Inspiring people: true Aussies both

Two from last night’s Australian of the Year Award – with an eye to the future.

Young Australian of the Year 2013: Akram Azimi

"This bloke is a legend already," says one commenter.

Akram Azimi is a dedicated mentor to young Indigenous people.  Arriving in Australia 13 years ago from Afghanistan he went from being ‘an ostracised refugee kid with no prospects’ to becoming his school’s head boy. An outstanding student, he topped the tertiary entrance exam scores among his classmates. He’s now studying a triple major – law, science and arts – at the University of Western Australia. Intent on giving back to his adopted country, Akram uses his leadership and pastoral skills to help young people in remote and rural Western Australia.  In 2011 he co-founded a student-run initiative I am the other set up to raise awareness about Indigenous issues in universities. His philanthropic roles have included working with True Blue Dreaming, which helps disadvantaged remote Indigenous communities. For three years, Akram mentored young Indigenous people in the Looma community in the Kimberley region, and he has mentored primary school students in the small farming community of Wyalkatchem, in WA’s wheat belt. Akram is also mentoring a Special Olympics athlete to help raise community awareness of disability issues.

See also The Big Interview with Akram Azimi.

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Local Hero: Shane Phillips

REDFERN: According to the Sydney Morning Herald’s (Sydney) magazine, Shane Phillips of the Tribal Warrior Association is one of Sydney’s 100 most influential people writes Liesa Clague in the February 2012 edition of the South Sydney Herald.

It was an immense pleasure speaking to Shane about growing up in Redfern – what has inspired him with regards to his work now, and recalling, when he was young, the key events and people who have made him the leader he is today.

Shane (a Bundjalung, Wonnarua and Eora man) was born in Redfern, and grew up surrounded by role models such as Mum Shirl, Charlie Perkins, Joyce Clague, and other Aboriginal men and women who have contributed to the fight for equal opportunity, the right to be counted as part of the wider community and to help support Aboriginal people. Shane talked about the environment of Redfern in the ’70s and ’80s, which were “good times”.

Much has changed since then. Shane looks forward to new life for “working families” on The Block, better relationships with the police and among all people of good will in the community.

What inspires Shane is supporting his family and being true to them as well as doing the best he can for his community.

He believes that you need good work ethics and to follow through by doing the best job you can.

Shane started work at the age of 14, after being told by his Dad he had to work. The work experience for Shane was “tough but fair”, and he learnt a lot from the people he worked with and for. He learned there was value and pride in contributing to the greater good.

Shane recalls, when he was 14 years old, assisting another lad to break into a car. The other lad ran away but Shane was caught by police. He recalls that the police officer “kicked me up the bum” and “told me he didn’t want me being involved in any stealing again”. This event shaped Shane to realise that he did not want to do anything to get himself into trouble. “I respected that he gave me that chance – that he showed me that respect,” Shane said.

Being there for his family, maintaining humility and integrity, and developing programs that support young people in the community to achieve their goals are very important to Shane – more important than any accolades or awards.

Source: South Sydney Herald February 2012 www.southsydneyherald.com.au

See more from redwatch.

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See SBS video The Block for a profile of Shane.

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In 1983 I learned more than I knew I was learning…

At that time I lived in Glebe and was in some ways at a rather low ebb, in hiatus from teaching but still editing Neos. I lived for a while in a boarding house in Boyce Street with assorted students, crims and schizos and one or two ordinary folk. It was an education. Among my neighbours was a schizophrenic Aboriginal woman whom I call “Marie”.  As I listened to Marie, who was also kind of concierge to the house, I found a story emerging amid the apparent randomness and even craziness. I tried to capture that in a poem at the time. Every word in the poem she actually said, though not all at once, and I have structured it so that her story emerges, as it did for me over a much longer time. An artist who lived upstairs read it and said I had captured her exactly.

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The house in Boyce Street. At the time I occupied the front room. “Marie” was on the second floor at the landing. The artist had the balcony room.

It is clearly no longer a boarding house.

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Marie: Glebe 1983

(for the “stolen generation”)

my mama was black
dadda a scotsman

in the home there was a flower
it woke us up

see here it is

and here’s one i’m saving for matron
(i loved you matron)
i’ll write a book for matron

she’s gone now
they say she died

sometimes
i think i will come back to her

she said “you’re in trouble, marie”
she said “have the baby”
(i was nineteen or twenty)

i know all about cocks
men can be cheeky
but the girls are worse
two backyard jobs

matron’s gone now
see her flower?
i’ve pressed it for her

i’m forty-two years old i am nothing
a woman not married in this society
is nothing

my dream is to get married
i said to matron
“i will have babies for you”

tomorrow

i’ll give up smoking
i must control the grog
but when my head’s upset i need a beer

the pub is good
nobody looks down on you there

i hope my joseph is happy
he chose his family
and thomas
where is thomas?

there have been too many men

i’ll go picking again
on the riverina

this is not my place

this is a dead end street this is a dead man’s house
but there is a lane

they call me
abo
schizo

words are very powerful
you must be careful how you use them

do the children still read?

the television
i got mine at the hock shop forty bucks
it freaks me out

sometimes

i see myself and matron and joseph and thomas
i learn a lot
it freaks me out

sometimes

this is not my place
my head hurts here

all that fucking going on
over my head

i’ve never hurt no-one
let them kill me it’s good
it doesn’t matter
i’ve never hurt no-one
but i’ve been hurt

do you know my dream?

this is my dream
i’ll have a coffee shop
and there will be little huts
and no-one will be turned away

we did that once
had pillows all over the house

i learned
dressmaking
and elocution

i’ll get up early and get a job
it’s good i reckon
tomorrow
will be good
after christmas
next year
i’ll leave this place

but it’s good
i reckon

see this flower?
i’m saving it for matron
and here is the one
that woke us in the home

my dadda was a scotsman
my mama was black

****

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Each photo is linked to its story.  See A guide to Australia’s Stolen Generations and 100 Year Commemoration of the Cootamundra Aboriginal Girls Training Home.

See also Punishment and death at Cootamundra for a contrarian view from Keith Windschuttle. BTW, if you happen upon that chapter directly via a search you could be forgiven for thinking it had some kind of official status. I find that a bit deceptive, but then I guess it is up to me (caveat emptor) to check the home and about links.

Archie Roach at Cootamundra Girl’s 100 years playing ‘Mum’s Song’ by Kutcha Edwards.

Full of hatred and full of anger
Which I needed to release
But with love and understanding
I’ve moved on and I’m now at peace

Late at night I still remember
I would cry myself to sleep
The scars they hurt no longer
But the memories are deep

As we come up to Australia Day tomorrow it is time to reflect soberly and honestly on the full picture of our country’s history.