In the beginning, what motivated you to work and live in remote Indigenous communities?

In the beginning I lived and grew up on the waterfront in Sydney and spent my childhood playing at places that echoed with the sounds of the original people of this place they called Moocooboola “meeting of the waters”. All along the waterfront were caves with deep ancient Middens and blackened rock overhangs from thousands of years of occupation. Here I sat as a child and imagined how idyllic life must have been long ago for the Eora people, who lived around this area.

Moving to Tasmania when I finished my schooling I immersed myself in learning about the tragic events that occurred during the colonial period, to the Indigenous people of the Island (Read “Fate of a Free People” by Henry Reynolds). Having studied teaching at College in Sydney I was very keen to work with Indigenous children, and I managed to get an “Artist in Residence” grant from an Indigenous community school. Thus, my first experience of a remote community was on a windswept Island off the NE coast of Tasmania named Cape Barren implementing a music and movement program.

I had a close friend who was teaching out at Docker River 240km west of Uluru in the early 1990’s and we visited her in 1992. We immediately fell in love with the beauty of the landscape and had the opportunity of meeting magical elders who remembered time before the “Whiteman”. We applied for a Commonwealth Programs grant and were successful the following year. In those days’ youth programs, childcare services and employment programs didn’t exist. Most of the non-Indigenous staff I came across back then had an “Apartheid” mentality, and I became convinced that the only way to change the status quo was to live and work with the local people. The experience of working in this community school inspired me to travel up to the NT from Tasmania for seven Winters, and work with my partner implementing Arts-based education programs across a large swath of Central Australian communities.

Eventually, after our first child was born we decided to live full time on a remote community and immerse ourselves with the local families. My partner taught full time, and I became a home dad; giving me the freedom to travel across country with elders who recognised my interest to learn, we developed genuine heartfelt connections. We would travel constantly visiting family members in neighbouring communities and also to sites of significance for the elders who were responsible to maintain customary practices.

We grew up our first two children on remote communities and have developed lifelong relationships that have shaped my experiences and keep me motivated to work alongside Indigenous people to this day. Twenty-six years after our first engagement, working in remote communities has opened my mind and heart to the realm of possibilities available to you if you sit down long enough to listen and learn from the elders and help guide the young ones on a path to a healthy and happy life.

Why do you believe mentoring is so important?

I believe mentoring is so important because you gain invaluable opportunities for learning from someone who has navigated the path you are on. The importance of mentoring is difficult to measure as the mentee/mentor journey is a special relationship that relies on mutual trust and understanding. This understanding is bred from common principles of engagement with the situations that confront each individual.

Mentoring for workers on remote Indigenous communities is a critical step in navigating the complex web of relationships that exist in Indigenous cultures. A good mentor will have first-hand experience developed over a number of years working in a cross-cultural context. Building trust with remote community members is developed over time and doesn’t come easily; a new worker in a remote community will often struggle to understand how to fit in. Taking this in mind a mentee will gain a broad perspective on how to deal with day-to-day issues as well as the intricacies of working collaboratively with other stakeholders.

What or who inspires you?

I’m inspired by listening and learning from community Elders who take you under their wing to teach you about their culture, when they recognise you are genuine/real in your approach to understanding their way of life. I have had the privilege to live and work on many remote communities where the Elders can remember before the “Whiteman”, where they detail how life was like before the changes brought about by the Missionaries or Government agencies.

These Elders inspire me in a number of ways, not the least of which is their adaptability and genuine interest in teaching others about their culture. What is so inspirational is how the Elders work from a standpoint of wisdom and compassion. Wisdom they have gained from their ancestors and the compassion to offer their stories and insights to others even after watching their society face such upheaval.


Yarran Cavalier
World Central Mentor

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