This month, Time Out Melbourne is co-edited by Jacob Boehme. Below, get to know the fiercely talented men and women making our city a deadlier place by shaping Melbourne’s future across many different fields.
Wominjeka. Welcome to the Deadly Issue and to our beautiful City of Melbourne. Like many Aboriginal peoples across our country, I wasn’t born or raised on my traditional lands of the Narangga and Kaurna nations in South Australia. I was born in the inner city suburb of Fitzroy, historically an important meeting place for many of our mob, and was raised on the other side of the river in Newport, on Kulin country, Bunjil’s country. I call Melbourne my home.
As creative director of Yirramboi First Nations Arts Festival, along with Yirramboi’s Elders, Blak Critics and the Time Out crew, we present for you a taste of Aboriginal Melbourne: its history and languages, and through our Deadliest Melburnians, a snapshot of the diversity and brilliance of local contemporary warriors shaping the economy and culture of the world’s most livable city.
This May we also celebrate National Reconciliation Week 2017 (May 27-June 3), which marks two significant milestones in the journey of a nation we now call Australia.
Fifty years ago, on May 27 1967, over 90 per cent of Australians voted to recognise us in the national census. Up until that point, we weren’t counted as citizens. For most of you reading this, that’s not that long ago – only one or two generations away.
The second significant milestone (June 3) is the 25th anniversary of the landmark Mabo decision, which legally recognised our relationship to country that existed prior to colonisation and that still exists today. We celebrate Uncle Eddie ‘Koiki’ Mabo’s well-documented and hard-won battle for our sovereign rights to land and country as First Peoples. And yet, the battle’s still not over. We stand on this day, and fight today, not only for our sovereignty but for the environmental futures of your children too.
Language and knowledge have power. Let these words empower you to listen to a place and know its story: one that carries the dreams of 1,000 generations who walked this land before you, and one that holds the talents and hopes of those that stand beside you. Jacob Boehme
Meet the deadly Melburnians
Entrepreneur and model
Whadjuk Noongar, lives New Gisborne
Originally from Perth, Nathan McGuire, 27, co-owns the Trentham Collective café near Mount Macedon with his partner Rhys Ripper. He’s also juggling a few other projects: he fronts fashion campaigns and magazine shoots as a model, is working to launch a homewares store called Collect, featuring works with Australian designers, and recently collaborated with street artist Matt Adnate on a mural for Trentham Collective’s exterior. “I wanted more visibility of the traditional owners of the land around Trentham, the Dja Dja Wurrung people, so we chose to do a portrait of Akira Kelly, a 16-year-old rugby player for the New South Wales Rugby Sevens.”
In Melbourne’s future, Nathan would like to see: “A better understanding of the traditional owners of the land we’re on, and [in the modelling world] a wider representation of the diverse faces that make up Australian society, not just Aboriginal faces, but also Asian, African and other ethnicities.”
By Delima Shanti
Artist, curator, educator, academic and cultural producer
Wemba-Wemba and Gunditjmara, lives in Footscray
Paola Balla’s work – whether it’s as an artist, storyteller, academic or curator – intersects at a point of matriarchal authority and responsibility. “In our family, our matriarchal society is very strong. Our women became strong at keeping and telling the stories of our genealogy and of these incredible stories of survival, of humour, of achieving things. That always informs my work.. and the way I collaborate.” Her current PhD thesis is on “the ways that Aboriginal women activists, writers and performers speak back to that colonial narrative”.
Recently Balla, 42, co-curated ACCA’s Sovereignty exhibition, a politically charged showcase of First Nations artists from across the country. At Yirramboi First Nations Arts Festival, she will present a Supper Club hosted by Mok Mok, in which she will embody a powerful ancestral and matriarchal figure from Wemba Wemba Country. “Mok Mok is really angry about the state of play, and saying ‘it’s not good enough, what is happening to our kids and our women – and who’s going to stand up for them?'”
In Melbourne’s future, Paola would like to see: “More Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander public art. I’d also like there to be a really deep and authentic way of providing shelter and protection for homeless people in the city. I’d love it to be a culturally safe city and a physically safe city for people of all abilities and a city that celebrates actual diversity – it doesn’t just pay lip service to it.”
By Rose Johnstone
Writer, producer and activist
Wiradjuri, lives in Thornbury
It’s rare to read speculative fiction with a positive angle, and yet Hannah Donnelly’s ‘cli-fi’ imagines a post-climate apocalypse future in which the care of the environment returns to its traditional custodians. “I use a future tense Indigenous female lens to imagine if that went wrong, what would that look like, and how we would respond to it,” she says. “We get the return of country and water systems to our care through our knowledge system.” She will explore these themes in her Yirramboi work in development, Long Water.
As well as being an associate producer for Next Wave Festival, Donnelly, 27, also runs a music blog called Sovereign Trax, which champions Indigenous musicians. “It’s about access to our voices – it’s a way for more audiences to engage with our stories and our voices.”
In Melbourne’s future, Hannah would like to see: “In terms of the arts, continuing to grow in supporting black and independent spaces and collectives… and nurturing young artists. Young people have things to say as well.”
By Rose Johnstone
Musician, record label owner, writer and actor
Yorta Yorta, lives in Coburg
Adam Briggs, 30, spends his time working across diverse creative mediums. He’s the owner of record label Bad Apples, and he’s a deadly fine writer, rapper and actor. Briggs takes pleasure in being a “redneck antagonist and a proverbial thorn in side”; and as he states boldly, “I’m the hero we all deserve”.
Briggs – who identified early on that his initials were firmly placed with the word Aboriginal – started using the name A.B. Original in his very first raps at age 15. These days, he’s one half of hip hop duo A.B. Original with fellow artist Trials, and 18 months ago, they erupted into the Oz music scene and have been busy producing deadly rhymes and beats. But despite his success, Briggs stays true to himself and his work. “I’ve got to or else I would be ripped. And I’ve got people keeping me honest, don’t worry about that.”
In Melbourne’s future, Briggs would like to see: “More blackfellas on the stage and in every venue. It feels like sometimes blackfellas are relegated to ‘black night’, if you know what I mean. Things are slowly changing, it will take time. And I would like to see healthy live music venues – places just staying open. We’ve got a lot but I reckon we can always have more.”
By Kerri-Lee Harding: @HardingKerri
Photograph: Josh Wayn
Performance artist, dancer and choreographer
Wallangamma and Takalaka, lives in Frankston
Carly Sheppard has been working in the dance industry for more than a decade. She creates work that explores her own exploration of “what it is to be part of the Indigenous diaspora of Australia”.
Over the last few years, she has seen a positive shift in the arts industry towards providing more opportunities for Indigenous artists. “Non-Indigenous companies are asking questions and asking for help – how do we make our space more inclusive to blackfellas – which I think is really awesome,” says Sheppard, 32. “There’s a long way to go but I feel like we’re at a stage now where we’re learning together. There’s no longer this kind of ‘oh I’m afraid to ask’.”
This month, she’s co-facilitating Yirramboi’s Creation Lab program, which will see First Nations artists from all over the world unite to discuss what Indigenous methodologies for art could be. “We have many thousands of years worth of storytelling… and we want to start exploring what that is.”
In Melbourne’s future, Carly would like to see: “Less of an exclusive space for art to exist. There needs to be some kind of understanding that art is a sovereign right to every human and it comes from inside every human. And one more thing: every single workplace is open to children, so mothers are no longer obsolete… and family is included in everything.”
By Rose Johnstone
Photograph: Gregory Lorenzutti
Yorta Yorta and Gunditjmara, lives between Ballarat and Melbourne
Josh Muir’s bold, bright and colourful artworks reflect his contemporary, street art-influenced style. The 25-year-old works in different mediums, from aluminium to digital artworks to projections. Last year, Muir won the Youth Category at the Telstra National Indigenous Art Awards in Darwin – a fair step up from the watch he won in a colouring competition in grade six, after his dad encouraged him to enter. “I always loved colouring and making things happy, vibrant and something of joy.” This month, Muir’s work will be on display at Melbourne Central during Yirramboi First Nations Arts Festival.
In Melbourne’s future, Josh would like to see: “More public art murals, in the way that the whole building is painted with Aboriginal art. Not just street art, but Aboriginal art on buildings.”
By Kerri-Lee Harding: @HardingKerri
Curator and writer
Yorta Yorta, lives in Brunswick
Moulton works as senior curator for the South-Eastern Australian Aboriginal Collections at Museum Victoria. She is also curating an exhibition, Recentre; sister for Yirramboi First Nations Arts Festival, which focuses on the work of female Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists. Kimberley’s energy and dedication to her practice is inspiring – at Museum Victoria, she is responsible for the 4,000 objects that make up the collections from New South Wales, Victoria and Tasmania. She constantly wants to learn more so that she can help her own mob and educate the wider audience on cultural heritage. “I think it’s my role when I have these opportunities to give as much back as I can to my community.”
In Melbourne’s future, Kimberley would like to see: “More presence of Aboriginal memorials and markers in the landscape. I would also like to see more Aboriginal people working within museums and art galleries and leading the vision for our culture for the future.”
By Kerri-Lee Harding: @HardingKerri
Founder and editor of Ascension magazine
Wadjanbarra Yidinji and Jirrbal, lives in Hoppers Crossing
After trying her hand at modelling, acting, writing and directing, Sasha Sarago founded Ascension magazine in 2011. As Australia’s first lifestyle magazine for Indigenous and migrant women, Ascension was inspired by Sarago’s creative journey and her passion for beauty, culture and creativity. Working within the media and fashion industries, Sarago grew frustrated by the invisibility of women of colour in these circles and decided to carve her own path by starting dialogues around cultural identity and self-representation. “When people say, ‘What’s Ascension?’ I say, ‘It’s emancipation of self,’” she says. Ascension is a haven for women of colour, a place where not only can they begin to feel affirmed but realise their voice matters. Ascension Matters is the magazine’s new digital series exploring cultural identity, racism, tokenism, mental health and other social issues. It’s about navigating issues that not a lot of Australians are privy to, and as a proud Aboriginal woman with a blood line that also includes African-American, Malay, Mauritian and Spanish, Sarago is passionate about bringing those stories to the forefront.
In Melbourne’s future, Sasha would like to see: “I would want Melbourne to continue to offer an opportunity for everybody, even a small town girl, to come and find herself, learn more about her community and make connections with others.”
By Rebecca Russo
Yorta Yorta, lives in Mildura
Music is in Benny Walker’s blood. His paternal grandfather was a guitar and pedal steel player, his maternal grandfather was a jazz saxophonist and his dad played in bands growing up – so it seemed natural for Walker to express himself musically. He loves spending time touring, and equally adores being at home with his young family.
Walker, 32, is constantly evolving as an artist and is heavily influenced by blues and soul music, country and hip-hop. At 14, he wrote short poems in school detention – fast forward to 2016 and Benny was taking the title of Best Aboriginal Act at the Age Music Awards, and was nominated for a number of National Indigenous Music Awards in Darwin; something he was hugely honoured to receive alongside other Indigenous musos he respects.
In Melbourne’s future, Benny would like to see: “More venues to stay open. I feel like the shift is going to be towards more independent gigs as more people embrace smaller venues and the little guys who are out there doing it with a lot of integrity.”
By Kerri-Lee Harding: @HardingKerri
Wemba Wemba and Gunditjmara, lives in Kensington
Benson Saulo is driven by curiosity. Growing up in Tamworth, NSW, Saulo began working at ANZ Bank at the age of 15, zig-zagging his way through different roles at the company to become a Business Analyst by age 22. At 23, Saulo assumed the role of the 2011 Australian Youth Representative to the United Nations. He champions young voices, especially those of young Aboriginal Australians, and believes that every young person should have the opportunity to speak up about their ideas, their dreams and their hopes for the future. “That’s the amazing thing about young people – give them the tools and support, and they can do amazing things,” he says. In 2014, Saulo founded the National Indigenous Youth Leadership Academy, a social action based leadership initiative for young Indigenous Australians. He is currently working for Australian Unity as a group Indigenous opportunities manager, implementing a Reconciliation Action Plan that will play a meaningful role in the reconciliation between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and other Australians.
In Melbourne’s future, Benson would like to see: “Greater ways for the wider community to be able to interact and engage with the Aboriginal culture that’s around them. For us to live here in Melbourne, we are living the sum total of all the experiences of Melbourne, all the experiences of Australia and all the experiences of Aboriginal cultures. And I think it’s really important for us to acknowledge that, understand it and celebrate it. So I’d like to see Melbourne really immerse itself in its true history – and I think young people have a particular role to play in that.”
By Rebecca Russo
Architect and academic
Wailwan and Kamilaroi, lives in the eastern suburbs
Educated at Melbourne and La Trobe universities, Greenaway, 40, was the first Indigenous architect to be registered in Victoria. After working for a number of architecture practices, he established Greenaway Lowe in 2003, which rebranded into Greenaway Architects in 2010. It was around this time he began thinking about how he could use his skills to help Aboriginal communities and went on to embed processes and assist regional communities to realise their aspirations. His practice is focused on a holistic approach to design that relates back to a notion of Indigenous placemaking “which embeds a way of thinking that looks at everything together, rather than trying to separate things out.” Greenaway currently lectures and tutors at the University of Melbourne in the fields of design, architecture and construction management. “I spent basically a decade in tertiary studies [and] I feel obligated to give back, and also to facilitate pathways and opportunities for others to follow in behind. Given that there are so few Aboriginal and Torres Strait islanders out there, we really need to find pathways to enable others to realise their aspirations, and to showcase to others that if I can do it, so can you.”
In Melbourne’s future, Jefa would like to see: “Melbourne, in many respects, is very progressive in its thinking and I think there’s a lot of opportunities that could transpire in the coming years. I think we do things a little bit differently, and we’re quite innovative in our approach and so I think there’s some real potential there.”
By Rebecca Russo
Writer and researcher
Birpai, lives in St Kilda
Earlier this year, Jack Latimore, 41, was the first Indigenous person to be nominated for the Melbourne Press Club’s prestigious Keith Dunstall Quill Award for Commentary. His article, which was published in the Guardian as part of its partnership with IndigenousX, an Indigenous-owned media outlet, was titled ‘A lack of Indigenous voices is turning blackfellas off old media’. Here, he called for the need for greater representation of Indigenous people in senior positions within media organisations. “While [Indigenous reporting is happening] in the independent sense through social, we have to bridge across to mainstream media to make a real impact. To get genuine change you need to get in there... to infiltrate black voices into the mainstream.”
Currently, Latimore is working on an online database and app which will aggregate Indigenous-owned news sources for mainstream media outlets. He hopes this will change the way that Indigenous journalism is practiced, which currently is all too often based around what he calls “deficit discourse”.
In Melbourne’s future, Jack would like to see: “More reporting on Aboriginal affairs by Aboriginal people in all of mainstream media. If there was responsible and accurate reporting across the year from Aboriginal people participating in these dominant institutions, things will improve. It comes down to, you can tell the same stories, but the way that Aboriginals like to consume their news, the stories are told differently.”
By Rose Johnstone
Academic and lecturer in Indigenous Studies at RMIT
Nyikina, lives in Coburg
As the coordinator, lecturer and tutor of RMIT’s Indigenous Studies course, one of Emily Poelina-Hunter’s greatest joys is seeing her non-Indigenous students begin to gain a deeper understanding of Indigenous culture and the impact of colonisation. “It’s like you see the scales falling away,” she says. “Week six of the course is connection to country, and one of the students said to me, ‘I’m starting to think about things differently. Sure our farm has been in the family for 150 years, and that’s an important part of my family’s identity, but there’s sacred land before that, and it’s someone’s country before we took ownership 150 years ago.’ And I’m like, excellent, it’s working! The unofficial name for Indigenous Studies is ‘Emily’s exercise to build an army of allies’. I don’t want it to end up as a whole white guilt exercise – I want this to be about empowerment.”
Poelina-Hunter’s academic career has seen her transition from Mediterranean archaeology to Australian Indigenous studies – and in 2007, she helped to work on the Birr Nganka Nyikina, the Nyikina to English dictionary, which was published in 2014 after 20 years of work alongside Nyikina elders and community.
In Melbourne’s future, Emily would like to see: “When I’m back in New Zealand it’s really obvious that there is dual signage for things. I’d love there to be more Woirurrung or Boon Wurrung language around – subconsciously feeding it into people’s minds and making it more normal to see that kind of recognition of what was here before the roads were paved.”
By Rose Johnstone
About our guest editor Jacob Boehme
Jacob Boehme is a Melbourne born and based artist of Aboriginal heritage, from the Narangga (Yorke Peninsula) and Kaurna (Adelaide Plains) nations of South Australia. He has a 20-year history working in cultural maintenance, research and revival of traditional dance with Elders and youth from urban and remote Indigenous communities across Australia. He is the creative director of Yirramboi First Nations Art Festival (May 5-14), and combines dance, puppetry and playwriting to create multi-disciplinary theatre, dance and ceremony.
Read more about Yirramboi First Nations Arts Festival
Yirramboi First Nations Arts Festival is your invitation to discover more than just dots and didgeridoos and spiritual storytelling. Celebrate the diversity of First Nations artists leading 21st-century arts from across Melbourne, Australia and around the world. Remove time-worn labels and dream with us, into the future
What does it mean to grow up separated from the knowledge and culture of your ancestors – and how do you reconnect with your past? Aunty Carolyn Briggs – a highly respected Boon Wurrung Elder – shares her journey of self-discovery with us, and outlines her vision for a better future.
Boon Wurrung elder and language specialist Aunty Fay Stewart-Muir shares words that were once spoken in the coastal region of Victoria stretching from Werribee River to Wilson's Promontory.