Before I commence I would like to acknowledge the Traditional Custodians and owners of the land we stand on today and acknowledge our Elders past and present for their guidance and the passing on the values that we cherish that make us who we are.
I would also like to thank Michael’s family and relatives for allowing us and inviting me to tell you what Michael meant to us, the Aboriginal Community.
I would also like to thank Rob for making sure that it was possible for me to be here with you all to acknowledge and celebrate Michael’s life and his work, his work was his life.
Michael being the quiet conservative type, never wanting recognition accolades or acknowledgment, would be little upset with us today for talking about him and acknowledging the work and impact he had on so many people lives.
Michael would always say that everyone has impacted him in a way that changed his view about issues, but Michael today it is our time and space to recognise and acknowledge the extremely significant impact you had on people and especially the Aboriginal Community around the Country.
There is so much that can be said about Michael but in reflecting on my time and relationship with Michael and Michael’s relationship with the community I recently replayed the Camp Coorong Community Gathering tape which was the catalyst which started this journey with Michael and our Community.
In the early 1990s I was introduced to Michael for the first time.
The Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody provided us with some resources to support the relatives and family members who had lost a relative in Custody.
A friend informed me that Michael was just the man who could help us with what we needed to provide for the family members.
Our first meeting got off to a bit shaky start as I was outlining what we needed to do and Michael being Michael was a little taken aback by this big black bureaucrat about what needed to be done.However after a couple of meetings things settled and it wasn’t long before we were up and running.
It wasn’t long before we had put together all of the consultations and developed a program and commenced the Camp Coorong Gathering.
It wasn’t long before I realised that Michael and his team hadn’t had a lot of experience with the Aboriginal Community.
However despite Michael saying on a number of occasions over the week of the camp that the team felt that they didn’t feel comfortable being non-indigenous counsellors to do the job we pushed on and got through the week.
The Camp was a enormous success, The families expressed their appreciation for the teams efforts in supporting them during their time of grief.
I have to confess as I did to Michael some weeks later when we met to discuss the Camp Coorong Gathering that on every occasion Michael expressed his concerns I just kept saying Michael its ok it’ll be ok.
At the time of saying it’ll be ok I was just hoping that it would sort itself out, and it did, whatever arose during the week was resolved by what now had become a big family who had empowered themselves to sort out whatever had arose, the only thing was that I didn’t know that at the time.
So Michael and I had a long-standing laugh about that.
And so began a friendship that we both valued for years to come.
During the camp Michael and the team said that they felt privilege to be invited to be part of the Gathering and honoured to have Aboriginal people share their stories of survival with him and the team.
He said that he thought that the Camp might be a one of experience for him and the team and didn’t expect it to happen again, little did we know at the time of the enormous work Michael and his teams would do with Community across the Country.
Michael said it was a moving experience, which affected the whole team, because they did not know what being an Aboriginal person was like until they had sat down and listened to our stories.
Michael said that the gathering had touched the team’s lives in a way that changed them forever.
Michael said that he understood what survival in this country meant to Aboriginal people and what needed to be done in this country to change things.
I believe that Michael in his own way did what he could to change things for Aboriginal people, but not just for Aboriginal people here in Australia but Indigenous people all around the Globe.
I didn’t and I’m not sure if Michael realised what impact the Camp Coorong Gathering had not only on the family members who had lost a relative in custody, the Camp had a far greater impact on Michael and his team but more importantly as Michael said it had a rippling affect in many countries around the world.
I think on reflection I think the rippling affect could be better described as a tidal wave because of the impact it had.
At the time we just wanted to support the Aboriginal family members.
There are many stories that we all could share about Michael but this gathering was the gathering that brought Michael and his team to us, to help us at time when we most needed it, but we are also glad that Michael was able to use the gathering approach and concept with many other Aboriginal Communities and with other Indigenous and non-Indigenous people around the country and the world.
The Community and I feel privileged to be able to share our story with you.
I wont say any more as I can feel Michael staring and frowning at me.
I would just like to conclude by saying that
It has been an honour and privilege to have known and worked with Michael and to have had Michael as part of our lives.
I don’t need to say that we all need to ensure that Michaels Memory, Work and Legacy continues
because I know that:
no matter what corner of the world we work in
no matter what part of the world we live in
no matter language we speak
no matter what our cultural background
Michael’s work and legacy will be continued because
Michael work and legacy lives within in all of us.
Michael has truly been able to weave a world family network, this is evident by the number networks in countries who are also holding a Memorial today
And it is this worldwide family that will keep Michaels memory work and legacy alive.