Firstly, I want to thank you all the incredible support in 2020, we can’t do what we do without you. I hope at the coming year is one help filled with happiness, health and peace for you and your families.

As I write this I sit in Mparntwe (Alice Springs), following the loss of our founding Elders, Mrs. Palmer. A woman of gentle spirit and powerful leadership. Some of you will have met her, in person or on video. She was simply beautiful. We are shocked and deeply saddened. She dedicated her life to raising children and working to protect her land, her language, her culture and her grandchildren. Her smile and graciousness brought peace that held in place standards and a focus on the future.  She was a holder of our vision.

This year we will continue to work to honour her vision and the vision of our leaders past and present. 2020 has been one of most challenging years we have faced. We are at a critical point in our journey and we need your active support more than ever.

But first I want to reflect on Australia Day. As we have done at Children’s Ground so for many years, we have identified an alternative day of celebration. We hope over time others will join us. This year children’s ground will be recognising Australia Day on the 2nd October 2021.  Why? It will be a day where we can celebrate our nation and all Australians. Does it have any meaning as a date? No, so that it can become a shared special date. Why in October?  It is a time of the year when we need a recharge.   It is in Spring when we are coming out of winter in the south or ending the beautiful dry season in the north.

On 26 January we will be recognising a day in our history when First Nations people lost the right to live with freedom in their own lands. Since this day injustices have continued to be experienced daily. These injustices include the history of massacres the stealing of land, of children and of wealth. It has included violence and abuse and abhorrent acts against children, women and men. This was held in place by Government laws and policies that were designed to remove First Nations people from existence.

On 26 January we recognise the enduring pain loss and suffering of First Nations peoples. We also recognise the strength and survival of First Nations people against the acts of genocide.

At Children’s Ground, we see the impact of this violence and the enduring strength every day. We bear witness to the destruction and denial of the hundreds sovereign nations that exist across these lands, which had survived and developed for over 65,000 years with knowledge systems of phenomenal complexity. Our Elder, M.K. Turner has dedicated her life to protecting her language and culture. Today only 13 of the over 300 languages across these nations continue to be taught across generations.

At Children’s Ground, we focus on the future. We celebrate children, people, culture, life and hope.  But today I want to give voice to the other truths.he hardships every day, for every person in every family. Our leaders, our children, live with shattering realities that are inconceivable – people live with no housing, no running water. Or that people are locked up at rates that defy any basic notion of justice. Or that kids can be violated in state run facilities without repercussion. How can we accept the norm of poverty, overcrowding, ill-health, early death and racism. We see the impact on people lives daily and it is devastating.

I watched President Biden’s inaugural speech and was struck with the honesty as he spoke of racial injustice in their country and their responsibility to actively dismantle it. This honesty is not heard in our political leaders in Australia. It is very important to acknowledge that the injustices of the past continue today. They continue because we have not faced the truth about our history and it legacy today. This denial causes persistent pain.

As a non-first Nations person my responsibility as the CEO of children’s ground  is to be a fierce champion for the truth, to honour the vision and direction of elders to do everything in my power to deliver justice for future generations. I believe it is our responsibility as non First Nations people to affect change in the systems of power that we are part of and that provide us with our privileges. This is not the responsibility of First Nations people. They did not create the system and are not in the position to dismantle it. They should however be at the forefront of rebuilding a new reality.

I must say that I see it as an ongoing war in our country. I watch the injured, the maimed and the blood spilled. I attend the funerals of the fallen. But it is a war that is curtained by politics and denial. And while I watch the constant attack on people, I am most inspired by the power they continue to hold and the way it is held.

Nationally, this is most noted in Welcome to Country ceremonies. I often reflect on how many times I have attended an event and been welcomed to country. And how this happens around Australia as a new ‘norm.’ It is a wonderful change that has occurred over the past 10 years. What I reflect on the most is how First Nations people welcome us with dignity and inclusion, without bitterness without accusation. First Nations people welcome us, not with recrimination but with open hearts and spirits and a generosity. Through their Welcome to Country they create a passage of safety and peace for us to enjoy their beautiful lands. It is an incredible gift in the context of what they have lost and how our enjoyment of their lands removes their cultural rights and justice.  The principles of leadership are founded in the heart of cultural law and responsibility for land and people. These laws have a higher value than retribution and violence.  They are role modelled and held in place by Elders across the many First Nations of these lands. The leadership is of those who are not leaders for three years but over 65 millenia. There is a surety about the law, its importance that no individual interest can undo, compromise or deny. It is part of a complex system of law that has held the success of the oldest living cultures across the world. There is no bitterness or grandstanding. There is a responsibility and reverence to a law that upholds the interest of humanity, respect, peace and safety.

First Nations people lead with respect as they are not threatened in their confidence of their cultural rights and authority. It is not voted away, bought or sold. It is held in place by laws and social policy that has evolved and been in place for generations. There is a superior diplomacy that comes from collective political leadership has at its foundation in respect and a recognition of each persons authority. First Nations leadership, since the 26th January 1788 have invited our political leaders to recognise their voices, injustices and rights. This stream of First Nations political leaders and diplomats has most recently presented the Makarata as a peace document. Not only was it rejected it was barely considered and the way it was rejected was an affront to our democracy and the dignity and justice that still awaits First Nations people in their own lands. Our political leaders should have celebrated that diverse Nations came together to present a collective solution. One that rightfully enable First Nations people to part of a political system in the singular effort to determine decision on their own lives, not any one elses lives, just theirs. This is one of a number of actions that we can take as a Nation to come together as one. It is time to recognise First Nations sovereign rights, a representative voice into the political system as well as what and how solutions are led and created by communities across diverse Nations.

Every time you are welcomed to country please think about what this means to First Nations people. The leadership that it shows, the power that it holds and the gift that is given. It is a leadership that I am in awe of. I have watched for decades the unflinching dignity with which Elders lead – the absence of anger, the spirit of sharing, a deep responsibility to their position, role and the broader community. It is this commitment to leadership in the interest of the community that leads them to welcome those who have come and taken their land, create enduring pain for them, their children their fathers and mothers and their ancestors.

At Children’s Ground, Elder and community leaders look to the future and continue their work, putting in place a system that honours their culture, lands, languages and visions. It seems hardly radical that we want to teach kids in a system that will work, in a language that is theirs and with quality opportunities for the future. That we want to invest in where children live so that they have the necessary resources to enjoy life. The truth is that currently, where we work, this does not exist.  That is what you are helping to create and why we need your support.

This year we need more help than ever. We have to raise more money than we have ever raised to get to the level of resources to deliver the quality, sustainability and opportunity that will make a difference.

I am personally shattered by the loss of Elder, Mrs. Palmer. She was one of my heroes. I will never know how she maintained her gentle and loving disposition as she lived, as many do, with daily trauma.  She knew that education is at the heart of change. She wanted a school in her homelands. She wanted to change the situation for her many grandchildren and great grandchildren.

This year we are trying to raise enough money to deliver early years and education and primary learning to kids who are struggling in education in Central Australia and the Top End. We are working with nine communities that have deep vision and need. We are protecting culture and languages and strengthening health and wellbeing. We are creating employment and enterprise skills. We are working at National reform for First Nations led education. We continue to work to honour the vision of another Elder who passed, Mrs. Hayes. She spent forty year fighting for tenure and access to water on her own country, to build houses and move her family out of tin sheds. Her neice, Felicity Hayes, continue this struggle with the Northern Territory Government and we are determined to succeed this year in delivering justice.

We are working with kids, Elders, young people at risk and adults. We have phenomenal leaders but we need the money to back this change.

I ask you to share this message with as many people as you can.

There is so much that can be done that will make a difference, that will change the course of our history towards greater justice. We can all lead with the collective values of respect and sharing of our wealth and lands and resources. This year we look forward to sharing the stories of magic and hope and success as we walk this path together. On behalf of the leaders of Children’s Ground I thank you again for your incredible support and for making what we do possible.

With respect