First Nations featuring Thomas Mayor – Saturday 19 November 1.30pm to 4.00pm

(Note: New date and new start time)

BBTS in March recognised that our indigenous people have been forced off their land, massacred, lost their connection to ‘place’, their way of life, culture, story, and language, and that this is still being felt today. We asked the question then: ‘What are the issues that still plague First Nations people today and what practical measures can be put in place now, that will change things to enable a better future?’

Thomas Mayor is an indigenous author from Darwin who is an activist for First Nations people’s rights. He was a participant in the Uluru Statement conference and took the large canvas of the statement (surrounded by paintings), to many indigenous communities around Australia. This formed the basis for one of his books.

Thomas’s story is powerful, he is an excellent presenter, and has appeared on media shows such as Q&A and others.

His focus now is to build support for the recognition of a Voice enshrined in the Australian Constitution. We are extremely pleased that Thomas has agreed to present his story at BBTS in November. It is to be hoped that this will help build understanding and support for the referendum.

Thomas Mayor is a Torres Strait Islander man born on Larrakia country in Darwin. As an Islander growing up on the mainland, he learned to hunt traditional foods with his father and to island dance from the Darwin community of Torres Strait Islanders. In high school, Thomas’s English teacher suggested he should become a writer. He didn’t think then that he would become one of the first ever Torres Strait Islander authors to have a book published for the general trade. Instead, he became a wharf labourer from the age of seventeen, until he became a union official for the Maritime Union of Australia in his early thirties. Quietly spoken in character, Thomas found his voice on the wharves. As he gained the skills of negotiation and organising in the union movement, he applied those skills to advancing the rights of Indigenous peoples, becoming a signatory to the Uluru Statement from the Heart and a tireless campaigner. Following the Uluru Convention, Thomas was entrusted to carry the sacred canvas of the Uluru Statement from the Heart. He then embarked on an eighteen-month journey around the country to garner support for a constitutionally enshrined First Nations Voice, and a Makarrata Commission for truth-telling and agreement-making or treaties. Thomas is the author of Finding The Heart of The Nation, Dear Son: Letters and reflections from First Nations Fathers and Sons  and the children’s books Finding Our Heart: A story about the Uluru Statement for Young Australians and Freedom Day: Vincent Lingiari and the Story of the Wave Hill Walk-Off.

Following the address by Thomas Mayor there will a panel discussion when Thomas will be joined by Tracey Evans of the First Peoples’ Assembly of Victoria, and a member from each or our partner churches – Sharon Kouryalis and David Cousins. There will also be an opportunity to ask questions of Thomas Mayor and Tracey Evans.

Tracey Evans is a proud Gunditjmara (Eastern Maar Victorian Traditional Owner). She is an Executive Director of the First Peoples Assembly and a community elected Assembly Member of the Melbourne Metropolitan Region. Tracey has worked extensively in both State/ Commonwealth government and in the public/private sector. Her field experience includes working in the areas of health, child protection and the criminal justice system. She has held a number of directorship positions with Aboriginal organisations such as MAYSAR and Connecting Homes. Tracey is a member of the Hume Reconciliation Working Party, Hume’s Stolen Generation Marker Committee, City of Melbourne Stolen Generation Marker Working Group along with other advisory roles to government and other local councils. 

Sharon Kouryialas, active member of MUC for 4 years, involved in Refugee Connections group and several other social justice organisations. Primary school teacher for over 20 years who welcomed opportunities to learn about and teach indigenous history and culture. Recently moved to the Brotherhood of St Laurence in Fitzroy, to mentor and support people experiencing disadvantage into sustainable employment and training opportunities-with a focus on public housing tenants. A passionate heart for embracing diversity, culture and community, creating a more inclusive and caring society, and, most importantly, a life-long fan of Midnight Oil. 

David Cousins studied economics at Monash before completing a Ph.D at the University of Manchester in the UK, too many years ago now to contemplate. He studied economics because it had a lot to say about how to improve the welfare of society and the people in it. For the same reason most of his career was spent in the public sector. He has had a long-term interest in promoting the welfare of Indigenous people.

Injustice, negative discrimination, powerlessness and poverty were all too apparent in 1981 when he wrote a book on Aboriginal involvement in the mining industry, which argued in favour of Indigenous land rights legislation. 

In senior Government and regulatory roles David initiated many actions to try to assist disadvantaged Indigenous people. These actions included leading the development of a national Indigenous Consumer Strategy for the States and Commonwealth to implement and leading the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission to take a more active interest in educating and enforcing the rights of Indigenous people and in protecting them from exploitation for example by remote stores and unethical traders. He established specialist roles for Indigenous employees in consumer agencies.

Closer to home, when Chair of U Ethical he prompted the organisation to formally support the Statement from the Heart, but was less successful in having the organisation adopt a more active approach to ethical investment issues impacting on Indigenous communities and having it develop a Reconciliation Action Plan. 

And more recently still, as over the past year as a Panel Member for the Victorian Government’s review of social housing regulation, he has promoted active engagement with the Aboriginal community and enhanced measures to overcome the great shortage of suitable housing for Aboriginal people in the State.