It’s almost that time of year when we change our Facebook profile pictures to include the R U OK? logo and remind ourselves to ask someone the big question: “Are you OK?”.
But instead of the focus being just on September 13, R U OK? Day, why not challenge yourself to ask someone every day?
R U OK? Conversation Convoy
I just wrapped up seven days on the road as an R U OK? Day ambassador with the Conversation Convoy, visiting rural and remote locations across the nation. My part of the mission, to empower our mob to have those tough conversations, was clear to me as I jumped one of our four bright yellow cars in Broome.
Along for the ride was my fellow R U OK? Day ambassador and Aboriginal singer/songwriter Jacob Ridgeway, whose ability to share his story through music inspires me.
There are four simple steps at the heart of initiating those tough conversations; 1. Ask, 2. Listen, 3. Encourage action and 4. Check in.
My favourite stop of the trip was Tennant Creek High School. I enjoyed having the opportunity to share my experiences of growing up in Katherine (just up the road) and explain how making use of support services such as Clontarf Foundation helped me get through at school when I needed it. It made all the difference to my mental health and in some instances I didn’t even realise it had helped until much later in life.
I really connected with the students there, but there was a critical moment during my visit that made realise there is more for me to understand.
I asked a young boy if he had recently asked anyone how they were doing and he told me he had never asked anyone. I made sure I wrote a note to myself straight away of what he said next and will take with me through every day of my life.
“I don’t listen, because you are just coming and leaving today,” he said. “Please stay and walk, follow our footsteps to understand, Uncle. You are one of us, but there are some things you won’t understand until you see it here through our eyes, not your city eyes.”
It took me a while to process the moment and I had to give him a handshake and walk away before anyone saw tears in my eyes.
When I reflected looking back to my childhood, it was so true. I couldn’t even figure out how to tell anyone what that meant to me, but allowing myself to feel something in that moment was enough.
What I learned was the importance for people going into communities trying to create change to acknowledge that we cannot judge how someone might be feeling when they speak to us. But empowering our mob with the knowledge of how to continue sharing feelings and have that knowledge and ability passed down through future generations. We cannot try to make sense of something we don’t understand.
Just accept it for what it is and use our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander mobs’ practices and our voices to implement change that works for us. If I could have shared that with our currently unstable national leadership, I would have used his words to motivate, because our youth are our future, their voices are our survival.
R U OK? Day is Every Day
So why should every day be R U OK? Day for Australia’s First Nations people?
For our mob who live in remote communities, it is not always easy to access support services straight away when we need to have a yarn. We all need to be prepared to step up and be the support at any time. I see the shame factor in our communities attached to talking about feelings. Through being empowered with the skills to navigate a safe conversation each and every day of the year, you and I together really can help our friends, brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, uncles and aunties and all other loved ones through those tough times in life.
Our culture has survived more than 65,000 years through storytelling in many forms. If we share our raw feelings along with our stories, songlines and dances, we can build confidence and connection in our communities to break down the shame, connect with our loved ones and make it safe to ask the question every day.
Recognising the signs someone is struggling, feeling comfortable with asking if they’re right and feeling safe to share our feelings will create pathways towards a safe and positive tomorrow for our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander mob who are struggling.
Thank you to Broome, Kununurra, Tennant Creek and Mount Isa for welcoming us! Keep an eye out for the Conversation Convoy coming your way!
R U OK? Day is a national day of action on Thursday, 13 September. If you’re in Sydney on the day, come down to Walumil Lawns, Barangaroo Reserve 7:30am – 11:00am and say hello!