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Wedge-tailed eagle. Phot by Sandy Horne.
Wedge-tailed eagle. Phot by Sandy Horne.

NAIDOC Week 2024: Keep the Fire Burning!

Published 11 Jul 2024

This NAIDOC Week, we’re sharing stories from three incredible Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander leaders at Bush Heritage Australia. We asked them to reflect on Country, Culture and this year’s NAIDOC Week theme of ‘Keep the Fire Burning! Blak, Loud and Proud’.

Joanne Griffin is a Healthy Country Planner, working closely with Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander partners across the organisation by contributing to detailed plans that determine how to care for Country in the best way possible. 

Bam Lees is an Aboriginal Partnerships Manager in Victoria. She builds and fosters relationships with communities and ranger groups. 

Bruce Hammond does the same in South Australia and is also an important member of Bush Heritage’s Senior Leadership Team.

The theme for NAIDOC Week 2024 is 'Keep the fire burning’. How do you keep the fire of culture burning?

Joanne Griffin: Spending time with family and talking to my daughter about Country.

Bam Lees: Keeping the fire of culture burning in a modern world can be challenging. As an Aboriginal Partnerships Manager, we work to keep that fire burning throughout the year – directly and indirectly. NAIDOC Week is our week to celebrate our collective cultures, the old traditions and the evolving traditions. We are not stuck in time!

Bruce Hammond: The fire of culture, the passion, never goes out. It’s about making things better for the next generation, for the people around you. The disadvantage I see in my communities, the ability for self-determination, keeps the fire burning bright. There’s a lot of work to do, and being a leader in my community around native title and land management doesn’t allow the fire to go out. It’s about making positive change and helping the next generation.

Who is your inspiration, and why?

JG: My Elders. When I am making big decisions, I think of how they would feel and if they would be happy with me.

BL: Eddie Mabo’s story is one of courage, commitment and justice. He lived and breathed his Country, overturned the doctrine of Terra Nullius and gave all Indigenous Australians hope for the future.

BH: Ancestral leaders. I’ve grown up in a very positive leadership environment. I must highlight my mother, Ruby Hammond, as well as a leadership group of strong Aboriginal women and men I was exposed to at a young age in South Australia for making me who I am today.

I know I'm home on Country when ...

JG: I feel peaceful and connected.

BL: Being on Country gives me a sense of wellbeing, freedom, being cared for spiritually and emotionally. Bunjil (wedge tailed eagle) always keeps an eye on me, and I always look for him too.

BH: I have strong affiliations across many places and have both salt water and central desert connections. When Country talks to you there’s a feeling of wellbeing; you’re in a safe space. You have a higher sense of accountability when on Country. The obligation and reason for being there is at the forefront.

What is the one thing you would encourage people to do to connect more with Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander culture?

JG: If you have never engaged with culture, I would suggest booking a tour with any one of the amazing cultural tours around Australia. You will learn so much and get to know some awesome people.

BL: Get amongst it! Know whose Country you live on, work on and travel through. Do some homework – Google is a wonderful thing! Attend events in your local community, get to know people. Our community is very generous, they will guide you.

BH: Sit with us and listen. Don’t come with an agenda. We’re looking for listening to understand, not just listening to respond.

What is something you do at work that makes you feel connected to Country?

JG: I don’t do any one specific thing. I just am.

BL: Sitting on top of a big hill looking out across djandak/Country. A feeling of being small, but also grounded in the moment. I never get sick of that feeling and it stays with me all day.

BH: Sitting with Mob, face-to-face and being accountable. Getting dirt between my toes. Being on Country and in the landscape where the decisions are made.

NAIDOC Week 2024: Keep the Fire Burning! Blak, Loud and Proud

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