In search of respect

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Law students from Sydney embark on a trip to the outback on a crusade for social change

Yindyammara.Indian Link

It has been two decades since a landmark ruling overturned Terra Nullius, the legal premise on which Australia’s constitution was originally established. Nevertheless, the nation’s traditional owners continue to be dogged by a wide array of complex issues; the scars of long-term subjugation, incarceration and marginalisation still fester and well-meaning remedial measures by successive governments are yet to narrow the glaring socio-economic disparity.

In a bid to explore the legal and social realities of our First Australians, a group of law students from UNSW undertook an eye-opening journey to Wiradjuri country in central NSW. Working within the framework of Indigenous issues and the law, their enriching, confronting and insightful experiences are the subject of a new documentary, Yindyammara: In Search of Respect.

Directed by Khushaal Vyas and produced by Gilgandra woman Teela Reid, the sensitive but thought provoking documentary is an initiative of the UNSW Law Society. Combining historical context with contemporary issues, Yindyammara follows ten students as they travel around Dubbo, Trangie and Baladoran in search of cultural understanding. Their journey and insights are accompanied by a soundtrack created by Raghav Iyer.

Yindyammara volunteers.Indian Link

As part of the trip, student volunteers engaged with a range of stakeholders including law enforcement agencies, solicitors, Aboriginal elders, high school students, community groups and service providers on various issues affecting the region. A major focus of the trip was legal education seminars. The sessions related to police powers and criminal law, as well as human rights, public law issues, cyber bullying and harassment.

The packed itinerary also included mentoring programs at Apollo House, Dubbo, which provides a safe environment for young children from low socio-economic backgrounds to escape abuse and violence. The cohort took part in positive modeling initiatives like BroSpeak and SistaSpeak at Trangie Central School that aim to foster resilience and forge a strong sense of identity among youngsters through positive career and lifestyle choices.

“By examining key issues within Australia, Yindyamara seeks to empower students to strive for social justice and effect change through their future endeavours,” Khushaal Vyas told Indian Link. “Peer presentations have greater impact, giving students in urban areas the chance to understand rural ground realities. Our aim is to expose tomorrow’s policy makers to issues confronting modern society. If we are going to claim to be a lucky country, we need to fix problems plaguing our society first. Only then can we become a true world leader.”

A passionate advocate of equal educational opportunities, Vyas strongly believes that not enough has been done to integrate indigenous Australians into modern society. “We haven’t incorporated respect and dignity, rather we have succumbed to stereotypes,” he lamented.

Respect is thus a recurrent theme of the documentary.

For Vyas, who manages the Law Society’s social justice portfolio, the whole experience of working within an Aboriginal community was both heartbreaking and deeply uplifting.

Yindyammara.Indian Link

“Over a period of time, we get desensitised by reading voluminous texts on civil and criminal law. Yet, to be actually on the ground and see things first hand, gave the same issues a completely different perspective,” he confessed.

“It was super confronting and no amount of preparation could have softened the blow,” he admitted, candidly.

For the future lawyers, it was a shocking insight into privilege and disadvantage. What particularly moved the crew were sessions with young children at Apollo House. “Their energy and enthusiasm were infectious. Yet it was only when we spoke to social workers that we realised the level of trauma they had encountered. The thought that we would return to a secure home, whereas this child might not, was a sobering influence,” he recalled.

Despite the pain and trauma of a bitter past, Aboriginal elder Frank (Riverbank) Doolan’s powerful message that “aggression only desecrates the land” shows the promise of hope. His poignant message: “Let’s try to understand, we’re all indigenous from somewhere on this earth” is clearly a way forward.

The entire community was also very receptive of the student initiatives.

“A lot of good work is being done by support services, which is often not reported,” Vyas pointed out. The crew were particularly impressed by IPROWD, an initiative for greater indigenous representation in the police force.

Documentary producer Teela Reid’s own story is a shining example of the transformative powers of education. Enrolled in a Juris Doctor program, Reid actively mentors local girls through the Shine Sista Initiative to embrace opportunities.

“Yes, there are drug and alcohol issues. There is violence and incarceration. This is why the word Yindyamarra, which means respect in Waradjuri dialect meant so much to us,” she explained.

Yindyamarra Shine Sista.Indian Link
Photos: Sherman Du, Isobel Blomfield, Michael Ouzas

While Yindyamarra marks Vyas’ directorial debut, the second year law student already has an impressive track record in mooting, debating and public speaking. His fine oratory skills wowed audiences at Narendra Modi’s Sydney reception last year. His idealism and strong moral conscience are equally inspiring.

“In the past our student representative body has often been criticised for being tokenistic. Rather than merely talk, we want to actually do. Hopefully Yindyamarra will inspire youngsters to join the crusade for social change,” he reiterated.

Vyas and his team have enjoyed both the cultural exposure and maiden film making experience. The documentary has already drummed up a lot support and interest and Vyas plans to extend this reach through video logs via social media. To borrow his own words, picture abhi baakhi hai doston