I heard the most beautiful voice in Glen Innes last week. It was the voice of Heidi McCormick, granddaughter of Glen Innes branch member Joan "Tig" Hughes and she was performing at the Red Cross Country zone 14 Conference.
Not only did Heidi have a beautiful voice but she sang the most meaningful lyrics about understanding others. They were particularly poignant, as we had just been talking about the 70th anniversary of the Geneva Conventions and the 105th birthday of Australian Red Cross. Both borne of a desire to bring assistance without discrimination and to ensure respect for human life in a way which promotes mutual understanding, friendship and cooperation.
We touched on so many examples of this spirit in the region. There were the 50 local Year 10 kids who participated in this year’s Red Cross Calling. Or the Glen Innes branch together with Batyr providing young people with support and information around mental health issues. There was also the Uralla Branch picnic bringing people together through the universal language of friendship and food. Not to mention the Red Cross Emergency Service teams from Glen Innes, Deepwater, Inverell, Tenterfield and Armidale supporting Townsville residents through the January flood disaster, and local communities after bushfires.
So it really was a day for honour what will always be a part of Red Cross - unwavering generosity, tenacity and humanitarianism – in the region around Glen Innes.
A huge part of that spirit is now supporting farming families and communities impacted so badly by the ongoing drought. It was incongruous driving through the countryside to see the land so ravaged by drought but with patches of snow on top. We had the opportunity to talk over these issues and the forthcoming disaster season with the Glen Innes Examiner.
We also had the pleasure of Jody Broun’s company. Jody worked with us at Red Cross until recently when she took on the role of Chief Executive, Aboriginal Housing Office in NSW. What a remarkable woman Jody is. She shared her life’s story and then played us the video of her mum Bigali Hanlon’s life story – Jinamagu Yirdiyawa Ngurrandamu (Walking Tracks Back Home). Bigali was one of the Stolen Generations and her powerful story moved everyone in the room. How could you not be when you hear the truth and through that truth you understand better our full history as a nation - “… if you walk the footsteps of a stranger. You'll learn things you never knew, you never knew”.
The video is part of a project called Indigenous Community Stories which is all about “a project that records Western Australia's Indigenous heritage, cultural and historical stories using high definition digital video technology and professional film crews. The aim of ICS is to record 100 oral histories, so they can be viewed by future generations as well as creating invaluable records of Australia's national cultural identity.”
Ethiopian and Eritrean Coffee Ceremony
Talking of learning things you never knew, you never knew, I arrived at our Happy Hearts Playgroup in Coffs Harbour to the wonderful smell of coffee and, more importantly, to the experience of a coffee ceremony. With centuries of tradition, it is an integral part of social and cultural life in the horn of Africa. The Happy Hearts program is for families adjusting to a new life after coming to Australia under our refugee settlement program.
Every month the families from Ethiopia, Eritrea, Myanmar, Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq – come together. They also develop other initiatives in the community. The program has been running for 12 months and is led by Amanda Flack. It brings people together to work through issues and support each other.
While I was in Coffs Harbour, I also caught up with volunteers and members from the area, and learnt more about the learner/driver program which Judith Barker is getting up and running in the area.
Justice in Blacktown
Left: Robert having lunch out with his volunteer before a ferry ride – which has become a favourite new pastime. Right: With volunteer Aunty Stella, the NAIDOC Award recipients Aunty Carol, Vicki Lonsdale Micallef, Aunty Robyne, and community worker Deb Hansel.
It is impossible for me to understand what it would feel like to be released from remand after 12 months in prison and have absolutely nothing but the clothes you stand in. 12 months when you were on remand but never charged. 12 months where the things you had in the house you were living in all disappeared. This was the situation for Robert who I met when I visited Blacktown. I sat with Robert and his support circle to understand how he is working himself out of the situation he found himself in. He is part of our John Morony Post Release Program and is supported by case manager Carol Martin and Marj, his volunteer mentor. Now that he is back on his feet with housing and through a hip replacement operation, one of the biggest issues he faces is loneliness. So that is what he is working on with the help of Red Cross.
While in Blacktown I also had the privilege of presenting Red Cross NAIDOC awards to three amazing Indigenous Red Cross people – Aunty Robyne Jones, Aunty Carol Reid and Vicki Lonsdale Micallef (staff member) – for their work in supporting the young women and girls in the Reiby and Cobham Juvenile Justice Centres and community support work with older people. I also presented an award to Lona Kuchey for more than 12 years of professional, empathetic and dedicated service. In her time with Red Cross, Lona has worked in MSP, led our Telecross program, and is now Regional Operations Manager in Blacktown.
From a quiet teen to a TV actor
Jobe Adams and his cousin Yolanda on the cover of our second Reconciliation Action Plan.
Do you remember Jobe Adams? Jobe and his cousin were featured on the cover of our second Reconciliation Action Plan (2015-2018). He was a quiet teenager before he started participating in the Mimosa Project which encourages the children of Woorabinda to get their message out there in a creative way. When he was 15, Jobe directed a short film starring his cousin Yolanda and another, ‘Buloo’, about a young Indigenous boy who wants to be like his grandfather when he gets older. Jobe went on to acting school in Sydney. On Sunday 25 August at 8.40pm, Jobe will appear in the hit ABC TV series Les Norton. It’s a lovely journey watching a young man chase and fulfil his dreams, and one who always returns to a Woori to be a role model and show kids what can be done. Congratulations Jobe!
Honouring Lady Gladys Nicholls
From left: Aunty Pam Pedersen and Aunty Lilian Tamiru, both daughters of Lady Gladys Nicholls, at the award ceremony on Friday.
Last Friday, we honoured Lady Gladys Nicholls with a posthumous Red Cross Distinguished Service Medal, one of the highest Red Cross honours, acknowledging her tremendous work enriching communities across Australia. It is a fitting and wonderful recognition of the huge contributions Lady Nicholls made to improving life for Aboriginal communities and others facing disadvantage.
In 1976 and 1977, Lady Nicholls was President of Red Cross South Australia when her husband Sir Douglas Nicholls was Governor of the state. Lady Gladys Nicholls spent her life ensuring that those around her were given every opportunity to reach their full potential. To her family and wider community she was a remarkable role model and a source of great strength whenever it was needed.
100 Ideas Challenge
Lastly, as part of its 100th year celebrations, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies is organising the 100 Ideas Challenge to celebrate the new ideas of the coming century and the role of young people in driving social change. This is part of Strategy 2030, which envisages a network that embraces young people as idea generators, innovators and mobilisers for humanitarian causes.
Get your creative juices flowing and participate via social media on 6-7 September.
Till next week.