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Cherish your Elders and their stories

Minyahgu. Every year NAIDOC committee announces a theme behind which we can unite, and link our celebrations. This year, rather appropriately the theme is For Our Elders.

Please get in and attend any events in your area that you can make it to. Please take from our culture, our sincere respect for our elders and value what you can learn from yours.

Recognise the Elders in your own lives, appreciate them, love them and listen to them. They hold our collective memories and provide so much instruction for those willing to listen. There is space within our broader Australian community to embody the annual NAIDOC themes in general relationships.

I come to the NAIDOC this year grateful for my elders and my community. I am a very proud Mununjali, Yugembeh woman from regional South East Queensland, graduating from Beaudesert State High School.

I’ve gained valuable experience throughout my career working both criminal prosecution and defence, and am currently Toowoomba’s only practising Aboriginal female criminal lawyer at Kennedy Spanner Lawyers. I am passionate about supporting my peers, other women and leaving doors open behind me.

Like this year’s theme, past NAIDOC themes always resonate and I frequently reflect on previous themes like ‘Because of her we can’ and ‘Get up! Stand up! Show up!’. For me those themes have always made me think of my elders and in particular my Nan, my mum and my Aunties. I love that this year is explicitly about them and the other amazing strong leaders we have in our broader community.

If we want our people to succeed and prosper it really is important we keep alert to opportunities to support each other and promote each other’s achievements. In my view this isn’t just a black community thing, it is a broader legal community, local community and general approach to life.

In August 2022, local practitioners and stakeholders nominated me for two awards with QLS, being the Emerging Leader Award and First Nations Lawyer of the Year Award 2022. Co-workers, peers, and First Nations community leaders all came together to demonstrate their support for me within months of my commencement at ATSILS. I was so grateful for the opportunity to show my passion for promoting others and being a voice for others. It is important to show genuine care, compassion, thoughtfulness, and humility and I believe that was what encouraged my local community who like everyone at the moment struggles with compassion fatigue to band together and ensure the QLS nominations committee took notice of my work for the Toowoomba First Nations community, DSWQLA and Social Justice Commission Dignity Project.

I came to the law a little older than many of my peers. I studied two degrees full time, while raising children and working full-time. The journey gave me an appreciation for others who juggle and balance life commitments. As things become tighter and our parent’s age, I understand I am not alone in trying to get ahead, while balancing my commitments to others like children or older family members. I also recognise how these struggles affect those with less means and support.

I think my journey to the law has helps me feel like I am part of something bigger than myself. We’ve seen recent reporting of the string of incidents involving excessive use of force by police. We know that escalation is not an appropriate use of power, and yet we continue to see a culture in which it is excused and permitted.

Criminal defence lawyer Russell Marks recently wrote a piece in June for The Monthly, which canvased many of the recent appalling examples of police overreach and the inaction around making changes to prevent its repetition. We live in a society in which information is readily available for those interested and willing to escape their silos. I hope that my small part in criminal defence, in my small area of South East Queensland, might just help someone or make some small change that contributes to people within our community feeling just that little bit safer.

The theme this year coincides neatly with societal discussions around The Voice to Parliament.

I’ve been approached and listened with interest to many discussions from the non-Indigenous community who seek to understand what Aboriginal people say or think about The Voice. Often these people are perplexed and frustrated by the lack of united voice providing them a clear message of what is the ‘right thing to do’. If I may be so bold, if you care about what Aboriginal people have to say about issues that affect them, vote yes.

It is that simple. You will not receive a united voice, because for many Aboriginal people the discussions around The Voice, are akin to the discussions that explode across Australia in the lead-up to January 26 each year.

Brianna Boecker wrote a piece this week for Women’s Agenda that recognised the impact Voice discussions are having on our people, saying Diversity Council Australia data shows a nine per cent increase in 2023 in discrimination and/or workplace harassment for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander employees generally (a total of 59 per cent) this year compared to 2021, before Voice discussions took hold within the community.

The reality is, that our voices in the discussion along with our votes make up only three per cent of the community. This vote will not be ours, but yours. Is Australia mature enough yet to hear the voices of my community and take them into account in an attempt to be better informed on policy, legislation, community issues? I don’t know the answer to that. All I can say it that Our Elders have important, articulate and informed views on life, on living in Australia and on being a true and representative part of a community. I certainly wish to learn more from them and to have the opportunity to hear more of their voices. Will they disagree at times? You bet! Will we as a nation be the better for their discussions and debates, I believe so.

I am constantly inspired as a person by the strong people in my life, but in particular the strong women. In my family, the men vastly outnumber the women. But, our little number does not diminish us in any way.

Our family is definitely an example of one in which we surround our amazing matriarch, my Nan. My Nan is a true example of a community leader. She constantly gives of herself, volunteering for local charities, volunteering among her church, driving across SE Queensland to visit prisons, and before COVID hit feeding those affected by homelessness in her community. And that, is all external to the things she does for our family.

Our Elders guide us in their ways, some quietly, and some loudly. Out of this NAIDOC my most sincere wish is that you, all of you reading, take the time to visit, call and spend time with your own elders. Listen to their stories, even if you’ve heard them before. Every retelling has the potential to uncover another layer of learning or meaning for those willing to hear it.

To my beautiful family, I hope you are having an amazing NAIDOC. I am proud of all of you. My amazing cousin Rory dancing in Musgrave Park, my cousins Tyrone and Tyne taking a men’s cultural day, my Aunty Lorraine marching in Tweed and my Nan visiting as many people is as she can in such a short space of time, and all my other family quietly going about spreading positivity within their spaces, I love you all and I am very grateful we have each other.

Nya-Nya-Bu

Kirstie Smith is a Solicitor at Kennedy Spanner Lawyers.

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