Always Was, Always Will Be: celebrating NAIDOC Week 2020

Show menu

We speak to five Australians about what this year’s NAIDOC Week theme – ‘Always Was, Always Will Be’ – means to them.

Georgia Lejeune

After its postponement in July (due to the COVID-19 pandemic), the national week of celebration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture, history and achievements will take place 8–15 November. Each year, a new NAIDOC Week (standing for National Aborigines and Islanders Day Observance Committee) theme is chosen to highlight important issues. This year, the chosen theme is ‘Always Was, Always Will Be’ – which acknowledges this nation’s story began at the dawn of time and didn’t begin with documented European contact. The theme invites all Australians to embrace and acknowledge the true history of this country.

Thomas Mayor – author of Finding the Heart of the Nation and advocate for the Uluru Statement from the Heart

Thomas NAIDOC week 2020

Tell us a little about yourself...

I am a Torres Strait Islander and father of five children – who range from twenty-three to seven years old. I started my working life on the wharves, partly because I wanted to work close to the sea. I couldn’t imagine living away from the saltwater, where we find our traditional foods such as turtle and dugong. Being on the water helps me feel closer to the Torres Strait, all the way from Darwin. There are five First Nations in the Torres Strait and I have family from all of them.

What does this year's NAIDOC Week theme 'Always Was Always Will Be' mean to you?

The theme is a reminder to all of us, that these lands and waters in Australia have never been ceded. Really, it is telling us that there is unfinished business to do, to reckon with our past and the truth of who we are. As an activist, I see NAIDOC Week as a campaign opportunity, more than anything else – including celebrating. Personally, I am focused on causing change. I celebrate my culture by living it.

How will you be celebrating NAIDOC Week this year?

NAIDOC Week is always a busy week for me. I have numerous organisations who have arranged for me to speak to their members or staff. I recommend going to the NAIDOC Week website where many events are listed.

What can organisations do to better advocate for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and give them platforms to share their stories? 

There really is an endless list of actions that can be taken, where, if done respectfully and from a place of genuinely wanting to elevate First Nations people and culture, will always be helpful. However, the absolute best all people can do is support the Uluru Statement proposal and campaign for a constitutionally enshrined First Nations Voice. We need to include Indigenous peoples in the centre of federal decision making, because the decisions made in Canberra effect all other aspects of our lives – housing, social cohesion, employment, health, incarceration rates and truth telling. There is no greater platform for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people than the Australian constitution – the rule book of the nation.

Wayne Quilliam – photographer in Culture is Life 


Tell us a little about yourself...

My country, the origins of my birth, is Trowunna – most commonly known as Tasmania. My spirit, the essence of my ‘Aboriginality’, has been formed, influenced by the Yolngu, the Gunnai, the Wongai and all the countrymen that have allowed me to live and walk across their lands.

What does this year's NAIDOC Week theme 'Always Was Always Will Be' mean to you?

Pandemics, bushfires, racism and ‘Trumpism’ have created global unrest and a tangible disconnect from life. There is an underlying feeling, contrary to the prevailing atmosphere, humanity has a moral imperative to reconnect to earth. For our people, spirituality is embedded within the land, the oceans, the rivers and mountains which is why ‘Always Was Always Will Be’, is so relevant to the global conundrum. A long time ago the old people explained we do not ‘own’ the land, we are merely the custodians, hence my role as a storyteller and artist is to record and reflect culture, through the stories shared by the land and the people – a duplicity of life.

How will you be celebrating NAIDOC Week this year?

For over 20 years the week of NAIDOC was ‘Fast and Furious’ for me – recording the raising of flags in Melbourne in the morning and photographing an event in Darwin that night. Early morning flight to Cairns for a ‘Welcome to Country’ and a late flight to Sydney to open a national exhibition I created to be shown in 20 shopping centres across the country. This year I am holding several online exhibitions and talks in the USA, Europe and in Australia.

What can organisations do to better advocate for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and give them platforms to share their stories?

There is a genuine desire for individuals and organisations to work with us at local, state and national levels to share experience and expertise. Collaboration is multidimensional; therefore, is a joint vision and with clear ideals, to see together without claiming to be another, we can achieve great things. Reach out to organisations like the Indigenous Literacy Foundation, Cathy Freeman Foundation and GO Foundation, or buy products from Jarin or Mick Harding’s ngargawarendj.

See more of Wayne’s work on his website.

Talia Elliot – Senior Advisor at CareerTrackers


Tell me a little about yourself

I'm a proud Budjalung and Yugambeh women, originally from the Gold Coast. I grew up on the Gold Coast and completed my Bachelor of Business at Griffith Uni before moving down to Melbourne a few years later to begin my role with CareerTrackers. I've worked with CareerTrackers for the past five years, supporting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander university students to gain internships as well as being involved with their High School program and STEM Academy.

What does this year's NAIDOC Week theme 'Always Was Always Will Be' mean to you?

Recognising the importance the land holds to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and the rich history we have as Australia's First Peoples and our connection to country. Seeing this connection recognised by more non-Indigenous people and seeing them celebrate Indigenous culture in Australia is something I'd love to see.

How will you be celebrating NAIDOC Week this year?

Although I'm missing being able to attend some of the face to face events in Melbourne this year, I'm so grateful for the online events that allow me to have access to so many events this year.

I'm planning on joining in the Fed Square online events being held, including the flag raising on Monday & Port Phillip is hosting a number of online events including a guided meditation on Monday by Uncle Jack Charles in partnership with the Smiling Mind app, which will be a great way to kick the week off! I also have been making a conscious effort to read more books by Indigenous authors and have a couple of books I've started reading, so would like to continue reading those as well as looking for more to add to my reading list for the year.

Taryn Littlejohn – Advisor at CareerTrackers


Tell me a little about yourself…

I’ve been with CareerTrackers since 2019, after spending five years in recruitment. I grew up in Bathurst, NSW where my first introduction to Indigenous history was through reading books about colonisation and the Dreamtime. I was inspired to join CareerTrackers after seeing firsthand a lack of Indigenous representation in the corporate/non-profit space. I feel passionate about being part of the solution to closing the gap. My goal at CareerTrackers is to help businesses create a truly inclusive and diverse workplace.

What does this year's NAIDOC Week theme 'Always Was Always Will Be' mean to you?

It's about acknowledging the traditional custodians of this land. Sovereignty has never been ceded and the importance of recognition is paramount. It’s also about recognising our First Nations people and their long and rich history, as well as their spiritual connection to land. Being non-Indigenous, for me this year's theme is about creating the space for our traditional custodians to have their voices heard, standing behind them in support and most importantly, listening. Listening to their stories of the dreamtime, listening to learn the ongoing impacts of colonisation and listening to understand and grow my appreciation for Indigenous culture.

How will you be celebrating NAIDOC Week this year?

As I’m currently residing in Victoria, I will be celebrating NAIDOC from the safety of my home with some fabulous online events. These will include: Us. An exhibition by Rosie Kalina; Bush Foods For The Backyard; Celebration of Indigenous Artists; and, the only event I will be participating in (which is still a solo event of sorts) is the Clothing the Gap, Connect to Country run.

Marlee Silva – author My Tidda, My Sister and host of podcast Always Was, Always Will Be Our Stories 

Tell me a little about yourself. Who's your mob and where are you from? 

I'm 25-year-old author Marlee Silva and to kick off your NAIDOC Week I'll say 'Yaama!' Which means hello in Gamilaraay language. My family comes from the Gamilaroi and Dunghutti tribes of NSW, specifically the towns of Moree and Kempsey, but I was born and raised on Dharrawal Country, south of Sydney. 

What does this year's NAIDOC Week theme 'Always Was Always Will Be' mean to you? 

This theme emphasises the fact that Aboriginal people have existed on the continent of Australia for over 60 thousand years. As the longest, continuous surviving culture on Earth, Aboriginal people and our resilience, wisdom and tenacity, should be celebrated, acknowledged and valued by all Australians every week of the year, but particularly this NAIDOC Week. 

How will you be celebrating NAIDOC Week this year? 

NAIDOC weeks past have seen me rushing from one event to another, catching up with mob from all over the place and celebrating it all like the 'Black Christmas in July' it usually is.

This year I'll be connecting and yarning with different groups mostly via Zoom or taking advantage of the many NAIDOC sales and specials Aboriginal owned brands are having to mark the event! Financially supporting Aboriginal businesses, reading/watching/listening to content spotlighting Indigenous voices or donating to Indigenous non-profits are great ways to involve yourself in NAIDOC Week from the comfort of your home too. There are also many local events that have gone virtual, which you'll be able to find by looking at your local Aboriginal Land Council's site, Community Group or even in some locations, your local library.

The Hardie Grant Media offices will be celebrating the week with events and education opportunities and we encourage you to get involved in NAIDOC Week events too.

Georgia Lejeune, managing editor

 Don't miss our monthly content marketing insights. Subscribe to The Lead.