“Because of her we can…” NAIDOC 2018

by on Jul, Sun, 2018 in Articles | 0 comments

Stronger Smarter Reflections


In 2018, “Because of her we can…” gives the Stronger Smarter Institute a further opportunity in our Australian contemporary society to recount and celebrate the deep kinnection to country we have as Indigenous people and that we embody as this next generation.   We have asked five of our service delivery leaders in the Institute who work directly with schools and communities Australia-wide, to share their stories of the women in their lives who have inspired them.  These women, a powerhouse of Indigenous female leadership, have been instrumental in creating the footprint of the Stronger Smarter Leadership Program – with 3000+ alumni-strong practicing the Stronger Smarter Approach, and with 9% of all Australian schools trained. “Because of them we can!…”


We hope you enjoy hearing and seeing the voice of our people’s spirit, our Indigenous womens voices….“Because of them, we can…”


Michal Purcell – Butchulla and Australian South Sea 


Fittingly we start at our Institute beginnings by hearing from the leadership voice of Michal Purcell. A proud Butchulla and South Sea Islander woman, Michal has an exceptional leadership journey and insight as an educationalist grounded in Cherbourg and Childers, growing into executive roles within the Stronger Smarter Institute and maintaining a loving and strong bond as a wife, mother and now grandmother to her beautiful grandchildren. In the true spirit of the national footprint of the Institute, Mich now bases herself in Kununurra in Western Australia.


Mich says: “I would like to honour my Mother, Jeanette Elizabeth Woodman nee Darby who has moulded and guided me to be the woman that I am today.  Coming from her Butchulla and Australian South Sea bloodline her strong connection to who she is and where she has come from growing up in Hervey Bay and Childers has flowed through my veins and will through the veins of my children and grandchildren.


Mum was brought up by her Mother, Grandfather, Aunties and Uncles. Sadly she didn’t have the privilege of knowing her Grandmother as she passed away when she was only three. Growing up in Hervey Bay with her grandfather and aunties, her mother would pick her up on the holidays and take her to Eureka cattle station in Childers where she worked, Mum was always on the back of the horse with her Mum mustering. Mum’s culture was their way of living. This is a reflection of her love of the land, fishing and gardening. Where she was brought up in Fraser Street, Pialba their backyard always had numerous fruit trees, sweet potatoes and mangoes. The red double hibiscus flower is significant to Mum, she told me “as a young girl living with Grandfather and extended family, when Grandfather got sick he would always tell me to go down the road to Mrs Innes house and ask for some red double hibiscus flowers, when I brought them back he would put them in a pannikin and pour boiling water on them. When the dye came out he would drink it to make him better”.  Her Grandfather, and extended family would take her fishing, as they always lived on fish, crabs and oysters.  They would fish off the rocks at Point Vernon, Gatakers Bay, Urangan and Ellie Creek. This was her playground. As the family fished, Mum would catch the small crabs under the rocks for their bait, plus also find pippies and penny winkles.



Her culture, together with her strong Christian faith, is integral to who she is today. She lovingly instilled her culture and faith in all her children so that we are all proud of our roots and know where we come from.


Her strong inner spirit, endless love and personal strength has deeply influenced how we are together, as individuals and as a family. The passion mum has instilled in me to stay strong and grounded will keep me in the space where I need to be.  She is my strong thread that keeps me woven together as a strong, black, proud woman ..… ‘Because of her I can’…”



Fiona Bobongie  – Darumbal & South Sea Islander


Next, we hear from the Team Leader of our Jarjums program.  The Jarjums program is for leaders in the Early Years in Indigenous education.  Fiona Bobongie is a proud Darumbal and South Sea Islander woman.  Fiona has held leadership positions in state education as an expert in Embedding Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander studies to leading the Early Years Framework training ‘our way’ through Indigenous footprint. She calls North Queensland home and is based in Mackay.


Fiona says:  “Reflecting back on my life and the strong women that have helped mould the person that I am today, I need to acknowledge my grandmother, my mother’s mother, a kind-hearted woman. When I think about the struggles that they have been through I would never have known that until I was a mature-aged woman. There were all different families living with each other when I was growing up.  We had different cousins living with us. My grandmother’s sisters, my great aunts, who I spent school holidays with were all great cooks, all very humble and all embraced family like you wouldn’t believe.  My mum was a great cook as well.  My mum was so patient and I think I get that patience from her.  She was very humble and it wasn’t until I left home that I realised just what a great cook she was. I just thought everybody did that until people came home and couldn’t wait to have whatever she was cooking.


Cooking is an integral part of our culture.  It has taught me the deeply engrained intricacies of protocols with links to Ceremony and celebrations, which give an understanding of how we are together and the importance of planning, gathering, preparing, cooking and gathering to eat.  Cooking is sharing and giving, making sure everyone is taken care of, everyone has enough to eat, regardless of numbers – it’s about belonging and having respectful ways and respectful relationships and how those relationships strengthen family.


I also need to acknowledge my big sister.  Even though she was only two years older than me she had a huge impact on my life, looking after me and taking care of me.  We always looked out for each other.  I’d also like to acknowledge my four girls who are my rocks and my foundation – Because of them I can.  They are the reason that I continue to live and work positively as a strong black woman going out across Australia, and most recently to Canada and New Zealand to make change for our people, First Nations People of Australia – Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders.


I honour and pay respect, to all those women who have helped me build character in being patient, having heartfelt generosity, having deep admiration of Elders and protocols, keeping family strong and keeping me grounded. For always reminding me who I am and where I come from…”



Cassie Ryan – Kamilaroi


From North Queensland, we now travel further south to the northern beaches of New South Wales, Bundjalung country. Cassie Ryan, Program Coordinator and lead facilitator for the Leadership program, is based in Ballina. Cassie is a proud Kamilaroi woman with experience in Community Engagement, holding roles as Community Liaison Officer and AECG member. Cassie has a passion for our people and seeing schools maximise the learning potential of all Koori Jarjums.


Cassie says: “As I read the 2018 NAIDOC theme: Because of her, we can! – it speaks to me about all the leaders, trailblazers, activist and social change advocates.  I think about the famous women specifically listed in the document.  I think about the significance of these women and what they have achieved on many levels.


Then I consider the role models and important women in my life, personally and professionally.  Are they leaders, trailblazers and social change advocates?  Professionally – absolutely they are.  Have I thought about them in this way – the answer is maybe not; until now.  They are women who have inspired me, motivated me, encouraged and supported me.  The fact of the matter is they are all leaders, activists and advocators.  I personally would not be where I am today without them, but bigger than that, they have made changes in our world today.


Personally – again, the answer is absolutely.  My Nan, who was always there, doing what Nan’s do, my Mother, doing what mum’s do, my Aunty and my sisters, just doing what they do.  And while they were doing what they do, and never judging me, unconditionally loving me and supporting me, often under trying circumstances.   All these women are leaders, educators, activists and advocates in their space.


No doubt there are famous and well-known women all over our Nation.   These women personally in my life are just as famous and known to me.  For those who are still with me, I thank you and acknowledge your life journey.  Those who are no longer with me – I will share your stories and acknowledge your journey.


Because of her, we can!”



Dyonne Anderson – Bundjalung


From northern New South Wales, we head to Sydney, where our Chief of Operations, Dyonne (Dee) Anderson is based. A proud Bundjalung woman, Dee has been associated with the Institute for a number of years while she was a school Principal and has woven at executive levels within the Institute across all streams of Institute governance. As Chair of the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island Principals Association (NATSIPA), Dee is providing more leadership pathways and developmental experience for the next generation of Indigenous leaders.


Dee says:  “I would like to pay a special tribute to a strong and deadly Warrabal, Goongooloo and Jiman woman from Mount Morgan who pushed the boundaries of what was acceptable in society and what was never considered possible. Shirley Marella Anderson was born on 15 June 1949 and was a woman with passion and conviction and never accepted defeat. Shirley Anderson’s reputation was one known by all in Central Queensland and state wide. She was nominated by her own community to be the voice of her community which is a huge responsibility for anyone but one that she did with pride.


My mother in-law was a proud but humble woman who would never back down from a challenge. Her determination to challenge the inequities through her social justice stance continues to be remembered and long lasting. She was not defined by the jobs that she held but by her passion and dedication to bring a greater understanding about the issues impacting Aboriginal people that she represented.


This fearless and relentless leader shines light on the importance of those who have come before us by appreciating the achievements of trail blazers with purpose. This amazing woman was the most loving and generous person who never had a second thought about putting others first. Her love for her people, family and grandchildren was special just like her. I have been blessed to be loved by this beautiful soul and she will be forever missed by all.  Family first was the mantra that she lived by and by creating a better future for Aboriginal people that meant a better future for her own children, grandchildren and great grandchildren. Shirley loved to sing and one of her favourite artists was Patsy Cline so I will remember her for the song “Crazy”.  She was a strong woman but she also knew how to have fun and had a great sense of humour. This beautiful woman taught me about self- determination. If you want something anything is possible. Black women can achieve it all.”


Liz Kupsch – Waanyi Gangalida


Finally we weave back to Murri country and land at the place of eagles (known locally as Jinndi Mibunn), Logan, south of Brisbane.  Liz Kupsch, a Research Fellow with the Institute, is a proud Waanyi woman, from Mount Isa was but now living on Yugambeh country.  Liz has a long career in Indigenous education with experience as an upper management leader, a Deputy Principal role in Cunnamulla and Principal Project officer roles in EATSIPs and Managing the National Curriculum (ACARA) Indigenous roll out of all Queensland curriculums (C2C).  At the same time, Liz has raised a family of three children, which recently expanded to include two grandchildren, and together with husband Dean, takes on the caring role for Great Grandmother King (Liz’s mum).


Liz says: “When I reflect on this year’s NAIDOC them “Because of her we can” and ask myself who were and are those powerful Aboriginal female influences in my life that have enabled me to be who I am today, I think of my staunch and forthright Aunties, who could be a match for any man brave enough to take them on, either in a physical sense or an intellectual sense.  I think of my cousins, older and younger who through their life experiences gave me valuable lessons to live my life by … but mostly and undoubtedly the biggest Aboriginal female influence in my life has been my mother.


I want to acknowledge and pay my respects to a very strong and proud woman who still teaches and has taught me many simple but deeply significant life lessons. The first of which is the importance and deep connection of “family”, knowing who you are, who you are connected to, where you come from and carrying that with pride. As a family to be respectful of your elders, to only speak when you are spoken to and not before, to listen deeply, to support your family no matter what and to always be there when the pieces inevitably fall – as my mother would put it “Who else have you got if you don’t have family! Family do for family, it’s the unwritten bond!”


Secondly, the importance of your ‘voice’, to know that what you think, feel or believe is truly individual and unique and worthy of contributing. To know that I had a right to my opinion and the courage and honesty to share what I believed, regardless of whether it challenged or supported the status quo.  It was about trusting my intuition and being brave enough to break the silence, to not accept anything at face value and to use my intelligence to inform and challenge what I saw and experienced as an Aboriginal woman.  My mother demonstrated this to me on many occasions, many of which have been tattooed into my brain and I thank her for being fearless and unyielding in the face of those storms.


Lastly, she taught me how to have integrity and be a responsible and committed person. She demonstrated this by having a job and working hard every day.  She did this by bringing up seven children, six of them being boys and she was determined to see that we all had more opportunities than her by completing an education.  She taught me responsibility by letting me make my own decisions and owning the consequences of those decisions when they weren’t the right ones.  She taught me that you do what you say you are going to do and you keep persevering and never give up when things get hard. She did this by choosing to live her life the way that she was shown by her Mother, her Aunties and her cousins.


They say actions speak louder than words and in my mother’s case this is very true.  If I was to show her what I had written she would totally play down her important and integral role in who I am today, I thank my mother and it is because of her that I am who I am and that I can.”


Five exceptional yarns from five exceptional leaders! Thank you to the families and Elders who have provided so much inspiration.


Enjoy NAIDOC 2018, “Because of her, we can!”

Liz Kupsch


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