Reconciling the Divide

Spine 3 (radiance) 2018. Artist: Dale Harding. Mural Eastern Avenue, University of Sydney

There is no such thing as a singular “indigenous”.  The diversity of life experiences and negotiation of identities can result in people of aboriginal heritage having different degrees of engagement with our dominant western culture for families or individuals.  The result is a mosaic.

Engagement with one culture or another can fall at an extreme:  from total immersion to total exclusion. Some individuals bridge the divide between two cultures, and after a journey that’s anything but straightforward, can create a path that fosters the kind of success in life that they are seeking.  Julie and Jamie have had vastly different experiences, but both have taken advantage of opportunities offered to work in the media to negotiate the cultural divide.

Jamie Toomey with Stan Grant. Image:

Jamie began his career in the media at Eora TAFE and developed what he called a “love for the camera”.  He studied film and screen and got some interesting opportunities through one of his teachers to work on films that went on to achieve cult status:  Last Cab to Darwin, and Unindian.  These were entry level roles which he took on as unpaid work, and they opened his eyes both to the uncertainty of the industry and the prospect of a more sustainable career –  in journalism. 

Once again, the willingness to take on unpaid work in the media opened the way for further opportunities.  Jamie joined the ABC as an intern, saying to himself

“I’m gonna prove that I belong at the ABC.  I’ll do it for three or six months or whatever they give me, because as soon as that six months is over, how can they get rid of me if I prove that there’s no-one there who can do what I do?”

Jamie’s determination has paid off.  He’s in transition from being a trainee on an indigenous certified program to looking for full time employment there.  He’s  made good connections with household names like Stan Grant and Leigh Sales.  What is his strategy for success?  “I’ve been in just about every area of the ABC that you can imagine.  I’ve tried to be an allrounder. You have to do what you love.” 

Jamie feels that more representation of indigenous people is needed in the high profile areas of news and radio.   But that’s not where it ends.  “I believe strongly that I can get to where I need to be without using the aboriginal card.  I don’t feel I need the title of the “indigenous person”.  I have enough of a reputation now so that I could apply for a camera job and I could possible get it because I’m at that level now where I feel like to know what I’m doing.”

Julie escaped homelessness and is about to start work full time

There’s no doubt that Koori Radio at Redfern gives an opportunity for indigenous talent to be recognised.  It has the happy mix of music, news, community information and discussion that makes a community radio station successful.  Julie is a volunteer presenter there.  She’s on air on Saturday mornings with Kookaburra George.  Before that she did some time at 2SER with the Uni students even though she didn’t have the same level of qualifications, and learnt a lot.  Julie worked on the Jailbreak program – stories from prisoners – once a week.  She still does the Christmas Day show with Jailbreak. 

Homelessness is something that Julie feels particularly strongly about.  It’s a trap for many indigenous people. She should know, she was homeless in Melbourne for a number of years.  Luckily for her, she had some help to escape it, over a period of time.

“I think people have got to remember that homelessness takes a little while to reorganise yourself once you find somewhere to live.  It’s a hard road and people just have to keep trying.  Employers like to know that you’re trying.  What I would suggest is that people do volunteer work – get your references, get your skills, try and hold down a place for about twelve months because employers like to see that.”

Julie had help with navigating the myriad paperwork and services from someone from a church mission who told her that she didn’t deserve to be in her situation, but a Housing Commission flat still took fifteen years to come her way.  She’s continuing with her volunteering at Koori Radio, and has gained certificates in peer education, primary care and health and outreach.  She is just about to start working with people with a disability.

Both Julie and Jamie have woven a career path using volunteering in mainstream and community media coupled the resources available to them as indigenous Australians.  There could be no better way to reconcile what could otherwise have been a wide cultural divide.

Power Reading

The Women’s Library is tucked away behind the Newtown Library

The oldest library in the modern world was opened by a woman, Fatima Al-Fihri. That was in Morocco over a thousand years ago. Now libraries are commonplace and accessible to all, but The Women’s Library in Newtown defines itself by a specific mission – empowering and celebrating the lives of women.

Many of these women were born in homelands both physically and culturally distant from the golden age of Morocco.  Their stories may be different too – far from the wealth and social status needed to establish a non-essential activity such as collecting books for learning. But learning promotes power, and seeing women’s voices in print and reading stories written from women’s perspectives brings recognition of commonality and difference, no more so than in modern day Australia.

The Women’s Library began in 1991 when a dedicated group of women got together to discuss the need for a library that contained print and non-print material for and about women, with a focus on lesbian and feminist literature. Some of the founders were household names of the time:  Caroline Jones, Clover Moore, Justice Elizabeth Evatt and Ann Deveson. It took them three years to find the premises, then they set out to collect 4000 books.  They scattered bright red chests throughout Sydney for donations, and wrote to Australian authors and publishers asking them to donate.  They got a good response.

As well as being a “safe space” for women to relax and read, the library has evolved into a meeting space for smaller groups promoting feminism and women’s causes.  The Sydney Feminists group has screened free educational videos there; senior’s week events, lesbian open house, International Women’s Day events, comedy and music performances all benefitted the local and wider community. 

The written word is the mainstay of any library, and in 2008 a series of “Storying our Lives” workshops was held, funded by the City of Sydney.  Women were asked to think about what living in Sydney meant to them, or to tell in pictures a story about their lives. Out of this emerged a diverse range of art and a wide range of interesting conversations, and a book. Short story competitions, the creation and launch of the TWL Herstory book and bargain book sales keep learning and creativity at the Library’s forefront

The legacy of the founders is still going in 2019. Right now the Women Write Wiki project, funded by the NSW Writers Centre, aims to train a team of women to edit Wikipedia. Its purpose is to redress the  gender imbalance in the representation of  Australian and Pacific women writers.  According to the website, the Wiki writers are

  “raising our voices peacefully for gender equality, speaking out against hatred and bigotry, and volunteering in our communities. We do so in solidarity with our sisters all over the world.”

In fostering these projects and providing space for women to explore their place in the world,  the Women’s Library is spreading Fatima Al-Fihri’s inspired vision for learning and empowerment into areas she could never have dreamed of.

Landfill contamination threatens Central Coast water supply

Mangrove Mountain is a small rural community in the Central Coast hinterland

The battle to save the Central Coast water supply from contaminants leaching from Mangrove mountain landfill entered another stage this week. In a battle involving the Bingo Waste Management company and some smaller local players, the Central Coast Council is now considering submissions from the community to help to inform its application to the Environmental Protection Authority to have the site closed down.

Continue reading “Landfill contamination threatens Central Coast water supply”