I saw you in action for the first time hosting the Miss First Nation competition during Sydney WorldPride and I thought you’re elegant and eloquent, smart and sassy, smooth and witty. Have you ever considered being a drag queen?!
You know what, I actually have considered being a drag queen because I’m the type of person that loves to put on a show. When I’ve gone out with friends and I’ve had a couple of drinks, I’m always the guy who will find something in someone’s house to put on either my head, like a fake wig, or dressing up in some sort of garment that I’ve made out of a sheet. So yes, I have considered it! The thing that stopped me was the fact that I’m a terrible lip syncer (laughs). I have a beard, so I wouldn’t be willing to shave it off because then I just go back to being a 14 year old boy and I don’t want to relive those years! But I definitely feel like it’s something that I considered as almost like an inside joke to myself because I love what they do and respect them so much. But I definitely feel like the show that I can put on, which is similar to drag, is sort of what I do anyway, right? Like MCing and hosting gigs and having a good laugh on stage. Just not butchering a song with my terrible lip sync.
What would your drag name be?
So I have one, I’ve thought about this! There’s one that I came up with, and I can’t believe that there is no First Nations drag queen out there with this name: Indie Genius. So it’s like indigenous, but she’s like, sort of this indie, alt girl.
I love it. Either that or Magdalena Mills..
Magdalena Mills. That’s good. I do like that.
Where did you get your training for presenting? Did you do any acting classes or public speaking workshops?
I went to an acting school in WA straight out of high school at the end of year 12. I was ready to step out into the big world but I hadn’t made the decision on what I was going to do. I always had a love for theatre and I went to a boarding school that had great resources, a really good drama department and I remember always wanting to be an actor. It was my number one dream. Well, actually, it was my second dream. I wish that I was a singer, but I can’t sing. You know, I’m one of those people that thinks they can sing. But I’ve been told multiple times that absolutely I can’t. (laughs). I remember I woke up in the middle of the night and started applying for this acting school. It was a prestigious acting school, sort of like the equivalent to NIDA here in Sydney. It’s called Western Australia Academy of Performing Arts (WAPA). Hugh Jackman went there and I actually had the opportunity to meet him when I was there. It was great. The idea was that I would come back to Sydney and I would be a full time actor – a struggling actor, I suppose, trying to get the gigs. I came back and I landed a job at Channel Nine immediately in the programming department. It was a fancy word for data entry. I loved the idea of being in a full time job at a network where I could see how the media ran and so I was a shit kicker, 100%, like probably the lowest paying job. But I I love the fact that I did that because that year that I was there, I learned so much about the business and I got to work with all the executives who hire me now as I’m on the other side presenting.
Where are you at now on your journey to becoming an actor?
It used to be the thing that I wanted to do forever and always, and every day of my life. I’ve done a few gigs now and I realise that I’m really good at presenting, it’s where I find that I’m really comfortable as well and acting for me is something that I need to work at. Unfortunately, I don’t feel like I want to put as much energy as I have once thought I did into acting. I love it, but I can’t have it consume my whole life. So at the moment, my manager and I have a rule that we’ll do one acting show a year. So last year, I spent three months on Sydney Theatre Company’s stage doing Top Coat. That was three months of my life, 12 weeks dedicated to acting and everything else sort of has to be stopped at that point because it takes up every hour of your day and you can’t really do too much more. I’ve got a play coming up this year at Griffin Theatre Company and I’m really excited about that. That’s three months of my year gone. So every year, I will do one gig to be able to flex that acting muscle and be in front of directors and writers, because you never know when a great gig is gonna come up that I might then sacrifice the rest of my work for. So at the moment, it’s one gig a year.
Are you the only one in your family who pursued a career in the media and arts?
I am. All my family are very low-key small country town vibe. My brothers and my dad all live in Tamworth. We come from a very small country town; my dad grew up in a town of 1200 people. I think ever since I was a little kid, I always had the bigger dream and I never remember not having it. I always remember being the person who was going to do whatever it took to get out of the small country town and make something of myself, whether that was going to be in the media or not. I just knew that I was destined to go and chase my dreams. I remember constantly thinking about it as a kid. So my brothers, absolutely not. They love their low-key lifestyle in the country.
Who has been your favourite person to interview?
I got to interview Halle Berry and Melissa McCarthy for NITV recently. This was something that I really had in mind, once I knew that The Little Mermaid was coming and they had a black actress playing Ariel, the mermaid. It was my favourite interview not just because of the status of the people I’m interviewing, but because I have a passion for bringing a wide range of stories to NITV, whether they’re First Nation or not. I think that there’s an opportunity to be able to give our audience on that channel more than just their own community.
So you are responsible for going out and finding your own stories to present?
I work as a freelance Entertainment Reporter for the NITV and I also work as a freelance host for Nine. I pitch everything that I do: I go and find it and pitch in, get approval and then produce it myself. They sign off on the story and then I go and do it. I work with an internal team that edits my stuff and it goes back and forth for approval. Everything that you see, or everything that I put out, is an idea that I’ve had, 99% of the time, unless there’s something that comes through to them and they give it to me, which doesn’t happen often.
What do you think are the ingredients of a good interview?
Listening. Sometimes I go in with a list of questions and then I get to my second or third question and I start to go off on a tangent because I’ve listened to their responses. I’ve seen what they’re most passionate talking about and then I stick with that because if you’re not listening to somebody when they’re telling you their story, or you’re so stuck in your way of getting through the questions, that you can miss some really great information. Even when I was interviewing Melissa McCarthy and Halle Berry, I went in there with a list of questions and I knew that I wanted two of the questions to be cemented because they were really important, about representation. So I knew those questions were going to be one of the main focuses of the interview and then the rest we just had fun because I realised that’s what they needed in that moment. I could tell that the energy they appreciated was more lighthearted.
What does your day to day life look like?
Well, the good thing is that I get to run my own schedule. I have a really great manager and team who have really worked hard with me over the last 12 months to be able to get me into a position where I get to just run my own life. So I’m at SBS (NITV) a few times a week, I’m doing my podcast once a week with Nova.. Normally I get up, have my breakfast and then I go to the gym. Then I come home and I have a quick phone call to my manager to make sure that we’re on track for the day or the week. And then I’ll either head into the studio at Nova or at SBS to read the news. Then I come home, sometimes I will go for a walk or a run and make sure that all my personal admin is done and then sort of it’s like a recycle of that the next day. I’m someone who thrives on routine, that helps me with my mental health as well. It changes every day but that would be a standard sort of day. And obviously, a lot of the time I go to events in the evening, so if I can get in an hour’s nap at around three or four o’clock.. I love it!
Where was the best place you went when you were a presenter on Getaway?
Getaway is an interesting one, because how I got it was an interesting story. I’d been watching it for years and I researched a document online that showed that 99% of the presenters over the last 30 years were white Aussie presenters. There was no person of colour or First Nations person on that list. I was really inspired to reach out and ask them for an opportunity. So that little boy who was 18 years old working in the programming department had met the executive producer of Getaway and so there was a connection there already. I wasn’t afraid to put my hand up and say, ‘Hey, I’ve been doing this work over the last five years, would you give me a shot?’ I think this is the most unique way that I’ve ever gotten a job. I’ve gone in, had a meeting and then they’ve said, ‘Well, if you’re good enough, go and film something and produce a mock episode’. So I went and paid for my own production, I produced, wrote an episode and sent it in. Unfortunately, I don’t believe that that should have happened. I think that that is a really tricky way to be able to get a job. I don’t think that any other presenter on that show would have had to do that. I understand that that was a unique experience for me. When I did send in the product, which I was really happy with, they were really happy with it and that’s how I got the gig. I’m proud of what I did but I don’t think that any presenter or First Nations person should have to go through that process of proving themselves when they are working in an industry where, if they look left and right, these presenters are doing the exact same thing and getting opportunities without having to do that. So that was a tricky thing for me, because as much as I wanted the opportunity, and how much as I knew that this was a hard way to get it, I still wanted to do it to get the job. I would have to say the reason I did it was to amplify First Nations tourism and I went to an amazing place at the top of the Western Australian coastline called Shark Bay. It was, oh my gosh, it was just beautiful. I remember when I watched that back that I was quite like internal with my reaction on the show I think because I was just so mesmerised by the beauty of this place! Like, it was this beautiful red sand and then it went to sort of this white beach sand to turquoise water and then there was all this marine life. I felt like I was in a Disney movie. That was the best place that I went.
Then you were Baz Luhrmann’s executive assistant on Elvis. What was that like?
You know, it was hard because of how much he puts into his work. I have so much respect for him and we connected on a really deep level as colleagues then and as friends now and he treated me so well. It was such a good relationship, he was a great boss; that was a crash-course in top tier professionalism. We worked long hours but we also got a lot of stuff done. For me, it was an opportunity that came from the left of field and I didn’t ever think that I would do this sort of job, as I was never an AE before this. I was working in the media and I was looking for an ‘out’ from a position and this opportunity came and I thought, ‘Well, what is my boss gonna say if I say I’m going to work for Baz Luhrmann?’ He’d be like, ‘Congratulations’, you know?
It was like you were firing them!
Yeah that’s right! And so like, for me, I felt like nobody could question it. And so I took the job. Once I was in the job, I realised how hard it was.
What were some of the tasks you had to do?
I worked with Baz from the moment he woke up to the moment he went to sleep. I lived about 20 minutes away from Baz and I would arrive at the house and by 6.30am-7am in the morning, 6am sometimes, and then we would work into the evening and, and then I’d go home and, you know, do the same. It was everything from making sure that he had a schedule that fulfilled obligations with the rest of the production – there were so many elements to the production, heads of departments that needed his time and his approval on things – and a lot of the time had to come through me because direct access to Baz would slow the day down. A lot of the time there was a 600 person production trying to get time with him. So figuring out what that looked like each day, shuffling things around, I was in charge of making sure that he ate well during the day, that he had enough rest; I sort of was a barrier between him and the rest of the production sometimes because he needed just to be in his creative zone. So sometimes you’re the enemy of the production because you are the person that goes ‘Oh, well, not right now’. But he has an amazing team of people from his production company Bazmark that I got to work closely with: a writing assistant, music assistant, an incredible executive producer, Schuyler Weiss, we were a team. Baz is a nurturer and he’s someone who will take care of you if you work hard and support him.
That was in 2020 at the start of the pandemic. How did the pandemic affect the production as well as you and your family/community?
We were in the car on the way to work one morning and Baz said, ‘Matty, I need you to start getting some masks and some hand sanitizer’ and I thought, ‘What has he thought about overnight? Why is this the priority today?’ We hadn’t heard much about the pandemic but he had connections in Wuhan and they were messaging him. So he knew about this way before anyone on the production knew about it, funnily enough, and then it swept in and it got us. It came to the production and Tom Hanks got Covid. Baz, Tom, Tom’s assistant and I were in one room when we found out. Tom was doing prosthetics tests when the head of production came and said, ‘I need to speak to Baz’. I was like, ‘Well, he’s doing prosthetics tests, you know, we can’t really interupt this’. ‘No, no.. now!. Tom Hanks probably has Covid because Rita Wilson, his wife, has Covid’. And so the production got shut down that day. We got put in separate cars and taken to get tested and then we were isolated. That’s when we realised that the production actually had to be shut down. It was the start of the start of the shooting period and so we had already done three months of pre-production and then had to stop, right at the start of shooting. So I came back to Sydney once we realised that it was going to shut down for a little while. I was with my partner and my family and I think that it affected my work and my life more than it did affect my family in the country. I know that there was a lot of fear around what that could do to First Nations communities in smaller regional towns, and I was scared because my dad doesn’t have great health but fortunately enough he got through the pandemic without actually being touched by it. So yeah, it didn’t affect my community that much.
People were really worried about the Aboriginal community in Walgett..
Yes, Walgett is only 45 minutes from where my dad grew up but his community live in Tamworth now, which is four hours east of there. It’s still in the country but it’s a bigger town of 30,000 people so there’s more resources, more access to health care, more access to the vaccination program. I was concerned in the beginning but once I realised that it wasn’t hitting there as much as I thought, then I sort of was okay.
I guess the whole Elvis production was pushed back by months and months and months?
Yeah, it did. It took two years to complete the production.
Were you his EA for the full two years?
No, I dipped out about halfway. You know, it was a big task and I knew that I didn’t want to do it forever. There was a good opportunity, sort of halfway through where things stopped and I was like, ‘Okay, yeah, I’m gonna head off now’.
Have you got any Austin Butler stories you can share?
I got an opportunity to go on a private jet just with Austin Butler and Olivia DeJonge and that was such a ‘What the fuck am I doing here?’ moment. I remember we came to Sydney for the GQ Awards. I had this request come through on email, like, you know, ‘Baz to go to the blah, blah, blah, the awards with us and the Elvis cast.’ When I read the email I thought they were joking about sending a private jet, because that’s just not my world. It was just like, ‘They’re sending a private jet to pick us up and take us to Sydney?’ And you know what? I had to keep my cool, especially on the way back, as Baz stayed in Sydney and he asked me to get on the jet just with Austin and Olivia and take them back, so it was just us three. All of us three just had a good old time because the boss wasn’t there and had a really fun night before letting our hair down at the GQ Awards. And I randomly was sat next to Zendaya! Like, when I went in and saw the name cards. I was like, ‘Why am I sitting next to Zendaya?’ You know, it was just this whole, like, pinch-myself moment where I was in a circle of A-list superstars.. and Matty Mills. I was like, ‘Mmm-hmm, This is that day!’ That day where you go, ‘Oh, yeah, I made it!’ And I’m an assistant! But no, there were so many great times with Austin and the cast.
What’s he like? He seems refreshingly down-to-earth and like someone who’s not completely aware of his immense talent?
He’s someone who worked really hard, he immersed himself for two years. He didn’t even go back to the US when COVID hit, he stayed and continued to work hard. Baz has this really interesting approach where he’ll wake up in the morning and be like, ‘We’re not shooting this today, we’re shooting this’. So Austin would have done prep all night for a scene and then you get into Baz World and you need to change the whole day, because he’s found another way, and Austin was so great at just being able to be agile in those circumstances. There was never a time where I looked at Austin and I thought that he couldn’t do it, which I love because that gives security to the rest of the production. Everybody in the presence of Austin was well aware that he was going to absolutely kill the performance.
I just remember first meeting him and how, like, he just reminded me of a country town person, in the best way possible, because he was so humble. There was no ego. We had some nights out where we went and played Top Golf and you know, did some fun stuff. He’s so chill, you know, he’s a superstar now, but very chill.
Onto the podcast Not So PG with Brooke Blurton. How did you two meet?
Brooke and I met at Miss First Nations a couple of years ago, one of the first ones. I was a judge and Brooke was as well. We were friends online and I’d obviously seen her work on The Bachelorette and admired her. I had a feeling we would be great friends and so we connected over Miss First Nations. We sort of hit it off that night and we haven’t looked back since. We found that we had great chemistry then allowed us an opportunity to work together. So, you know, two young queer blak people in media. It’s like, there’s not many of us. So we kicked it off, it feels like brother and sister.
How did the podcast come about?
It was an opportunity that came to Brooke and she was looking for a co-host. We had met not too long before and she ran the idea past me and I said, ‘Okay, well, why don’t we do a chemistry test and a mock episode and see how it sounds?’ It was like an hour of recording, talking shit (laughs) and we just had a good time and we put that to Nova. We’ve been going for two years, and we’re currently wrapping up season two. We will continue with the podcast for as long as we feel that it’s necessary and as long as we love it. We both enjoy it, it’s one of the funnest parts of our job. We’ve created a really good duo partnership in what we can do and how we can work together.
I liked your comments about enjoying the creative freedom of podcasts (compared with scripted TV). What’s the response been like out in listener land?
It’s great because Brooke has a very loyal audience that comes off the back of reality TV, as people who go into that space do. And I have a very loyal audience when it comes to First Nations mob, because of NITV. So I think that we are able to merge our audiences a little bit. Also, I’m finding that there are new people popping up here and there and I think that that’s important, because the conversations that we have on there, they’re not all about First Nations issues, or they’re not all about queer topics. We try to be as open and vulnerable and share our own stories as much as we can and I think that that has brought in a new audience. Like, even people who you wouldn’t think, like, I get messages, like middle aged white mums all the time being like, ‘Thank you so much. I’m learning so much. Thanks for being vulnerable. Thanks for sharing your experience’. It’s like, wow, I didn’t think that you guys would connect with it but you are. So for me, I don’t think that we have a specific audience but I know that obviously, the queer space and the First Nations Space, they back us. So we’ve had a good response.
You’ve spoken about manifesting the life that you want to lead with regular exercise, a healthy diet and sleep. What about mentors and role models? Who do you go to for guidance?
I’ve been a little bit of a lone soldier, to be honest, when it comes to my own life, and I’ve had to sort of accept that because I think my lifestyle and how I lead my life is very different to a lot of my own family. Mental health in particular is something that I’ve focused on lately, but it’s always been at the forefront of my mind, because I know that the world that I live in: the fast-paced world, the idea of the media and the attention, but also, just being a queer First Nations person, there’s a struggle there. And I believe that I need to continue to be on top of my mental health, it’s something that I focus on in my day to day life. But there have been challenges over the years. It hasn’t been a smooth ride for me, that’s for sure. And I think that there can be a perception that you know, that there’s this sparkly, healthy version of myself out there on social media – and you have to do that, because it’s almost like a character, right? It’s like online and on air. But I’ve definitely struggled with depression over the years and it’s something that I don’t talk about a lot because I think that it’s personal and I want to make sure that I don’t put the pressure on myself to have to speak about it often. I think how I stay healthy and how I keep that up is that I maintain physical fitness and the reason I do that is because that really does effect my mental health. If I can take that off every day, whether it’s a step count on my phone and if at the end of the day I haven’t got the steps up, I go for a nice walk. Even if it’s a slow walk, I still feel like it helps me with my mental health and physical health. There’s a bit of a routine around it. Also, I see a therapist who I think has definitely helped me along the way but a lot of the time I’ve sort of battled these things alone to be honest, in terms of my health and fitness, it’s like something that’s been personal, that I do on my own.
What about like within the media?
Stan Grant is somebody who I’ve looked up to from afar for a long time. I know his family very well and I love the way that he’s able to get a point across and speak his truth. He hasn’t been afraid to do that for the years that he’s been in the media. But obviously, that’s the reason that he’s been attacked so often. And there’s not many people like me in the media in terms of being a First Nations person or queer. There’s Narelda Jacobs, who I remember seeing on air for the first time, and it was a light bulb moment for me. So much love and respect for her, she’s somebody who I’ve looked up to for years. I think that I see myself as carving a bit of a new path in the media, like, I want to be able to be that for other people. Because a lot of the time the people who get to the certain level that you aspire to be, they don’t represent you, they don’t look like you or they don’t come from an experience that you’ve come from. So for me, I’m sort of hoping to be that for someone else.
Do you consider yourself a Sydney boy?
Well, I was born in Sydney and then I went through the foster care system on the Central Coast. Then I moved to Tamworth to live with my dad and then moved back to Sydney when I was in year 9 to go to a boarding school. That’s sort of the return to Sydney and then that was in 2009. I’m not moving to the country. Absolutely not (laughs).
You came out on the front cover of the Star Observer magazine in 2016 at the age of 19. How did that happen?
I was living in a share house with all my good friends and I’d just come back from the acting school in WA. I was just new in the scene, I was this fresh-faced 19 year old trying to find my way through the queer scene in Sydney, being very social and meeting a lot of new people. I met somebody who was connected with the Star Observer and then we got into a dm online. They understood a bit of my story of growing up and were interested in my story. I don’t think they approached me to shoot the cover. I think they approached me to have a feature. It was like, ‘Okay, do you want to be like a part of this magazine?’ We should share your story. It’s the first ever NAIDOC edition. We think it’d be great.’ I was like, ‘Yeah, sure’. I remember I was 19 years old, I had no money, I was absolutely broke. The reason I remember this is because I walked to the studio from my share house and I remember carrying a bag and being like, ‘Which Speedo am I going to wear?’ And I just remember that walk being like, ‘I have nothing’, like I was empty at that point, financially, but also just my mental health wasn’t great. I remember definitely feeling like the queer scene was too much for me. It was my first year sort of thing and I felt like I was a bit of a shell of myself, to be honest.
And so you hadn’t even come out to family stuff yet?
No. I was trying to find myself really and I remember when I saw the cover, ‘Gay, Black & Proud’ thinking to myself that yes, I am gay, black and proud but I didn’t fully feel that way in that moment. And I never came up with that slogan, they did. I definitely felt like there was a lot of pressure on me to be that person after I saw that. I mean, I was always proud.
Did you become a spokesperson for First Nations straight after?
Yeah, It was like my crash into media, that magazine. When people started to notice, especially the blak queer community, you know, it was a moment for them to see themselves, which I love. But as a 19 year old, I definitely didn’t feel that that was how I was feeling inside. I was an anxious, empty human at that point, I felt. So sometimes when I look at that, I think ‘Oh gee, like that that was a really sad time for me’, you know. But it was an amazing result, because I felt like that cover would have helped so many people, just in terms of representation.
What was the reaction of family and friends?
I sent it to all of them. I sent a screenshot in a group message! I’d come out to my dad a week earlier and he was amazing. He hugged me and he said, ‘Well, I can’t wait to meet the man who loves my son one day’. I remember nearly crying in that moment, it was beautiful. I remember exactly where we were, it was like slow motion. I was like, ‘Oh, my God, that was the most perfect response he could have said’ because it’s not even about just accepting me. It’s like, ‘Well, you know what? I’m ready for your life. I hope that you find someone who’s gonna love you’, and blah, blah, blah and so that was beautiful. And then I sent a screenshot of the cover and the article to all of my nine siblings (laughs) on Facebook Messenger. They had a great response. The weird part was that the negative response came from my mum’s side of the family, the non-indigenous side of my family. They paid out my mum. My mum’s family gave her a hard time about me being on the front of this magazine and one of my uncles on that side said, ‘Have you seen your son being super gay on the magazine, blah, blah, blah.’ I remember, I was really hurt by that. Because one side of my family, my first nations side, had accepted it fully; and my mum’s side, the Aussie side, didn’t get it. They’re very different. They’re very small minded in some ways and still to this day, sometimes it’s tricky to have conversations with them; whether it’s about them being racist towards me for being First Nations, which I’ve had my whole life by my white side of my family. And then there’s been homophobia from them as well. So, to me, one side of my family loved it and there were mixed reactions on the other.
Did life get easier in terms of your sexuality after that point?
I mean, I had accepted myself before that but I think that when it came to being proud and being like ‘This is who I am’, I definitely felt like the reaction from that side of my family and Christian people who I had known and were really important to me, their reaction did hinder me a little bit from expressing myself. But at the end of the day, once I accepted the magazine cover and felt really good about it, which took a little while, I had a bit of a ‘fuck you’ moment to them. I was like, ‘Well, whatever. Like, if you don’t accept me. There’s not much I can do about it’.
In one of your interviews you say that the beautiful thing about Aboriginal culture is the acceptance of people who may be queer, non-binary or trans; two-spirit people. Can you tell us more?
Yeah, when I was younger I had no idea about this. I grew up with my mum in the western suburbs of Sydney and I didn’t have a connection to my Aboriginal culture. How I got that connection was actually being taken from my mum when I was five, and we were put into foster care. When I was very little, I was told that my dad had died. And so there was a whole period of my life until I was like eight years old, where I thought that he was dead. And then, when I was in the foster care system, they realised that he was alive and that there was actually going to be a reconnection there. So once I reconnected to my dad, and started to learn more about my Aboriginal side and started to get an understanding. He fought for years to get us out of the care system and we ended up moving and being with him in Tamworth. I just remember thinking that was never going to happen in my life. Like, I was never going to be able to cement my connection. As a kid, I remember thinking, ‘Oh, well, I’m Aboriginal but it doesn’t mean anything because I have no Aboriginal family’. Then as I got older, I realised that we had a strong family, strong connections to culture. And what I saw on that side of my family was the total opposite to what I saw on the other side, and it was just a beautiful thing.
How old were you when you finally lived with your indigenous side of your family.
I was 11 turning 12. I sorta remember it for school years. I was just pre-teen.
Did the three of you go together to the one foster family?
We went together to the one family for the first year and then we were split up. It was hard for people to be able to take on three boys so we ended up being split up and we never were put back together until we moved to dad. But we dealt with it and it was a way to get out of a really, really hard life. So moving to my family in Tamworth and meeting my aunties and uncles and heaps of cousins and realising that I had another six, seven siblings. It was a beautiful moment to realise that my world was so much bigger than the care system and my two brothers that were there with me. They live in Tamworth with my dad and have kids now. They went to the country and we’re like, ‘You know what, this is our life, this is it,’ and I love that for them.
So basically, once I started to learn about my culture, and realised the acceptance of queer people in Aboriginal families, it was a beautiful thing. People were celebrated.
Was it like a light bulb moment?
Yeah, it felt like they were always the person in the family that people put on a pedestal. I have a trans cousin who made me realise this, who lives in Sydney now, but did live in Tamworth. It wasn’t something that was really spoken about, like ‘Oh, we respect them more than respect you’. But you could tell there’s a lot of love there and support and protection. And so, the Two-Spirit side of things, a lot of Northern Australian Aboriginal cultures – we’re talking Yolngu, from far north east Arnhem Land, and I’ve had conversations with friends who come from tribes that are more north than mine – and the idea of a Two-Spirit person were recognised in the tribe as a very powerful person who had the power of two. It’s like, for me to know that my culture is a culture that advanced… and that also has carried that through. And colonisation has attempted to stop that idea or that belief but it hasn’t and we’re getting it back.
And colonial-era rules still affect queers in places like Singapore and Malaysia..
And even recently, I think it was Uganda right? Sometimes when I see that stuff, and this might sound ignorant, I need to swipe past it quickly because it hurts to know that that’s happening in the world. I think ‘What the fuck can I do?’ Sometimes, it feels like it’s a void that is just like, how do you help?
At the moment, a lot of supporters of The Voice are nervous because not only have the racist come out of the closet, but also some prominent indigenous figures like Lidia Thorpe have come out against it. There’s not much any of us can do about the racists, who are lost cause, but what would you like to say to undecided non-Indigenous voters, and also members of the Blak community who might view The Voice with suspicion?
Yeah, I think that it’s interesting, because we’re obviously creating a consultation body that’s going to have to work within a Western framework. That’s not ideal for First Nations people at all. But we have to somehow work within the systems that already exist, otherwise we’re excluded from the conversation. And I think over the years, there’s been attempts and initiatives to be able to have our voice heard. But if this is something that is going to have First Nations people enshrined in the constitution to say that ‘We were here’ then it is the first step in truth-telling and I think that there’s a whole journey after that. For me, this is the first step. And I think, without trying to persuade people to have to vote ‘Yes’, I’m the type of person that really believes that small conversations lead to big change, and I haven’t been someone to rush the process or to want things to happen instantly. We can look at examples like Australia Day, examples of flying the flag on the Harbour Bridge. To me, these are symbolic gestures, as much as The Voice. And I think that if we are (to succeed), it’s a symbolic gesture, but also there’s really tangible things that could come out of it. I think that for non-First Nations people, do your research, understand what you’re voting for, because we need a true reflection of what this country stands for. I’m really interested to see where we land with this. Because if we get a yes, and we just get it across the line, we still have a long way to go in terms of work.
That’s when the work begins..
That’s right. But if we get a ‘No’, I think that it also highlights where we’re at. So I don’t want it to not pass. I think that would be detrimental to the psyche of our country and of our people. But if it does get over the line, I think, ‘What are the next steps?’ Like how much work still needs to be done to really see change. It’s a long term thing, it can’t be instantaneous, this is going to take a long time. And I think that there needs to be patience with this as well; it’s not like that we get The Voice and then all our problems are cured. We get The Voice and that is the first step in being able to give correct and vital information to a body who’s supposed to support us and help us.
For queer First Nations people, how do you think The Voice could help?
Well, I think it’s an interesting part. Because when it comes to the consultation body, I hope and I believe that there will be queer First Nations representation who are able to speak up for the community. Because, as we know, our community is so diverse within itself. There are over 300 different tribes and nations in this country. So of course we’re not all going to vote ‘Yes’, of course we’re not all going to vote ‘No’. But within that consultation body and the representatives from our community, there needs to be a diverse range of representatives. We need to make sure that there are First Nations queer people – gay, trans, lesbian – there needs to be a wide range of voices from our community within that consultation body that can bring the issues to light that our community faces. Otherwise it’s like when we have a white minister representing Aboriginal people. If you’re not a blak person, and you’re not a queer blak person, you can’t speak for queer blak communities because you don’t have the direct life experience.
It’s all about representative democracy, right?
That’s right. So it’s going to be really interesting to see what that body looks like. But I think, knowing First Nations leaders in this country, that they will make sure that there is representation from the queer First Nations community.
Are you concerned about the lack of time left to get vital information out to all of the 300 different tribes and nations so they know what The Voice means for them?
I think that there is a lack of awareness out there. I think I definitely think that NITV as a network is trying to do all they can. They’ve created a programme specifically for the referendum, The Point: The Road to the Referendum. That’s a weekly programme where they’ll be highlighting both sides of the conversation. It’s an awareness tool to a lot of the communities within regional and remote areas. Blackfella communities tune into NITV as a way of understanding what’s happening in the world and that’s where NITV is most known and seen. So I believe that the network will be able to cut through to some of those tougher communities to reach. But also, sometimes there’s language barriers. There are communities out there that English is their second language. And it’s not even just First Nations communities, it’s beyond that. There are communities here in Sydney where English is their second language. So I believe that with their marketing resources that that can cut through to these unique communities to make sure that they know what they’re voting for.
By Danny Corvini