community driven organization was certainly worth making a film about. Wessels says “I’m a former youth worker myself so anything around community services is interesting to me and a passion.”

But everything needed to come together just right. Wessels recalls that after a “coffee and a chat, it just sounded wonderful, not just from the community impact perspective but the films perspective that it was going to be about his (Darren Harris) grandfather’s legacy”.

Bumpa’s Legacy, is an inspiring, gentle film - a successful collaboration between Darren and Rebecca that shows that Indigenous leadership, ingenuity and determination is alive and well, and has been for a very long time.

The Aboriginal Sobriety Group is an important not-for-profit organization.