Because of her, we can: NAIDOC Week at Abbotsleigh

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Although NAIDOC Week fell in the middle of the holidays, it was celebrated at Abbotsleigh in the last week of Term 2. This was not only to raise awareness of the importance of our shared history and the week itself, but also to highlight the incredible progress that has been made by so many Indigenous people – especially Indigenous women. 

I am delighted that our Indigenous students, headed by Year 12 girls, Kiara Davies and Alana Sharpley organised a superb assembly in which inspirational Indigenous women were highlighted, as well as activities that ran throughout the week. The Senior School assembly saw Chris Tobin, a local Indigenous man, give the Welcome to Country, our ELC children give an Acknowledgement of Country in the Gamilory language as well as perform Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander songs, and our Indigenous students perform a traditional dance. 

Our guest speaker was Mahlia Peachey, Abbotsleigh Indigenous student (2015). After graduating, Mahlia completed an internship at Telstra and then went to the United States to work with children and adults with Spina Bifida. She is currently working full time for the Victorian Aboriginal Health Service. Mahlia's travels and work have sparked her interest in the health sector and, next year, she will commence nursing studies at Melbourne University.  

Mahlia, whose excellent speech appears below, is one of a number of Abbotsleigh Indigenous students who have gone on to make their mark on the world. Yalari, the organisation with which Abbotsleigh partners to educate young Indigenous women, has the philosophy of 'paying it forward'. Our Year 10 Indigenous students have been so determined to 'live this out' that they launched their own fundraiser for other Indigenous students as part of the NAIDOC Week activities.

We are so proud of our all our girls and I am very grateful to our parents, past and present, our staff, past and present, and our Old Girls, who have generously donated to both the Indigeous and the Kathleen McCredie scholarships. These scholarships, which are the focus of our fundraising event tomorrow evening, give opportunities to Indigenous and non-Indigenous girls who would otherwise not be able to attend our school and receive the outstanding education that Abbotsleigh provides. I know these girls are incredibly grateful. I also know that they are 'giving back', and will continue to 'give back', in spades! Thank you so much.

Mahlia Peachey: NAIDOC assembly speech
Before I begin I would like to acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we are all gathered today for this NAIDOC assembly, the Gadigal people of the Eora nation. I pay my respects to the elders both past and present and also to the future generations that will continue to follow the strong line of ancestors before them. 

Like Alana mentioned, my name is Mahlia Peachey. I am a proud Wiradjuri/Weilwan woman from the small country town of Warren located in central NSW. I attended Abbotsleigh as an Indigenous scholar in 2010 and proudly graduated in 2015. It truly was an honour to complete my high school years being supported by so many strong, growing women and I hope that you all have the same attitude and support. 

I am someone who really does cherish my time at Abbotsleigh. For me, as an Aboriginal woman, receiving an education, even more, receiving this at a school as amazing as Abbotsleigh was a huge achievement. It was an achievement not only within my family but also within the Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander community. Why? Because we as Indigenous youth are more likely to be put in prison than we are to finish school. As disheartening as this truth is, it's what empowers me to stand up and prove them wrong. It empowers me to be the person I want to be not what the statistics say I will be. 

Well, today I am here to talk about this year's NAIDOC theme. So what is NAIDOC Week? NAIDOC Week is a week that allows us as a country to come together and acknowledge the rich history which we as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island people inherit. This year, NAIDOC Week is one I am more than proud to share. This year we celebrate the women. The theme is 'Because of her, we can'. It is such an achievement to be able to celebrate and recognise all contributions that our women have made and continue to make to not only our families and communities, but to our nation. 

These women are our mothers, our grandmothers, our aunties, our cousins, our sisters, our friends. They are the women who fight for justice, for equal rights, for access to education, for employment. For Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people they are the women who also fight to keep our culture strong and alive. Their influences come from them being teachers, doctors, lawyers, politicians, actors and singers, journalists, sporting icons and Olympians. This list of who they are and what they are fighting for could go on forever, but you get the idea. 

Before coming today, I had to ask myself, if I'm coming to speak about 'Because of HER, we CAN', then who is my 'her'? What woman or women in my life has made me stop and appreciate the things that I do because of her actions or her influence. It was a hard concept for me to grasp. It was hard because I've grown up in an environment where the strong line of women that stood before me were resilient and determined in everything they did. Having this view made it hard to choose one because all women in my life have influenced me in   one way or another. 

It's sporting icons like Cathy Freeman, Faith Thomas or Evonne Goolagong. It's actors or singers like Rosalie Kunoth-Monks or Christine Anu. It's political activists like Joyce Claque or Kirstie Parker. It's education campaigners like Evelyn Scott or Eleanor Harding. It's strong women like Truganini or Fanny Cochrane Smith. All of these women are fighting for different outcomes, but they are all women. Women who have set standards for the generations after them. They have become a 'HER' and have fought so that we 'CAN' continue or expand on their legacy. 

Just recently, someone said something that speaks strongly to me and has helped me to think more about this year's theme. That someone was a woman by the name of Lidia Thorpe, who on 18 November 2017 became the first Aboriginal woman elected to the Victorian Parliament. In her first parliamentary speech she stood strongly and she said, 'I stand here on the shoulders of my ancestors. None of this would have been possible without the strong line of Aboriginal women before me. They taught me resilience, self-determination and the importance of standing up against injustice.'  

She simply sums up my reasoning to why I don't have one 'HER' - I have many. 

Because of HER, my grandmothers, I CAN allow the changes we as a country are slowly (very slowly) making and be proud of who I can and will become. Both my great grandmothers were very strong, opinionated women. They were fighters for their community. They stood and voiced their opinion for change. For change of racism, education, or just to have their voice as Aboriginal women heard. Because of their resilience to fight for change, I can experience things they never had the opportunity to.

Because of HER, my mother, I CAN be thankful. I can be thankful for all the things she tried and accomplished so hard to give me and my seven siblings. They were things she never had the opportunity to experience. My mother is a strong force in my life. She is someone who, because of injustices in our community, had a lot to overcome in her life. But despite this she continued to try and make everything the best it could be for her children.

And because of her determination I am thankful. 

Because of HER, my sisters, I CAN continue to strive for MY best. My sisters are the strongest support system that I have. Being the eldest in my family, they all have, and continue to look up to me in one way or another. Because of this it empowers me to be strong in whatever I do and to keep fighting for what I believe and for what I want. They will always be there for me to lean back on, and for that I will continue to do my best, knowing that they will be there to help me back up if I fall. 

Abbotsleigh has been 'Empowering young women since 1885'. Every one of you sitting here today has the ability to make change and become a platform for all generations to follow.

Become the woman you want to be. Become the woman that will influence with a positive change. Become a 'HER' for someone else to sit and reflect on your influence. We are the future generation of 'HERS' so make it worth the while. 

The last time I had the opportunity to speak here on this stage, I spoke on Reconciliation Week and I challenged all students and staff. I challenged them to pass on the information to anyone that wasn't seated in the assembly. Today I leave a new challenge. I challenge all of you to acknowledge and thank at least one woman who has had an influence on you. Whether she has influenced the way you think or the way you act, write a letter, make a phone call, send an email or do it in person. It's up to you how you do it, but please just do it.  

I encourage you all to get involved in this year's NAIDOC Week. Not only because the theme is very much fitting for a school like Abbotsleigh, but because our history is your history and we would want nothing less for everyone than to come together in a way like this. 

I finish today saying one thing, 'Because of HER, we CAN'.

NAIDOC-hug

NAIDOC-trio

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