Why I marched in Bathurst today for a Better Australia

Below is the speech I made today at the March Australia rally in Bathurst – so great to see people of all ages enjoying the sun and each other’s company as we marched strong and loud today.

Thank you to Alyson, Melanie and Sophie for showing great leadership in making this opportunity for us all to have a voice happen. And thank you Aunty Shirley for your welcome to country. My name is Michelle Evans, I’m a Koori woman from the Hunter Valley, and now I call Bathurst my home. I moved back here with my wife and three dogs, after twenty years away. It’s great to be home.

May I begin by acknowledging the land we are meeting on today, the land of the Wiradjuri people. I pay my respects to their elders past and present, to the Aboriginal people who are here with us today.

I am standing here today to make my voice heard. The current government is not speaking for me, they don’t speak for my family, they don’t speak for my values nor my hopes and dreams for our country.

It is disgraceful that the budget put forward by the self declared Prime Minister for Aboriginal Affairs cuts more than half a billion dollars from funding to Indigenous affairs.

The biggest cut is to Indigenous health programs.
These funding cuts are further exacerbated by the proposed revision to raise the retirement age to 70 years old and the GP co-payment. These two actions will further discriminate against First Australians and all Australians.

This is shameful when the life expectancy for Aboriginal men in Australia is 69 years, meaning that many of our old people are not living to reach the proposed retirement age. And the efforts many Australians have made to Close the Gap around the health outcomes for Indigenous Australians will be further set back if economic barriers are imposed on access to GPs.

Another strategic cut made by the Abbott government is to Indigenous democracy.
The National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples has been defunded altogether.
And cuts to the National Aboriginal legal services, including the defunding of the National Family Violence and Protection Legal Services Forum. These cuts impact the daily lives of our most vulnerable Australians.

Good intentions are not good enough.
We require more than words to effect impactful and sustainable change in Indigenous affairs. Cutting funding has sent your message loud and clear – these services, programs and people do not matter. We need to ask ourselves who is this government representing?

We are gathered here today to speak up and speak out.
Government efforts to silence grassroots organized representative voices like our community controlled services, our representative bodies, our not for profit organisations are not going to be tolerated by me/by us.

So what are we going to do?
This today is step one, we must speak out, we must march, we must write to our members of parliament, we must speak to the media, and we most importantly must speak to each other about our dreams for Australia.

My dream is to see Australia free of the shackles to England, to see our land, our home become a Republic that recognizes in law the First Australians. That is why I am marching today for a better and fairer Australia.



I spent time yesterday writing my speech for today after contemplating and seeking feedback from trusted friends about the theme I had carefully selected to concentrate on – collaboration. I was happy with my efforts. On my quick 5 minute drive home, listening to the radio, I was stunned by the announcement our Prime Minister made – that he had decided to take the proposed amendments to the Racial Discrimination Act off the table, that this decision and action was a “leadership call”, as was his simultaneous announcement about the most significant changes to national security since 9/11. Abbott described his decision to withdraw his government’s proposed changes to the Racial Discrimination Act as a demonstration of his leadership, he said “Leadership is about preserving national unity on the essentials and that is why I have taken this position.”

This quote has given me pause to think what it is about the Racial Discrimination Act that is essential to the very nature of being Australian? Perhaps he is saying that privileging rights of citizenship over the responsibilities of Australian citizenship actively works against essential Australian Values we all hold dear like those featured in the Australian Citizenship Act 2007 “…a spirit of egalitarianism that embraces fair play, mutual respect, tolerance, compassion for those in need and pursuit of the public good.” (Commonwealth of Australia, 2007: 1).

Effectively, the campaign I, and perhaps many of you, certainly many of my friends, have been working solidly on has ultimately been successful. The campaign to stop proposed amendments to the RDA, most notably the repel of 18B, 18C, 18D, 18E of the act to be replaced by a weakened section that would have watered down the key provisions of the Act, how extraordinary. It was also reported yesterday that 76% of the 4100 submissions to the proposed review of the Racial Discrimination Act were opposed to the draft bill. So in a bow to the majority, the leader of the Australian Government backed down, he withdrew. He did not enjoy a collective endorsement of his leadership on this important legal change.

This follows three years on from the successful prosecution of Andrew Bolt under 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act. Bolt claimed that the applicants named in the federal court case were not genuinely Aboriginal; that they had made claim to a small part of their ancestry and set aside their Whiteness and other cultural heritage to uphold their Aboriginality. Two of the successful applicants are friends of mine. I watched them both endure the pressure and pain of having to stand up in court and account for your cultural identity and family history as well as the collateral damage my friends faced of being stalked, harassed and physically threatened because they stood up proud of who they are as Aboriginal women.

I would like to propose that the identity work I described above can be framed as an act of leadership. The work of Indigenous artists like my friends Antia Heiss and Bindi Cole, who stood up in Federal Court on behalf of all us fair skinned Koori’s proudly asserting their identity; the work Indigenous people do to tell and retell the stories of our communities, as well as how they demonstrate distinct, coherent, resistant, innovative images of Aboriginal identity speaks back to the power relations in the mainstream society that continues to frame and contain Aboriginal identities as mythologised or stigmatised.

I research and teach leadership, I find it completely fascinating. We are here today to celebrate the leadership and practice of excellence of these individuals and teams who have each sort to change, adapt, create and build new ways/offerings to make the work of CSU better, smarter, and more accessible. So what is this complex socially constructed phenomenon and why are we so fascinated by it?

Leadership is an iconic idea. When asked to think about leadership, you are likely to have many images or thoughts fill your mind – you may think about your parents or elders; for some it is Martin Luther King Jr, Ghandi or Nelson Mandela; or it may be the idea of a boss or CEO. The ideas most associated with leadership are that the leader is male, that they are great orators, and that leadership is about inspiring people with a vision that is big enough to bring many together in a united action (Jackson & Parry, 2008). However, in leadership studies, scholars do not always agree on a single, unified definition of what leadership is. In fact some scholars say that when we study leadership, get up close and personal with it, it disappears or is difficult to capture (Alvesson & Svenningson, 2003).

Leadership is a contested concept, so studying leadership requires us to explore by listening and noticing when, where, how and why leadership arises. Those we celebrate today were noticed for they’re personal and team excellence in innovation, sustainability, performance, research, and teaching. Their excellence was noticed, they were nominated and today celebrated and they each accepted this accolade. According to scholars DeRue & Ashford (2010), the leadership identity comprises three elements: individual internalization of the leader identity; relational recognition of the mantle of leader; and collective endorsement of the individual’s leadership. They argue that there is this three-stage process of claiming, granting and being collectively endorsed for your leadership. All three of those stages have been enacted today.

Let’s consider another example where all three-stages are not agreed. On Monday’s episode of Q and A on ABC 1 broadcast from the Garma Festival in Gulkala, North East Arnhem Land, there was also a discussion about what leadership looks like. One of the most interesting expositions was between Gälpu clan elder and business owner Dhanggal Gurruwiwi and the host Tony Jones. Dhanggal said “I am no leader but…” Tony Jones interjects: “People are laughing at that. I think you probably are, whether you know it or not.” To which Gurruwiwi responds “If you say so. Yeah.”

Gurruwiwi acknowledges that despite efforts to frame her as a leader, she does not pick it up because she has a different perspective about what leadership looks like. On that same episode Djawa Yunipingu, senior member of the Gumatj clan, said “When we look for the next leadership, we don’t normally appoint one. We tend to not judge the person first. We advise them to be the next leader in your own group.” From this quote we can hear that granting the title of leader to a person is not the role of the Elder. Instead he describes the role as advising, noticing, encouraging, teaching individuals and providing the context for that person to step forward.

These actions Yunipingu describes sound familiar to the work we do here at Charles Sturt University, the work these wonderful colleagues we are celebrating today do. Like the Students at Risk team who identified a problem and went about designing an intervention, a safety net for students at risk of dropping out of study; like Judy who harnessed her passion for living a more sustainable life and provided the education and context for great changes across the CSU footprint; like our Advertising team Jennifer and Kerrie who created a campaign to encourage curiosity from potential students as well as establishing a benchmark for future campaign development; and like Dr Dryer who advises and scaffolds the learning of her students to enter the psychology profession. Excellence is a behavior that we can nurture by practicing it. Your individual and collective excellence raises the tide for all of us.

Gratefulness Tuesday

I’m laying on the couch waiting for our little home cooked pizza to be ready and found myself dipping into the Oprah magazine online. I haven’t read her magazine for a while but I am always interested to hear what people are grateful for. It got me thinking that the physical activity of celebrating the small and not so small acts of kindness, gratefulness and happiness on a micro daily level may well help me capture my practice and the perceptions people have of me.

So today I wanted to celebrate the following:
* My wife’s sense of humor (cracks me up always)
* I got called Aunty for the first time today by an young Aboriginal woman I am working with – kind of shocked me and I thought about that, why it shocked me. I decided that even though I know it’s as much about the role I play in her life as it is about how I feel I decided that I’m not there yet! I respectfully invited her to call me Michelle 🙂
* Seeing a mob of Kangaroos on my lunch time walk
* Receiving lovely compliment from a friend who likes the way I work and think and spoke about how it makes her feel able to share her own personal cultural practices and thinking with me – so precious

I acknowledge that I often receive amazing compliments and am often keen to share the compliment with the person giving it. It is such a gift for me to make people feel good when they are working with me or are in collaboration/dialogue with me because it makes me feel good to look after the space between myself and the people I work with.

For me that in between space is sacred – it’s where innovation springs from, where connections spark, where practices are enacted and performed. For me this sacred work is my cultural practice – and I pay attention to the way I work with others and space I foster when working with others.

So as the night goes on and I am beginning to become sleepy I am grateful for the life I share with my wife and puppies, for the warm fire in my living room and for a warm bed to snooze in.


Attending the NYU Relational and Collective Leadership conference in April

Open to about 50 participants, this mini-conference is sponsored by the Research Center for Leadership in Action, led by Professors Erica Foldy and Sonia Ospina at NYU’s Wagner School of Public Policy. Participants will explore the relational and collective dimensions of leadership.

According to organizers: “There are several distinct groups of leadership scholars – from within various research perspectives, disciplinary traditions, and understandings of leadership – who are seriously exploring the implications of the idea that leadership has both individual and collective dimensions. These researchers however seldom have the opportunity to speak to one another and share both insights as well as challenge one another in constructive ways to advance a field’s understanding of leadership. The goal of this conference at NYU is to bring together representatives of these diverse groups to share challenges and opportunities in further developing a research agenda at the field level, one that is cumulative and produces findings that advance our knowledge, capitalizing on the diversity of perspectives being used.”

I am excited to be a part of a research agenda that advances collective and relational leadership theories and to be in the room with some of the leading scholars in my field!

Too deadly.


Artist as Leader

I was so happy to spend a few hours dialoging with Anne Douglas last week about our mutual interest into the connection points between the artist and leadership. Anne and her colleagues in Scotland have been doing some interesting thinking about this and it seems we have similar ideas as well as divergent ones. One of the exciting outcomes about Anne’s work culminated in a week long residential round table between artists and policy makers/funders etc in Scotland where the group explored these ideas through dialogue, performance, visual arts, film, poetry, walking, explorining, cleaning up the environment – check it out http://ontheedgeresearch.org/artist-as-leader-2007-09/

A review of TIDDAS by Anita Heiss

A review of TIDDAS by Anita Heiss

© Michelle Evans


Anita Heiss’ runaway successful new book TIDDAS is a real page turner! I read it over a weekend and found myself completely engaged, wanting to know every morsel of what happens to our heroines Izzy, Vee, Ellen, Nadine and Xanthe. I think that engagement is one of the most important qualities of a good fiction book, so good on you Anita – write some more!!


For me TIDDAS is a platform for Dr Anita Heiss to discuss some powerful ideas. Two important ideas rang bells for me as I read TIDDAS – first, the complexity of status anxiety and the Aboriginal woman in the 21st century and second, the seemingly all or nothing decision around family and career priorities.


Let me address the later first. Izzy promises a fun loving career girl and perhaps Australia’s answer to Oprah, but within the first few pages she is stunned into a silence that seems unlike her. Avoiding people, decisions, questions, I was reminded of how, when you are stuck making a difficult decision and lye in the funk and ambiguity of it, you can easily detach from your career, family, friends, even your body and your inner voice. I have been (and probably still am) an all or nothing decision maker. This kind of decision-making places individuals in such a bind, so I applaud Anita’s affordance for Izzy to sit in a difficult, almost inert place without forcing Izzy to make a snap decision on what is a very pivotal life choice.


By far the most compelling tension Anita platforms in TIDDAS was the complexity of status anxiety Aboriginal women experience in Australia in 2014. What I was excited by was the discussion of how each character managed their own internal tensions – for example that pull towards home, family and place vs. making a difference and paying it forward in a career they love away from ‘home’. Despite healthy doses of self esteem these tiddas possess, we see each character having to manage the anxiety of what others think of them and their success.


One character manages this by buying hometown goods for her pantry, and another sends tidings home each pay. “…Ellen felt a pang of guilt for missing so much of what was going on in her family since moving to Brisbane.” Far from being an existential longing, this carriage of guilt and uneasy anxiety is a modern Aboriginal and universal theme.


Alain de Botton describes in his 2002 book Status Anxiety[1] how feelings of resentment and general anxiety grow when members of our own group succeed. Aboriginal women are very aware of the image they portray and how they manage their own cultural and community responsibilities in balance with their own dreams and ambitions. My research into Indigenous leadership shows that leadership can be understood as having to navigate these tensions inside of ourselves in order to practice what could be framed as leadership like being fearless or expressing a diverse cultural identity with confidence.


TIDDAS Izzy, Ellen and Xanthe are positive role models, they are working to open doors into new industries and they are progressing movements for land/language/culture and social space for the diversity of Australian Indigenous peoples. The grit of status anxiety can be a double edged sword – on one side debilitating causing individuals to dwell on the perceived/real resentment about their success and contribution; and on the other side it can be the very boost individuals use to develop a strong sense of self and of mission.


I want to encourage all you Tiddas out there to never apologize for your achievements, these are everyday acts of leadership. And returning to my first point, don’t be afraid of ambiguity, it offers us time to sift through the complexity. Thanks Anita for your work, it inspires and makes us laugh!



[1] de Botton, A. (2002) Status Anxiety, New York: Vintage BooksImage