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99. Maddy Fox

2 Dec

Young-gun, Maddy Fox is a champion swimmer and community member whose demonstrating every day that her disability doesn’t define her – while winning gold in the process.

Maddy has shown time and time again that she’s a keen sporting personality; starting out in basketball and turning her head to competitive swimming for the past 10 years.

Maddy is an inspiring young person in the Banyule community, and travels across the world to showcase her swimming talents by competing in various competitions – with the aim – to be her best.

Maddy and her mum have a very close bond, with Karen acting as her head coach during some of Maddy’s swimming events.

Maddy’s journey to success started when she was little, when her mum Karen, wanted Maddy to find a passion in sport and live a happy, healthy lifestyle.

“I started swimming when I was one,” Maddy said, with Karen adding: “our in laws had a pool at the time, and we went to the beach a lot. So, we always thought that it was important for our kids to learn how to swim, and I guess she [Maddy] just never stopped.”

Maddy continued to say that: “I used to play basketball, but they were all taller than me,” which is when she turned her attention to swimming.

Maddy is a Special Olympian and has participated in the Special Olympics for over a decade, winning a multitude of medals in the process.

Special Olympics offers young people and adults the chance to compete in Olympic-like events, that are tailored towards people with intellectual disabilities and gives them the opportunities to show case their abilities as well as develop friendships and leadership skills.

Maddy’s mum, Karen, said that she was involved in swimming lessons all her life, but the Special Olympics ignited her taste for competitive swimming.

“She did normal swimming lessons – like everybody did – but then she got involved in the Special Olympics when she was about 10,” Karen said.

“From there she started competing; and got the taste for it… [heading] to her first nationals in 2012.

“She got selected for her first senior nationals in 2014 and joined a local mainstream swimming club where she was able to get specific coaching which enabled her to be involved with other swimmers as well as gain a variety of experiences.

“But it was in 2018 when it all took off and went to a whole other level and Maddy started competing internationally.”

Maddy is proud of everything she’s achieved, but ultimately, she always falls back into the drive to beat her personal best, and to have fun competing with her friends; to her, it’s not all about winning.

“I’m really proud of my 200m freestyle and backstroke,” Maddy said, with Karen adding “her biggest one was the 200m backstroke she did in Canada in 2018.”

When talking about competing in Canada, Maddy said “I came 7th in the world!” recognising the amazing accomplishment that she had achieved.

She’s won numerous medals during her time in the pool, but she’s always remained humble and cemented that swimming is primarily for fun, and a way for her to excel.

But being the light-hearted soul she is, Maddy jokingly says: “I’ve got a lot of [medals] in my room, and I haven’t got a favourite – there’s too many.”

Adding that: “I feel really proud [when I win races], and it makes my mum and dad really proud of me”.

Maddy has a heart defect that has impacted her day-to-day life, but with her power and dedication to succeed, she’s not letting anything get in her way.

Karen said that exercise and swimming has had a significant impact on her life, and has helped her with her heart, and health challenges.

“Maddy had a fairly big heart defect, and we’ve been told from a fairly early age that exercise is going to help her along the way, so, we had a fairly big push towards it,” she said.

“So, 10 years later, she still hasn’t had further surgery… and they believe it’s all been assisted because of the exercise.”

For Maddy, this humble hero says: “it’s not all about winning, [swimming’s] about hanging out with friends and cheering them on and beating your personal best.”

Maddy also participates in Banyule Youth Services young entrepreneurial program – Market Space. Maddy’s small business – Madz Dezignz, stemmed from lockdown when swimming stopped, and Maddy needed a creative project to keep busy. Maddy created earrings, t-shirts, water bottles and bags, which she sold to the local community.

Through Madz Dezignz, Maddy raised funds for charity, and used this space as a fun and creative outlet to help others when the world was locked down.

Maddy currently also carves out four hours a week to volunteer at local food share hub – BANSIC Food Hub.

BANSIC Food Hub provides food assistance for residence of Banyule who are struggling with food security.

Maddy’s important role each week at BANSIC is to pack bags of essential grocery items, and to support customers with their individual needs.

From this experience Maddy says she has learnt principles important to her family about the value of giving back to the community.

Maddy says “I like helping people and working with some lovely people and I like making new friends and increasing my social network. I also like hanging with Tony and Donald who also volunteer at BANSIC because they are lots of fun”

BANSIC, she says helps people that are lonely or less fortunate, “they can come in and have a chat and get help if they need anything.”

Maddy says BANSIC always need support and they are open to volunteers and donations to help support them to help the continuation of the service.

Whether in the pool or in the community Maddy is proving everyday – that she’s filled with courage, dedication, and the drive to be the best she can be. Maddy wants to show people that her disability doesn’t define her, and that she can do anything she wants. She just needs to set her sights on her goals and go for it!

Words: Curtis Baines

Photography: Darcy Scales

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98. Alinta Waitairie

27 Nov

Alinta Waitairie has a quiet strength, advocating for further cultural learnings through dance, art, and public speaking to promote broader Indigenous understanding.

Alinta was born on Wurundjeri land, and her father was from Yindjibarndi Tribe of Western Australia. Alinta is proud of her heritage and has built a career furthering cultural understanding.

Since the age of nine, Alinta has been a passionate dancer and now works dancing and speaking at corporate and community events, she has danced to open events at local schools, festivals, Banyule City Council and the Melbourne Convention Centre. For the past year Alinta has been running her own dance business – Morningstar Performing.

“I love working in the arts, community, culture, dance, nature and helping people… I feel connected through culture when I perform cultural dance, yarning with mob, being on the Banyule City Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Advisory Committee to help Barrbunin Beek Aboriginal Gathering Place where mob can come together as a community.

“I’ve been professionally dancing since the age of nine, and I’ve also been public speaking in Culture Services of Acknowledgement to Country at many levels.”

It all started for Alinta at the Northern Colleague of Arts and Technology, where she worked on a project to teach literature through sports, a very interesting concept.

The project entailed teaching kid’s literature through basketball in the Olympic Village, which is where Alinta first met staff member Liz from Banyule Community Health.

From here, she participated in many Banyule Community Health events as a young aboriginal leader and that’s where Alinta was introduced to Banyule’s Inclusive Employment Program.

“[Liz] mentioned there was an Inclusive Employment Program at Banyule City Council and Jess Sayers from Banyule Youth Service also encouraged me to go for it … and after having cared for my dad for the past year and half I went into the program,” she said.

The Banyule Inclusive Employment Program aims to remove any barrier that marginalised and indigenous people face when searching for employment, providing work experience in local government.

This program helped Alinta understand her potential work opportunities and pushed her towards a future career path outside her wildest imagination.

“[through the program] I was an Aboriginal Program Support Officer in the Community, in the Inclusive Planning Team with Banyule City Council,” Alinta said.

“It was great because I was able to get some work experience behind me.

“I was able to engage with other young people and indigenous mob, through food shares, and doing programs like NAIDOC week.

“During that time, we did a lot of workshops on how to do a resume, cover letter, and what kind of skills we had behind us, and to improve them and to know our weaknesses.”

Les my supervisor during my time at Banyule Inclusive Employment Program had told Alinta that there was another program that offered full-time work and a Diploma of Business for 2 years at the University of Melbourne … and I just signed up for it and I went for the interviews.

Alinta was successful in her application to the Melbourne Indigenous Professional Employment Program (MIPEP) at the University of Melbourne, where she now continues to gain extra skills, experience, and education. 

Sadly, Alinta’s father, who played an integral role in her life, had inspired her, and taught her about her culture, passed away at the start of 2022 – she had cared for him for over two years.  

After his passing, she saw the value in the (MIPEP) she had been successful at applying and decided to keep going with full-time work and the Diploma of Business – and not give up.  

“Now, I’m studying a Diploma of Business and working at the University of Melbourne in full-time work as a Global Learning Officer.”

Alinta has also been helping at Barrbunin Beek Aboriginal Gathering place where mob across indigenous communities are able to come together as one to teach culture through dance, storytelling, music, and yarn; something she is very proud of.

Alinta has great aspirations for her life post university; she aims to complete a bachelor’s degree, travel the world and to learn more about other places while expanding her knowledge of international cultures.

One day Alinta would like to be the Chairperson at Banyule City Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Advisory Committee to make Barrbunin Beek Aboriginal Gathering place a success for mob, and then be the CEO at Banyule City Council. And when settling into semi-retirement she would like to teach culture to mob and everyone else in the community.

With her will power and shear dedication, it’s only a matter of time that Alinta does all she sets out to do – watch this space! For Alinta, the sky’s the limit – “I’d like to be a great elder like my father was and make him proud.”

Words: Curtis Baines

Photography: Darcy Scales

97. Jamie Anderson

20 Nov

Bringing music production, large-scale events, and social support for young people together, Jamie Anderson’s success story at Banyule Youth Services is like no other. 

Jamie was 15 when he started his journey at Jets Studios, where he participated in the FReeZA music production weekly program.

FReeZA is a government funded scheme that offers young people access to industry standard equipment, resources, and support, to plan and put-on high-end events in their local community.  

Jamie has a strong passion for music and it’s something he loves; he wanted to share this passion with fellow Banyule young people who are wanting to make the same connections through music.

Jamie said that by working at Jets, he saw a pathway whereby he could support other young people, and by using his skills developed through Jets, he could go on to support them further within the areas of music and sound production.

“At my school, I was doing sound production stuff and I got involved in Jets when we were doing some recording for our school, and from there I kept going back and learning more technical skills,” he said.

“I then did some paid work with Jets as well; doing live sound engineering with other staff members, which gave me extra learnings and skills.”

By participating in programs at Jets, Jamie was able to seek other avenues to help support young people and give them access to events that youth innately enjoyed.

While working at Jets, Jamie worked full time at a bank doing operations, but always thought he could be doing more to support young people in his local area.

This led Jamie to apply for the role of Youth Festival Officer; coordinating and running Banyule’s annual youth festival where his passion for live music could flourish.

Youth Fest is an annual event Banyule Youth Services/ Jets Studios runs for the youth of Banyule, the event includes live music across two stages, free wellbeing workshops and initiatives, sports zones, body art, food trucks and large-scale rides. Youth Fest 2022 attracted 6000 people to the all-day event.

“Originally, I was actually working in a bank doing operations stuff and then I was kind of at a point where I didn’t feel like my job was making a difference,” he said.

“The opportunity for the Youth Festival Officer came up, I applied for it, I was a part of Youth Fest in previous years and I also worked at Youth Fest.

“And because it’s a great event, that made me want to pursue running the event this year.”

Jamie said: “there were a few challenges post Covid, but it was the busiest one ever,” with hundreds – if not thousands – attending the event. 

Jamie acknowledges he was able to run the entire event with the help of a dedicated team at Banyule Youth Services.

This opportunity – and his previous opportunity at Jets – gave him the key skills that he now utilises across his young career at Banyule Youth Services.

Although his passions are an intrinsic part of who he is, he also found inspiration in other fields, with Jamie saying that he was inspired by the youth workers around him who continuously make a difference.

“From my experience with youth workers and how they make a difference, they made me look at life in a different way,” Jamie said.

“That’s made me want to stay in this kind of area and support other young people.”

Jamie has set his sights on another project: helping at-risk young people in the weekly New Hope Program to follow their passions, while making meaningful art & music.

The New Hope Program is something that he holds dear to his heart, as it gives at-risk youth the opportunity to express their passions in music and street art in a safe and inclusive environment.

The program aims to help young people use their creativity in a structured and positive outlet – free from negativity and illegality.

Jamie said that this program is the one program that he enjoys the most because it allows him to help young people achieve their goals, and help vulnerable young people harness their creative talents.  

“Outside of Youth Fest, [New Hope] is the one that I still work on – and it’s one of my favourite programs.”

“The New Hope Program, I guess, is the one I enjoy the most because you’ve got young people coming in, learning new skills, and going away with recorded music or new street art skills,” he said.

“They can learn these skills in a safe environment and then take those ‘skills’ out into the public.”

He wants to ensure that young people in his community feel safe and supported.

Jamie is showing no signs of slowing down and has become an inspiring role model to many of Banyule’s young community.

Ultimately, Jamie wants to show vulnerable young people that someone does care about them and their interests, by highlighting that: “their creative interest, like music is not just a passion or hobby, but can be a life.” 

Words: Curtis Baines

Photography: Darcy Scales

96. Evey Hunter

9 Nov

16-year-old Evey Hunter is a force to be reckoned with; her push for environmental sustainability and the inclusion of local schools has seen her set foundations for change.  

Evey may be young, but her desire to implement environmental awareness across the Banyule community has inspired many schools in her area to adopt sustainable practices.  

She is the heart and soul behind the Jumper Recycling Program, where youth in the Banyule community can donate their old-school jumps to be recycled.  

The program came into fruition at a local youth event and with the help of Banyule Youth, she donated the recycled jumpers to Upparel where they’re turned into a range of useful products.  

Evey said that organising the project was very organic and with help across the community she saw that people we’re eager to jump on-board.  

“It was easier than I expected,” she said. “One thing I definitely learnt during the process: people are more enthusiastic to help me than what I was expecting.” 

“I worked with a wonderful woman at the council named Naomi, and she was a massive help coordinating and helping me draft my emails to Upparel and they jumped onto it very quickly. 

“We designed and printed collection boxes that are placed in schools and businesses across the Banyule area… we collected all the school jumpers and then Naomi and I drove down to Upparel warehouse where we dropped off 6 massive boxes. 

“It was a very rewarding moment to hand them over to someone where they were going to get recycled and diverted from landfill.”  

But, where did it all start?  

Evey was always interested in environmental awareness and saw that schools could be doing more to endorse recycling among young people; she just needed somewhere to start.  

This moment collided with the bi-annual Banyule Youth Summit event where young people from across Banyule convene to discuss important topics affecting youth in the community.  

Topics such as; the environment, disability awareness, LGBTQI+ rights, and a range of other topics. 

When her school was approached to take part in the event, Evey saw this as an opportunity; she decided to attend and use her passion to create viable and tangible change.   

“I did a project in school and a teacher spoke to me about the possibility of getting the project started and how I could turn that passion for clothing recycling into a tangible project that I could bring to my community.  

“The Youth Summit came at a perfect time because after going, I met some people who were really enthusiastic about helping me; they helped me source Upparel – the company who help me recycle the jumpers.  

“It started as a project at school, but quickly transitioned into something I was pursuing with the Banyule council – In particularly the Banyule Youth Summit.” 

During the Youth Summit, Evey used her project to come up with the Jumper Recycling Program, and she saw this as an opportunity across the entire region.  

The program gained rapid traction and she received a positive reception with many young people joining her efforts at their own schools.  

“I’ve always been passionate about the environment and the waste crisis that we’re facing; particularly the textile waste issue and I know the community are very enthusiastic to get on board,” Evey said. 

“It was really well received which was excellent, because I think generally speaking, people want to do the right thing when it comes to clothing recycling.  

“It’s a bit tricky to do so [however] because people don’t often know where to go or where to drop their clothes off. 

“I would like to further the program and provide that intermediate step and provide a means for people to have their clothing given to a place where it can be recycled.” 

When it comes to the Youth Summit, Evey is glad she we went: “because it gave rise to a lot of cool stuff I’ve been able to do since.” 

That cool stuff surrounds her subsequent involvement with council meetings where she’s taken the opportunity head on to talk at council meetings about youth involvement. 

She didn’t originally see herself in this career path, but avidly participating in youth discussions and being able to use her passions has given her a path not previously considered.  

“I hadn’t really considered that field of work before I got involved with the Banyule Council; I’ve had beautiful opportunities to talk at council meetings specifically about youth involvement,” she said.  

“That’s been a really cool opportunity, and it’s allowed me to meet councillors who are passionate about the work they do, and are making a tangible difference in their community. 

“It’s all about helping people and that’s something I would love to continue doing in the future.”  

Words: Curtis Baines

Photography: Frances Biggar

95. Kieran West

17 Oct

Working with vulnerable youth in the Banyule community, Kieran West has cemented positive foundations and the ability for at risk young people to flourish.

Kieran grew up in the Banyule area finding his calling by becoming a secondary school history teacher, where his passion for helping disadvantaged youth and community engagement ignited.

“I was a secondary school teacher; I worked out West in some low-socioeconomic schools. And what I found was: a lot of particularly young men in my class – probably about a third – couldn’t read or write to a level that they could pass anything,” Kieran said.

“[Having] about a third of my class that couldn’t read or write to a high school standard, they failed from day dot.

“So, I found myself providing more and more individual support in the way of trying to catch people up in those really basic educational life skills.

“I guess the rigidity of having to teach by a curriculum led me to explore other avenues of being an educator.”

Before he became an educator, he volunteered at the Royal Children’s Hospital in the burns unit, where he aided Black Saturday Bushfire survivors in telling their story through mixed media.

His career as a teacher led him down a path of personalised and individualised support for young people to give them hope and the best chance at success.

From these past experiences, Kieran found a new calling in life: youth work.

He applied for a youth work course on the last day at the last hour – something that can be considered fate

“It was lucky circumstances,” Kieran Said.

“I had a placement lined up where I worked alongside a wellbeing worker, and that fell through the day before.

“I desperately tried to find a last-minute replacement, and I ended up doing my student placement with Naomi at Banyule Youth Services.”

From then on, Kieran was enthralled in the rewarding work of youth services and began his work in the casual pool, aiding in administrative tasks and progressing to where he is today.

Kieran now works in many fields within Banyule Youth and specialises in working with at risk young men culminating to his pride and joy: The New Hope Program.

The New Hope Program follows two streams falling under the same banner of hip hop and culture, allowing aspiring young and enthusiastic, street artists, rappers, and beat makers, use their creativity in a safe environment, away from illegal and negative avenues.   

For many years, before Kieran was involved, the program has been a safe outlet for young people to express their passions for street art and music, while providing them with life skills, peer interactions and connectivity.   

Kieran now runs the program in conjunction with talented street artists, musicians, and role models: Dean Peters, D’Arcy Savage, and Sebastian Fransz, creating an ecosystem of inclusivity.

“At its heart, [New Hope] is a diversionary program; diverting young people away from graffiti crimes and anti-social behaviour, and more into avenues of using those things towards paid opportunities or opportunities to give back to the community,” Kieran said.

“Our culture at New Hope is something we’re very protective of, it’s about establishing those good routines and that respect from the outset.

“Some of the feedback I’ve received is that they feel that they can be themselves, and that’s the highest compliment I could wish for… you can come here and be yourself without being self-conscious; you feel like you can belong here.

“It’s a tricky one with street art culture; it inevitably has that criminal element, but our responsibility is to teach them there’s another side to it: you can make a living and do things for the community as well.”

Kieran is also responsible for youth skate, scooter and bike events in the Banyule community, and although there are similarities with New Hope, these programs need to be treated differently.

Kieran said that while these young people are not their usual cohort, they have a responsibility to locate, navigate, and present programs that young people want to do.

“Consulting with young people and finding out what fun things they want to do that’s purely recreational, and we target things like skate jams and BMX jumps because they’re not our usual cohort of young people,” Kieran said.

“It’s part of our responsibility to reach out to people who wouldn’t normally come themselves… [however] they are resistant to the therapeutic side of youth work.

“You have to come to it with a bit of flexibility and meet them on their level, so it’s about making things as little like school as possible, while providing them with a safe and structured environment.”

Ultimately, Kieran strives to negate the negative avenues that vulnerable young people may fall into by creating programs that are tailored towards their passions.

He still sees himself as an educator, providing invaluable life skills and independence; removing the need or warranty for negative outlets.

Kieran says he would love for his current generation and emerging New Hope participants to thrive and have the same outcomes as many of their past participants.

“I really want to see these guys take their creative passion and turn them into paid employment opportunities,” Kieran said.

Article by Curtis Baines

Photo by Darcy Scales

94. Mahamed Hassan Awl

2 Oct

Paving the way for young people to better understand their culture, Mahamed Awl has become an intrinsic part of his community.

The Beyond Youth Founder; a not for profit local organisation that helps young Somali-Australian’s learn more about their culture in a supportive and age appropriate environment, has been helping young people since it’s inception.

Mahamed grew up in a Somalian community in Melbourne’s North where he yearned for community events to participate in.

He saw that sport had the monopoly on community events, but he questioned: what if some young people don’t like sport?

Like himself, there were other Somali-Australian young people who didn’t have an outlet because they also didn’t enjoy sport; ultimately leaving them excluded.

Calling Heidelberg home, Mahamed has become an integral part of his community; he now works toward the mission of addressing – and ameliorating – the: ‘disadvantages within our community’.

“Starting off living in a Somalian community, [and] our community is very connected, but I think that there wasn’t a lot of community events that were happening or a lot of support for young people,” he said.

“For me personally, I wasn’t dedicated to sport or those kind of things, so there wasn’t an outlet for me to actually speak to others or socialise.

“I had a need of trying to develop my social skills and talk to others; I really wanted to have a space where I could actually do that – it was something that was lacking.”

Mahamed saw a gap or a disproportionate number of events that were tailored towards young people that searched for other ways to socialise.

This sparked an idea which lead him to build a community based program targeted towards young Somali-Australians: Beyond Youth.

“From the beginning, there were four of us that started it all,” he said.

“We helped start it up and create the organisation Beyond Youth, and ensure that we had our plans, our goals, our focus on who we will support, and what we can do, and what programs we’re going to do.

“There are a lot of others who are like me, who had no opportunity to go to events, so we thought: why not do it ourselves, we can be the solution to this problem.”

Their classes are aimed at equipping young Somali-Australians with important life skills: public speaking, swimming, job searching, and so many more.

However, these classes also allow many young people within the Banyule community to connect with their Somalian cultural heritage, and see the inspiring success the programs volunteers have achieved.

These classes started from grass root ideas, and was incepted based on Mahamed’s upbringing, and lack of classes targeted towards young Somali-Australians.

Mahamed says the catalyst moment that pushed him to get involved with his community was simple: helping others socialise and find their place within their community.

“I would say it started in school; luckily I was given the role of being school captain, so I think my eagerness of wanting to help other students really put forward an idea of me enjoying helping others,” he said.

“An event that I supported from a young age was the photography program, which was very simple… however, that engagement with others was what really allowed for relationships to be created.

“The highlight for me is the small things… we wanted to teach youth a simple life lesson, and the reason I enjoy it so much is how it really impacted their lives.

“[these programs] really allowed for the community to know who we are, and really create a bond between ourselves and the community.”

Mahamed follows the mantra: ‘I do have the power to help others and I do have the power to change someone’s life for the better,’ which has empowered him to pursuit a career in social work.

Now Mahamed is a force to be reckoned with; his passion lies with helping young people succeed, and giving more young Somali-Australians an outlet to get the support they need.

Photo by Darcy Scales.

Article by Curtis Baines.

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

91. Johnathan Binge

3 Mar

Johnathan Binge, aka Caution, is a proud Gamilaraay, Dunghutti and Gumbaynggirr rapper. He was born in Moree, New South Wales and grew up on Wurundjeri land in Heidelberg West. As most of his family, excluding his younger brothers, remain in Moree, he takes regular trips to return home to family and Country.

Living so far from his Country is “semi-dissociative”, as he feels simultaneously there and not there. “It’s different when you’re on Country, that feeling of the fresh air and you jump out and you know where you are, it feels like home.”

Whilst Melbourne has perks, such as the music scene and his youngest brothers, Johnathan admits it is difficult “tryna keep up with the stuff that’s going on”. Family has always been incredibly important to Johnathan, as he realised at a young age the fragility of family.

“I’ve just lost so many people throughout the years, so it is something that I kept close to me just because I know how quick a life can be lost.” These lost people include his mother, “one of the most significant people in anyone’s life”, his cousin, “[who] helped me gain confidence, and really stand up for myself”, and his uncle, “who was my mentor, my father figure”.

“I just want to hold onto my family for as long as I have them. And I hope I don’t have to visit any more cemeteries ever again.”

Johnathan’s story isn’t unique, “it’s not unique at all. In a way for my community, it is almost uniform. There’s so much of these stories, just downtrodden stories, that we all come from that are shared so widely across different mob.”

Johnathan now shares his story and feelings through his music, which he started writing in 2014 to express and process his anxieties and traumas.  

“The moment that I had that anxiety attack, it pushed the fear back into me and it sent me on a real bad downward spiral. I locked myself in my room for a couple months. And almost every night after I had that first panic attack, [I had another panic attack]. And writing music was a way to put those thoughts that I was having in my head onto a page and making it a physical thing that I could let go of and put out into the world.”

Johnathan is very careful about finding the right time to release and share his music. The songs from his yet unreleased EP were formed in the years spanning 2014 to 2018, a formative, transitional period in Johnathan’s life. “Looking back, and listening to that music, it’s like it’s not me anymore. It was someone who didn’t have money, someone who was in a lot of pain and didn’t know how to deal with those emotions in the most healthy way.”

“So, the fact that I kept those [songs] as almost a time capsule, I just wanted to dress [the songs] up, make it as authentic as it was back then when I wrote it. I wanted to make it have that effect and have that feeling for any people who went through those similar things, and there’s a lot of people in my community that have. I just want the audience to understand that what I’m saying and what I’m speaking at any given moment are what I was feeling and might still be feeling.”

Johnathan is working hard “so that when I see my family, I am not projecting myself and my fears and my anxieties onto them. I try to put a strong foot forward, and show that to my brothers, and my nieces and nephews.”

Subsequently, when asked what his proudest moment is, Johnathan does not tell me of coming second in the National Indigenous Story Awards, but rather watching his youngest brother graduate from primary school. “Seeing him graduate, and just be up there and have fun with his class, is [so] cool to see… ‘cause I didn’t get a lot of moments like that, when I got to be a kid.”

Johnathan was involved with Banyule through Jets and New Hope, even giving New Hope its’ name. (Did you know New Hope is a Star Wars reference?) “I’m grateful for it all cause that’s really where I got my start and my confidence on stage. [Banyule] are still doing some deadly stuff and I’ll always be able to put my hand up and go work with them, and they know that.”

Aside from his family and his booming music career, in 2022 Johnathan is working with the Foundation for Young Australians in their first dedicated First Nations Team as First Nations Program Officer. “I’m really looking forward to seeing what we can do for mob.” His main goal for the year is “to give myself to people as openly as I can. That’s all I know what to do.”

“My advice for young people is knowing what you have at your disposal, always go out into your community.” To musicians, he recommends looking for “any programs that can get you cheaper or free recording, and to know when to release your stuff, and when to hold off”. Take time to “develop yourself, develop your craft, know your way around what you want to do, set up a plan, give yourself a timeframe…But most importantly, give yourself time to grow.”

“If you’re a young blakfella, you know what your community is, you know your strength, play to your strengths. Keep yourself and your chin up, because your family needs you around. Keep strong…try to keep yourself out of harm, keep yourself out of trouble. Avoid the police, man.”

“For everyone else that doesn’t fit those two categories, be yourself man, don’t try to replicate anyone else. You’ve got your swag from your mum and your dad…You’ll find yourself one day.”

There’s a lot that we all can learn from Johnathan, his commitment to his family and community, and his generosity with his time and experiences.

Find his released music here, and follow him on social media to find out about upcoming gigs and his soon-to-be released EP.

Music link is Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/artist/3o5PFiBDtwOWQeog0H48f7?si=Tkn2JqITQSqsqT8SDxLrsQ

Social media: Instagram.com/MOBCaution

Words: Lucy Olsen

Photo: Grace Herbert

90. Kevin Mao

28 Jan

There isn’t much Kevin Mao hasn’t done. Since graduating Dux of Ivanhoe Grammar in 2017 with an impressive ATAR of 99.80, Kevin hasn’t let anything (including the ongoing pandemic) stand in his way.

Kevin is a published scientist, passionate community volunteer, consultant, peer mentor, student councillor, and a St John’s First Aid responder. Most of his leadership and volunteering experiences are connected to Health Futures Australia, UN Youth Australia and 180 Degrees Consulting.

However, Kevin didn’t immediately find his path in life. Culturally, there were two choices for smart, high-achieving kids– studying Commerce or Medicine. Kevin picked Medicine because he “likes science and got the grades for it. My parents actually didn’t want me to medicine as it is ‘too hard’ and ‘you won’t have a life’. But I thought Medicine sounded interesting.”

Six months into Medicine at Monash University, Kevin changed his mind and switched to a Bachelor of Biomedicine at Melbourne University instead. “I was 18 and I was doing medicine. I didn’t know if I could be a doctor and that’s the whole course, there was no leeway.”

Looking down the academic pathway that was prescribed for him at such a young age prompted Kevin to make a change. “Just ‘cause you’re good at something, and just ‘cause you like it, doesn’t mean you have to do it. Life always finds stuff you can do” Being open to new experiences and allowing yourself to change your mind provides greater depth and experience.

By switching paths at 18, Kevin found himself in a new community, and exposed to new opportunities. Studying at the University of Melbourne was an excellent decision for Kevin, it allowed him to have a more holistic university experience than Medicine would have permitted.

He credits his switch to Biomedicine for allowing him to have a multidisciplinary approach to tackling issues he is passionate about. “I would get bored if I spent all my time approaching problems from the same direction. Instead, I have this depth where I feel like I’m doing public health in many different directions”. Kevin aims to tackle problems with his scientific, consultancy and social skills.

“I need to exercise my brain, and keep things varied. In today’s society, you’re told you need to learn more, you need to get more knowledge. But you just do the same steps over, and over, again. You pipette the same liquid, to the same concentration, to get the same result. Things don’t change unless you stitch the future together.”

His volunteering work with various organisations, such as Health Futures Australia of which he is now the President, enabled him to see a different side of Australia. HFA seeks to “combat existing health inequities”, and one of their many programs provides nutrition-based school programs to kids and their parents.

“The first time I went to Daylesford not as a tourist, I was working in a school kitchen to provide healthy food. We did a survey asking, ‘What do you eat?’. What caught my eye was that the canteen didn’t serve vegetables, except for potatoes in chip form! I felt really privileged cause my school provided salads, wraps, etc. [In Daylesford] they have a lot of farms – acres filled with organic vegetables, but had minimal connection to the food they actually ate.”

Kevin’s volunteering projects kept him connected to public health in a more personable, community-driven way. “That’s what’s the most important thing, is meeting people, and making a tangible difference.”

This isn’t to say you can’t make a tangible difference in research or academic pathways. “Research has these really big, long-term goals that you work towards. And when you achieve something, you celebrate!”

Kevin completed an internship in a structural biology lab at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research “looking at structures of cancer proteins.” And he is now starting placements a Doctor of Medicine at Melbourne University. When I asked what made him return to Medicine, his answer was one word – people.

“[Medicine] is probably one of the only jobs I could actually do where I make a direct impact in somebody’s life. What they care about is whether you’re a good person, and if you can get them back to their daily life. And that’s why I want to do it.”

Kevin’s advice to young people, and others looking to make a difference within their communities, is not to do everything. “First, focus on your values” to find something you are passionate about that aligns with what you believe in. “Focus your energy and time there, and find a way for your work, your study, whatever to reflect those values.”

“Structure everything in your life around your values. Say your goal is to be a doctor, you must do certain steps. But if you think of your values, say education, and weave it in that way, and it exposes you to so many more opportunities.”

Ultimately, Kevin’s primary value, above curiosity and innovation, is family. His parents emigrated from China more than 35 years ago and many sacrifices to provide for their children. His parents’ actions, and a strong cultural emphasis on family values, gave Kevin a strong sense of community and love.

“When everything else is gone, the people who are going to be there for you are your family. So, take time to love them.”

Words: Lucy Olsen

Picture: supplied