Yuuingan Dhilla Yari 2023

The highlights of the Queensland Indigenous Language’s Symposium held at the State Library Queensland, on 4th of May 2023 were: the Kutaw Zoeru Torres Strait Islander Dance Troupe; learning about the project and policy work of First Languages Australia; and all the afternoon workshops particularly the presentation of Desert Pea Media, on building creative bridges between Elders and younger generations in community.

The major focus of this years symposium was youth. There was a youth workshop stream attached to the event, which occurred at the same time as the workshops for adults. In these sessions, held at the Edge, youth were learning about song and poetry and writing in language and language song recording.

The symposium brought together Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages speakers, language workers, organisations, cultural leaders and youth for a full day of keynote presentations, panel discussions and workshops; to provide a platform to look towards the future and share strategies, initiatives and best practice models, to ensure the ongoing revival of Queensland Indigenous languages in the 21st century for and by future generations.

Master of Ceremonies, Rhianna Patrick, introduced all speakers and the dancers with warmth and enthusiasm whilst alerting the audience to the slido system to pose questions. They could identify themselves or do so anonymously, for the panel sessions throughout the day, which could be accessed QR Codes.

Tribal Experiences, welcomed us into the space with story, performance and speech. Then Minister Honourable Leeanne Enoch, MP who since the symposium has been appointed to Minister for Treaty and Minister for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Partnerships, in her address focused on how important it is for First Nations people to reclaim language, which is a vital part of their cultural DNA. Truth telling, reclamation are all part of the healing for First Nations community. Waking up ‘dormant aspects’ ‘of culture so First nations can hear their languages is a powerful thing.

Vicki MacDonald (State Library CEO), gave an impressive beginning in the local language, and informed us there will be a further two symposiums and wished all of the symposium attendees well.

The consideration of advocacy, sector support and partnership by one of the key note speakers, Beau Williams CEO from First Languages Australia, was extremely comprehensive. It was interesting to find out about the impact of collaborations and community driven initiatives. The ultimate goal of this diverse and interrelated initiatives is to strive for wide spread speaking of language rather than just preservation.

It was wonderful as a former ABC Open guest producer and contributor for the 500 words project, to see that another project of ABC Open, the mother tongue project had such a big impact on the development of further projects even though it no longer exists, and that ABC have a large number of video resources supporting First Nations language intergenerational sharing.

I was impressed and delighted to learn of the introduction of Jandai language class at Cleveland Highschool by Kahli Dawkings, where Jandai is taught alongside other languages such as French, and is being sensitively, gradually and appropriately implemented within the the school. Kahli Dawkings, although First Nations, explained how, she was not from that language area, but worked closely and respectfully with the Elders to introduce the program.

It was inspiring to learn about the intergenerational dialogue being fostered by Desert Pea Media , and used to empower the creation of high quality, expressive videos bringing together values, languages, well being, and contemporary youth expressions to build community. This session, with practical examples of videos was highly creative and warmly received by the audience.

When non-Indigenous participants asked questions, of the three presenters, Toby Finlayson, creative director and two highly engaging Hip Hop First Nations Artists about best practice of how they could respectfully become involved with First Nations projects, Toby, shared how important friendship is and working in organic and respectful ways. If you work well with people you will be invited to do more work. They have also found over time that their model of working for a few weeks a time in community has led to invitations to return and work more long term, and they are embarking on more long term residencies within communities.

The final session I attended was with, Joyce Bonner Schultz, and her daughter who demonstrated they have been working together, to keep  Butchulla culture and language alive. This session turned into gifting the knowledge of some of that language with the audience, and a beautiful discussion of the stories of the creatures the words represented, including a sharing of a story that a traditional name chooses you through a significant event that may occur three times on country. This storytelling aspect was also present in the earlier presentation of the Torres Strait dancers, who explained their dances sunflower dancing, crane dancing, pelican dance and tide in, tide out.

By the end of the day I had a series of super interesting resource links to look up, an even deeper sense of the holistic connection between language, culture, environment, closing the gap, and well being and an appreciation of the opportunity the International Decade of the Indigenous Languages presents for First Nations people to have community driven projects firmly established across the country. I also knew some words for animals and places, like the creek.

The major take home message of the symposium for the basket of all attendees, was that the renewal and awakening of First Nations languages is happening in culturally appropriate and innovative ways; and language is not gone but dormant and in the cultural DNA of First Nations people. The many ways in which to achieve this reclamation and renewal are through, media, education, community, Elders and young people working together, policy, action, and collaborations born from friendship and respect. The title of the symposium, friends, basket, talk, is highly apt, to that message.

On a personal level, I found the atmosphere of the symposium to be welcoming of all attendees and many presenters were approachable for questions and chats between sessions. I particularly enjoyed ongoing chats with a librarian who attended the event and we later found we had a mutual friend in her cousin.

The experience and knowledge shared at the symposium encouraged me to continue to share and renew my relationship with my mother’s language, from Maipa Village, Papua New Guinea as part of the global interest and valuing of First Nations across the Pasifika Region, and inspired by the symposium. And to reach out and learn about First Nations languages of any local area I might travel to or engage with as a teacher or creative writer.

[Note: Yuuingan Dhilla Yari – Friends, Basket, Talk from Yuggera Language] From Gaja Kerry Charlton and the Yagarabul Elders Cultural Heritage and Languages Aboriginal Corporation who provided the name for the Symposium]

Articles and Videos of Interest

Word Up


Little J and Big Cuz

Indigenous Names and Languages in the National Conversation

Absolutely Everybody Sings

After being stuck at home for weeks due to a few physical health issues that have caused a few tears from the pain, I thoroughly enjoyed the “Absolutely Everybody Sings” concert held at the State Library of Queensland, on Sunday April, 29th.

It featured inspiring performances from two Brisbane “Absolutely Everybody Choirs” whose members selected the songs for their personal significance to inspire their journeys to well being.

Songs, like, ‘It’s Alright’ (The Impressions), ‘The Climb’ (Miley Cyrus), ‘Fragile’ (Sting), ‘Stand’ (Rascal Rats), ‘Across the Universe’ (Beatles), ‘Staring at a Blank Space’ as well as two covers songs from the Guest Artist, Gregory Moore ‘Wings Beneath my Wings’ (Bette Midler) and ‘Bridge over Troubled Waters’ (Simon and Garfunkel).

We began the concert with singing ‘It’s Alright’ together and ended the afternoon with a three part harmony of the whole audience plus the choir and a celebration of one year birthday for the North Brisbane, choir. Melissa Gill did a fabulous job of conducting the choir and the audience throughout the afternoon.

The concert was truly uplifting. It was well worth the effort of a short walk of discomfort to be surrounded by people using the power of music and connection.

Choirs, by meeting regularly provide connection, and the concerts for family, friends and the public represent just a small portion of the value of such projects.

The concert was supported by Queensland Mental Health Commission, and Commissioner, Ivan Frkovic, gave a beautiful speech in support of such projects where music is used to enhance well being. Other supporters include the Queensland Writers Centre, QLD Health, UQ School of Psychology, and Queensland Alliance for Mental Health.

The project includes creative writing, and song writing, and has resulted in two anthologies from participants.

You can find out more about UpBeat Arts HERE

Pictured: Choir Member, Gregory Moore (Guest Artist) , June Perkins (Representing QWC), Cate Vicars (MC); The Choirs, June and David Perkins and June with Susan Gilmartin

Powerful TedX talks

Chimamanda Nigoze Adichie’s ‘The Danger of a Single Story’ is a wonderful example of how to approach diversity in a public speech, writing, representation and life.

Her message – no cultural group, language group, or ethnicity, can be reduced to one story; for if they are this is reductionist and stereotyping. This is limiting and disempowering.

And even within one person, there is more than one story, one dimension. Each of us are multifaceted.

What I especially enjoy about this classic presentation, is that she uses humorous anecdotes and points to her own failings, and then challenges herself and audience to do better, and rise to the realisation of what diversity means – especially for those of us who write and tell stories.

Ignorance is tackled with humour too, when people call Africa a country, and ignore it is a collection of countries all with different stories within. And there are people who assume she doesn’t know what a stove is as if all Africans cook on open fires.

I especially love the opening of this talk where she speaks about writing about snow and ginger beer, without knowing they are at all, and never experiencing them, and then finding her voice, is to write of the things around her.

Although she does long to taste ginger beer.

As for me, I remember being constantly mistaken for an Overseas Student at University, even with my obviously Tasmanian accent.

Not all situations can be approached with humour, and deep hurt can be felt, and triggered by recalling all the times that being a person of colour has meant I can’t do something my fair skinned husband can do. He has really seen first hand some of the things I have been through, or experienced them because he is with me.

Furthermore he is lucky enough that he really does know some of how I feel because he has lived somewhere where he has directly felt it too by living somewhere he was in the minority. He knows what it is to live with poverty, without electricity and to stand out because of skin colour and accent.

So how do we speak up, fight back, ask for equality in the way we are treated?

How do we ensure we choose virtues such as love and are not held back by fight and flight responses?

How do we move forward and not withdraw from stressful situations into a cocoon of safety?

Where have I been?

In the last few months I have been connecting with Pasifika Friends, as we carry our cultures in the heart, in the art, and in the soul wherever we go, and connect to families who share that same passion to continue meaningful cultural practices even whilst embracing new homes.

I have been hearing stories of endurance to obtain cultural tattoos, and reconnect with friends who dart in and around the Pacific, Australia and call so many places home, because they have family there. How I treasure these connections and the inspiration, strength and creativity within them.

I’ve been reading and attending forums on the Voice to understand where it comes from and what it means to people and work out how I wish to vote. At a Multicultural hosted forum at the QPAC, one of the speakers said:

‘we are all migrants to Australia, other than the First Nations people who were here first, and that with some coming from countries where we have no freedom of voice. It is important to ensure that future generations of First Nations will have an enshrined voice. This is something that all migrants can consider as something they can give back to First Nations people through supporting the Voice.’

The Voice is only one beginning, one action, a vote where people decide whether to support a proposal but the true changes will come through ongoing conversations, grass roots actions to connection, collaboration and friendship where listening, should forever be a keystone.

Whether you think the Voice will work or not, few can deny the integral and ancient and important connection of First Nations people to this land and that listening, healing and actions go hand in hand.

However you choose to vote, please do your homework with reliable sources, and don’t put unrealistic expectations on all the First Nations people you might know to do your homework for you!

Until my health took a tumble, I was walking almost daily. I loved sensing the sounds, scent and visuals of parks, full of bird life, turtles, and interesting trees and creeks invigorate and inspire. However, little did I know how precious this would all become when I got serious sciatica and presently I still struggle to walk for very long or very far without pain.

My small pieces of film, photographs and memories of these special places is sustaining me whilst I make numerous trips to the doctors and begin the rounds of physios, orthopaedics, and more. I am still unable to return to longer beloved walks, however I can make it out to our garden.

To overcome my feelings of isolation I have been doing lots of editing, reading, writing and attending and organising meetings on zoom when I can’t make it out of my house. I’ve made strides forward on some historical biographical work, and hope to do some interviews over zoom whilst I can’t venture too far from home.

A friend bought me a physical copy of Emily Dickinson, my first actual paper copy of her work as I usually read her online. And thinking about Emily’s use of time alone to write I have begun filling a notebook about the experience and sensations of pain.

To sustain me through this time there have also been the memories of in person times with colleagues and friends, discussing stories, writing, community and the wonderful visits of friends who took the time to come and sit with me in my garden, and cheer me up with our shared memories and stories. There have also been a few phone calls to people who prefer that mode of communication, just to see how they are.

Some very touching comments were posted on my face book wall. Some of my favourite were:

May all the kindness and love you so generously show to others flow right back to you and lift you up and over the waves rolling in. Calm seas are ahead.

“You are a treasure for so many people. I hope all our energies spread back to you, with love.”

Writing Friends

It was very sad to hear of some people passing away relatively young, who had been important at different times to our family in our children’s journeys at school, but inspiring to hear of the courage of forgiveness, of the daughters of one my close friends who lost their mother.

Both these instances of mortality and forgiveness give me an urgency to finish particular projects or ensure there is someone to continue them if something should happen to me.

My silence on this blog means I am healing, reading, living – and pausing to reflect I write to express gratitude for all that life teaches, whether it be walks, or ill health.

Many thanks to all the true friends, and so sorry to miss birthdays, invitations, walks, functions, meetings where we normally connect I will be back or you can visit me in my garden, and we can listen to the wind, enjoy the stillness and bask in the memories of nearness.

Looking forward to when we can laugh together in the same spaces.

Genre Con Opening Night

It was an enthusiastic and joyful opening night last Friday, when the first Genrecon (themed Forbidden Doors) in person for three years, happened in Brisbane on the Terrace of the State Library QLD after having to be online during the pandemic and floods.

It included fairy floss, popcorn, sushi, Japanese beer, sandwiches, a back drop of Rocky Horror Show silent on a big screen, some cosplay for launch night for this who wanted to, socializing, and a celebration of all things to do with Fantasy, spec fic, crime, romance, fairy tale as well as combination genres.

You could if you like talk to some of the best selling authors, like Garth Nix who were super friendly and encouraging of emerging and budding authors and who stayed throughout the weekend for more than just their own panels. Other presenters and writers in attendance were Nalini Singh, Natasha Lester, Rob McDonald, J.P. Pomare, and Jay Kristoff, Ali Sinclair, Leanne Young and more.

Lori-Jay Ellis (CEO of the QLD Writers Centre), was delighted to launch the event, and spoke up talented best selling Queensland writers, as well as our international and interstate visitors for the conference and the best cos players.

Roaming photographer Jemma Polari, and also MC board member, captured some of the joy and creativity of the evening. Other board members also in attendance over the weekend were Lara Cain Grey and Stephen Torre.

The amazing Lauren Elise Daniels, editor, writer, writing across a number of genres, soon to be panellist and panel host over the next few days strutted her costume out in super scary style.

There were speeches and prizes for a writing competition (Jay Mckensie won for February Girl), and costumes, with Writing Centre CEO, Lori-Jay aka, Wednesday Addams, and sponsors and organisers (Craig Cauchi came as Lori-Jay’s favourite character/actor). Which included the major one of the QLD Writers Centre and the State Library, but other sponsors are listed on the website and were dutifully and gratefully thanked.

Raelene Purtill won best costume, and gave a thank you speech in character!

One of the major highlights of Genrecon, was being able to learn about genres you might not have considered writing before, and realising you perhaps could. As well as being surrounded by writer tribes you might not have known before.

As well as of course for some connecting with their much missed writing tribe, separated by said floods, and pandemics and lack of interstate travelling rights.

The enthusiasm, knowledge and skill of the horror and speculative fiction writers, as well as writers of paranormal romance, was so enjoyable to witness.

I particularly enjoyed talking to creators, like Geneve Flynn, over the weekend, author/ co-editor of Black Cranes who I was later to host on a panel, Writing Partnerships.

There are some tremendous photographs of genrecon being posted online, with one of my favourite being this one by Garth Nix which captures Craig Cauchi communing with the Fairy Floss machine in full gladiatorial glory. You can find many by following the hashtag #genrecon2023

More posts to come…

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