Archive by Author

93. Nartarsha Napanagka Bamblett

25 Jul

Proud Yorta Yorta, Kurnai, Warlpiri and Wiradjuri woman, Nartarsha Napanagka Bamblett, has dedicated her career to helping people learn, heal, and grow their understanding of First Nation cultures. As a young entrepreneur, mother, former VFL player and former member of the First People’s Assembly of Victoria, she has achieved a great deal for both for herself and the communities she represents in very little time.

Nartarsha conducts her cultural awareness outreach via Queen Acknowledgements on Instagram. In her words, “Queen Acknowledgments is about connection to self, culture and Country, and creating a space of healing for all.” She also provides in-person workshops and performances where she facilitates that healing space. In doing so, she invites all people to gather, connect and learn about the responsibilities of living on and caring for Country.

Recently, Nartarsha worked with Cultural Colleges, Yongal teachers and Elders, and other First Nations facilitators from the Melbourne/Victorian region to create an educational event for Melbourne Girls’ Grammar. I asked her how she goes about preparing for events like this, where she is offering to open herself up and tell her story.

“Preparation is sitting with myself. Cleansing, keeping my mind, body, and spirit really clear and strong and grounded. So, that’s going to sit on the Earth or listen to music that kind of creates a feeling inside of me or speaks to me […] I think a part of the preparation is trusting in surrendering to your environment—your physical environment of where you are. I was out on Country and I allowed myself to trust in the elements of the Country, of what it provided as also a teacher for me, to guide me in what I was to facilitate.”

In the workshops and events she designs, Nartarsha’s goal is to move participants through a passage of discovery.

“It’s always a journey of every workshop that I do, whether it’s thirty minutes to three hours, I want to take them on a journey of feeling and expression. And going to places that allows them to feel, because when we feel, we heal.”

It can be a confronting process for participants but leaning into the turbulence of emotions is all part of the experience, says Nartarsha.

“On the journey we go through, [they might notice] feelings of separation, disconnection, shame and guilt, privilege, stereotypes that we all see and experience. And we talk about closing the gap, but I think we need to first understand what the gap is, then journey beyond the gap together to make the difference. And we can all stand on common ground as one to understand our roles and the individual parts we play in it, and how we can make impact to make a difference.” As their journey together ends, she aims for a feeling of “celebration to finish them off.”

What she is doing through all this is an act of storytelling, which is fundamental to the mission of Queen Acknowledgements.

“I’ve found it to be really healing, when I tell people my story. I can see the way it hits them, with their face with their, their reflections within their tears, or their smiles. I get to let go of the load […] the heaviness, the trauma that I’ve ever experienced. And I get to embrace healing in my heart every time I do that.”

While she places great importance on the oral tradition of storytelling, Nartarsha often uses dance and performance as part of her storytelling method, sharing it both on her digital platform and in workshop spaces. She describes her style it by quoting one of her Brothers, Balaneba, also a dancer.

“I think [his explanation] does it justice: cultural, contemporary, lyrical hip-hop. I feel the words, or the music that I listened to; I interpret that in my own way,”

She began as a 14-year-old, learning routines to Missy Elliot songs, and demonstrated her natural skill and potential to members of the music and arts industry. This ignited a passion she wanted to pursue professionally. Once she turned eighteen, Nartarsha toured with a company until she became pregnant and had her son at nineteen, in Shepparton. Having realised dance was vital to her self-expression, she soon contacted her birth brother and began a group in called Individual Spirits.

“I said, Bruz, why don’t we do something? While we’re here [in Shepparton]? Me and my brother had, like, brang [sic] together some young Indigenous boys and girls into our garage. And we just started sharing.”

From humble beginnings, the group went on to perform at Ash Fest and during NAIDOC Week, and even had Nartarsha travelling around Australia. Her goal was to help give the local kids of the community who might have turned to drugs and alcohol, or who were escaping domestic violence in their homes, a safe space to talk, dance, eat, have fun and take pride in who they were. “It gave them something positive and deadly to do.”

Given that Nartarsha is a powerhouse for ideas and has an aptitude for creating connections with people and communities, it seems only natural that she was the youngest member elected to the First People’s Assembly of Victoria in 2019 and held the appointment for two years. But she says she nearly fell off her chair at the news.

“I was very humbled by it, from being elected from my community […] And it was a bit scary. I was really scared, because we’re creating and pioneering in something that hasn’t been done in Australia before. When we talk about treaties, it’s been 230 years of missed opportunity. We were in a position to, I guess, help right some wrongs that could really have a big impact in the way we’re governed.”

Nartarsha makes a note that the Assembly was also the first of its kind, so standing in Parliament was a big moment. “Like that will be a moment that I’ll never forget. I had my dad there. It was just quite emotional with the people that were in the audience and also, the members I shared the space with at the time, you know, very respected leaders in the community. Like Brothers and Sisters, Aunties and Uncles, Elders of the communities. Yeah, it was really beautiful to feel such a strong sense of having pride in culture and also a passion for change.”

But despite her eagerness to move the State towards Treaty, Nartarsha does not believe this process should be hasty.

“When we talk about treaty, I feel like it’s very delayed, it should have happened a long time ago. But with the work that’s been done, I know everyone in the seats and behind the scenes are working so hard to get communities voices heard, and to get change happening within every aspect of the system and society we live in today. And having everyone acknowledged. I think that’s the biggest part, it’s like we want to acknowledge the true talent, we want to acknowledge the Stolen Generation, we want to acknowledge the education system and the future of the impacts of what we’re teaching our kids and how we’re teaching our kids. And I know that’s going to take a long time. That’s going to take a lot more people than just the people sitting in the seats. That’s why it is [up to] not just Indigenous Community, but all of all of the nation to support the intention of what this Treaty here is trying to create. And I believe that we should take our time. We’ve waited this long for it to happen. And we should take our time and be really precise in what it is we’re wanting to do and to achieve.”

Though she is no longer on the Assembly, Nartarsha still has a number of projects on the horizon which live up to its ethos. She will be creating more workshops through Queen Acknowledgements and is further cementing her entrepreneurial lifestyle by networking and building her platform — she recently appeared on popular finance podcast She’s on the Money. Nartarsha is planning to create immersive camps for families and individuals to spend time on Country with her. She also hopes to action a larger scale concept present on her platform called Cuppa Yarns, where she speaks to First Nations people of varying backgrounds and has them share their experiences.

If you would like to support Nartarsha, you can visit her on Instagram (@queenacknowledgements) and find out more about the projects she runs.

This interview was conducted via Zoom on the lands of the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin nation, the sovereignty which was never ceded. The author also wishes to acknowledge their positionality as a non-Indigenous person.

Writer: Sarah Dornseiff

Image: Chloe Smith

92. Zaynab Farah

3 Jun

Change may be scary for some, but for Zaynab Farah, it’s what drives her every day.

The 22 year-old is a spoken word artist, who uses her platform to draw attention to issues close to home like racism, discrimination and stereotyping.

She described spoken word poetry as “storytelling with a fusion of words” that you convey “using your voice and body”.

And she’s kind of a big deal in the Victorian industry.

In 2018, Zaynab participated in her first spoken poetry competition, where she made it to the state finals. Then, not only did she make it to the state finals, but she won, and was one of two Victorians to represent the state at the national finals – the Australian Poetry Slam in 2019 – held at the Sydney Opera House. She didn’t win but was grateful for the opportunity.

The poem she won the state championships with was called ‘She Is Light’, a piece that was dedicated to her mother.

“[It was about] all of the racism and discrimination my mother faces as a Muslim woman. People walk up to her and say ‘go back to your country’. These are just based on appearances, they don’t know who she is or what she’s like. So I thought I’d do a piece to go against that and say ‘hey, this is what you assume, these are the biases that you’ve got, but this is who she is, this is what she’s like’,” Zaynab said.

At the national finals, she performed a piece titled ‘Black Woman’.

“It was about black women and the multiple roles they play and how they’re teachers, mothers, daughters, and how a lot of the time because of the double standards they have to work extra hard to prove their worth,” she said.

Zaynab said she stumbled into spoken poetry through rap.

Having rapped from a young age, she was approached by someone after a performance who asked if she’d heard of spoken word poetry.

“I started watching videos of a spoken word artist and I really liked how the story flew, it just had me engaged throughout the entire piece and I said ‘I wish I could do something like that’, and I just started slowly writing my own things and performing and I just became a spoken word artist,” she said.

Zaynab said she finds spoken poetry therapeutic in a way.

“It actually helps me break things down, like if I have something on my mind, writing about it helps me understand it better or understand how I feel about it better,” she said.

And the issues she breaks down in her poetry are very personal and what she’s passionate about.

“A lot of my pieces are centred around discrimination and racism and how I sort of tackle them on my own. And a lot of it’s about identity, and misrepresentation in the media, and how when I enter a room or a conversation, it feels like people have an idea of who I am and what I’m like,” she said.

She said spoken poetry allows her to take ownership of her own story.

“It’s my way of presenting my version of who I am and what’s important to me,” she said.

Zaynab said inspiration for a poem can come anywhere at anytime, like when she’s driving.

“I’ll be driving and I’ll be thinking about a piece or a word and how it can evolve. In my notes [section on my phone], I’ll have a random sentence and if it’s something I want to expand on, then I have that as a starting point,” she said.

Writing a poem can take anywhere from an hour to a whole day or longer.

Getting up on a stage isn’t something that frightens Zaynab but she admits to getting nervous just before her performances.

“I’ve never been the person to shy away from public speaking or talking in front of crowds no matter the number. But a lot of the time, when I’m performing, because it’s so personal and a lot of the time the people in the crowd are strangers, I don’t know how they’re going to take my pieces. At first I’m a little bit nervous, but as soon as I start I’m no longer there, it’s like there’s nobody in the crowd, it’s just me and my story,” she said.

In addition to her poetry, Zaynab is a prominent leader in her local Somali community. In the past she’s helped organise events and fundraisers, and even mentorship programs which match high school students with university students so they can learn about different courses and how they got to where they are.

“If they had any questions about the different courses, they could have a conversation with someone who’s gone through it but had the same upbringing,” she said.

She also helped organise sessions where people who had finished university came in to talk about their journeys in different areas, for example a scientist and a lawyer.

Zaynab was modest about her role as a leader in her community, saying it was just about “being present”.

“Being a leader is just about me being there for my community and supporting them in whatever way they need, whether it’s volunteering or performing a piece at an event. If there’s something I can do for someone, I’m always happy to do it,” she said.

In amongst all that she already does, Zaynab also works for the Department of Health and Human Services and is studying engineering at university.

When asked what her future looked like she said she wanted to get engineering experience and hopefully that would lead her to figure out exactly what career she wanted to chase.

She also endeavors to continue her spoken poetry and plans to write a book too.

“I’d like to put together some of my pieces, and make it more written, because a lot of the time, they’re more performance based,” she said.

She said she’ll also give the Australian Poetry Slam another go and is “pretty pumped to try it out again”.

But one thing that will never change is her drive to chase change.

And on that she said, “Everyone has a story to share, everyone is unique. A lot of the time we do come from different communities or religious backgrounds, but we are individuals as well and we have our own stories to share. It’s about being able to show others that they too have a voice. You might be going through something alone, but there could be other people who could relate, and you might be what inspires other people to push forward and persevere.”

Words: Joely Mitchell

Photography: Brendan Bonsack