Notes from Garma: Day 3

It has been a week since returning from north east Arnhem Land, where I attended Garma Festival. Up at Gulkala I attempted to write my reflection on each day’s events. It's difficult to find the words to express my gratitude to the Yothu Yindi Foundation for hosting the festival.

I applaud the leadership of the Yothu Yindi Foundation Board as well as Yolgnu Elders and Denise and Sean Bowden. Garma Festival continues to evolve, providing a platform for advanced discussions around Indigenous affairs and cultural advancement.  

Garma is a place where we from the city can let go of materialism, remove the costume that the city requires of us and communicate our business on country. Nothing is lost by doing this, in fact everything is gained. The conversations and discussion I was part of were of no less value than anything found in the city dressed up with a suit and tie.

Festivals like Garma allow us, as people, to express our humanness and operate closer to our true self. Being able to sit with a stranger and join them for lunch and spontaneous conversation. Since moving to the city, I’m reminded how much I have forgotten these simple community attributes. 

New friends or the evolution of friendships is one highlight. I was fortunate to spend time with two emerging Yolgnu leaders in Gapirri Collins-Yunipingu and Mayatili Marika. Watching their confidence grow over the couple of days as MCs in the forum was wonderful.

The stage is daunting place, I distinctly remember the mumble that fell from my mouth the first time I jumped on stage. If I never stop being nervous, I might give up public speaking.

Spending time with Professor Marcia Langton is always going to be a highlight, she is someone that I have admired for many years and spending time with her is humbling.  In many cases, I have had the honor of meeting my heroes and walked away being completely let down. Aunty Marcia is someone that has always afforded me time and someone that I’m always eager to learn from.

In an earlier blog, I wrote about the grace of Jack Thompson and the soothing sound of rolling thunder as he slept in the opposite tent. Sharing dinner with Jack and his wife at the corporate dinner, Mud Crabs were on the menu and come hell or high waters, Jack wasn’t waiting for anyone. The man the Yunipingu’s and Yolgnu know as Gulkala was not going to miss out. Some memories live with you forever and this is one of them.

Having started my career as a dancer, didgeridoo player and later a song man, Bunngul is another highlight. It is something that I miss incredibly with demands of my current role at GenerationOne, so on the last day I danced with my Yolgnu family. It reminded me of the importance of dance, the connection, the peace and most importantly for that one hour nothing else mattered, I was free to dance.

The forum was engaging and the conversations meaningful. Noel Pearson is truly an incredible orator. When he stood at the lectern, he stole the wind from the world and it was like time almost stood still. Enthralled and enchanted by the raw passion in presentation the 500 strong audience were left completely jolted by his speech.

You can view the speech here.

Next, Andrew Forrest - whose ‘Creating Parity’ Review had only just been released a day earlier - had the floor. While following Noel is not and enviable time slot, it was a great opportunity for Andrew to share his passion and drivers behind the 27 Recommendations that feature in the review. 

As an Aboriginal man, I welcome this document. There is no doubt that to create parity we need drastic change.

We need measures brought into place that support the development of business and procurement. Early childhood support and education are critical to ensuring that the next generation does not inherit the poison of the past, where welfare dependency suffocates the soul.

I have said this many times. We didn’t ask for welfare, it was cast over us like a fishing net and entrapped so many of our families. On top of failed racially driven policies welfare has disempowered us.

The Healthy Welfare Card (HWC) recommendation has attracted much media, but I feel it has been misrepresented. This is not welfare quarantining, or the Basics Card redone. This will be a debit card.

Those using the HWC will have the same access to goods and services as everybody else, but without the feature of disposable cash. There will also be restrictions on alcohol and gambling. Without cash, the HWC will also reduce the ability of vulnerable Australians to spend their money on illegal drugs.  

Substance abuse is a widespread Australian issue and unfortunately the sinister world of drugs infiltrates and preys on the vulnerable. Self empowerment does not exist within the world of drug dependency.

Not everyone abuses the system. The welfare system was designed to be a safety net and a support mechanism. But in some cases it has become a generational blanket stifling human potential.

The recommendations of the HWC will not debilitate someone’s self worth. I believe that it in time, it will give greater empowerment to vulnerable people.

Garma is an event that every Australian should try and be part of at least once in their life. If you have a genuine interest in the political landscape of Aboriginal affairs and preservation of culture, then Garma goes beyond a must. The red soil will infect your soul. It will enter you bloodstream.  You will go back. 

Twelve months from now, I know where I’ll be. Gulkula, Garma.

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