Thank you, Madam Speaker. National Youth Week begins this Friday – ten days dedicated to young people between the ages of 12 and 25. These youth are our future, and it is good to know their issues and concerns. It is also important to help them form and reach goals as well as to help them build strong and confident identities.
To help with this last point, five months ago I launched the Back to Your Roots writing competition for all children and young people who live, study or work in the ACT. My goal was to encourage young Canberrans to develop a clearer sense of identity through exploring and then sharing something significant from their cultural backgrounds.
I received submissions from a range of ages and backgrounds. For those who wish to read the three winning submissions in their entirety, I encourage you go to back2yourroots.org. Today I wish to share parts of these beautiful texts.
Primary division winner Matilda Jenkins from Wanniassa submitted a short story that vividly portrays the toughness demonstrated by her ancestors on a remote cattle station, including the courage depicted in this passage:
Everyone went down in the back of the Blitz to the waterhole, the stockmen, Aboriginals, us boys and all, and that was where Alfie yelled.
He pointed out into the waterhole, where we could all see the beady eyes blinking out of the mud.
As the waterholes dried back, in the dry season, the crocs’d bury themselves in the mud near a cattle pad. You always had to look out for crocs before riding a horse into water on a cattle pad.
This was what we were seeing now. The boys raced back to the house for a rifle, and I just stood there, looking into the eyes of the crocodile, my eyes pulsing with excitement, daring it to leap up and bite me.
I was tough. We all were. We weren’t scared of a big old croc.
A poem submitted by junior division winner Ananya Ravi of Franklin traces the broad sweep of India’s past as shared with her by her parents and grandparents, concluding on this note of bright optimism:
Statues of gods made of gold,
Stories continuing to be told.
Music and dance the focus of pleasure,
Carnatic and Hindustani sung for leisure.
To this day, these traditions are there,
People following them everywhere.
I look at the sky to see dark blue,
Like India’s past, the weather improved too.
The poem written by senior division winner Eden Sellick from Dunlop richly recreates an important day in the life of an Italian ancestor and subtly introduces the combination of excitement and fear that often accompanies migration and the forging of multiple cultural identities, as in this passage:
Papa says we are moving to a new place soon
A place called Australia
I wonder if they have any festivals there
With big feasts
And lots of families
I wonder if they talk funny
Do they have a patron saint?
I bet they drink lots of wine at the festivals just like we do
And they probably sit with all their family and friends
It will be sad though because none of our family will be there
It will be just us
Madam Speaker, I wish to congratulate these winners and all the other children and young people who took the opportunity to enter this competition. I am proud of them.
As I said earlier, Madam Speaker, these young people are our future. Unfortunately, as many of them have confided in me, they feel that they face an uncertain future. They worry about unemployment and underemployment. They struggle with bullying at school and elsewhere. Many of them have no clear sense of identity. Far too many of them experience homelessness.
I therefore call upon the ACT Government to take these young people and the issues that they face seriously. It is good to talk about our young people during Youth Week. It is far more important to focus on the issues that are foremost in their minds throughout the year.