Josh Kelly on NAIDOC Week 2021

NAIDOC week has finished its ‘official’ events for another year, but the work still continues to ‘Heal Country!’.

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2021 NAIDOC week included many amazing events, and even closed out with the awesome victory of Ash Barty, proud Ngarigo woman, at Wimbledon.

Department of Health employee, Josh Kelly, a proud Worimi bloke and the Chair of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Staff Network within the Department of Health reflects on NAIDOC, ‘Heal Country!’, and what it means to him.

Can you explain the significance of NAIDOC week and this year’s theme 'Heal Country!' for the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community?

NAIDOC Week is the one week a year when all the mob can come together to celebrate as one. This includes friends, family, and community. This year’s theme, ‘Heal Country!’, encompasses the connection we feel as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to country. More specifically to the ancestral lands and seas from where our mob are from. It goes beyond just a living environment and could be described as fundamental to our identity, making it ever more important that we respect and look after the country.

What does NAIDOC week mean to you?

It is one of the times of the year I look forward to and have celebrated with all my family since I was a little kid. Over the past couple of years with the pandemic around, having this connection has been difficult and so I have had to find new ways of revitalising. This has included spending more time with local mob and elders who not only allow me and my family to leave our footprints on their lands but also they continue to teach me and share their knowledge with me, making me feel like a part of their broader families.

The theme of NAIDOC week this year is ‘Heal Country!’. How did healthcare workers and staff contribute? Were your colleagues doing anything differently?

For many located in ACT, we took part in many events this year. We sent people to the local NAIDOC Ball, we attended local community events, and we undertook a Botanical Garden Bush Tucker Walk through the Department of Health for all staff. We also provided a book ‘Loving Country’ to attendees to assist in educating them on their individual journeys, and finally, we organised and ran a 5km walk/run. This 5km was dedicated to highlighting a need to heal county and connecting with other staff in more open and transparent conversations while also getting to know each other.

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