Blake Edwards is a proud Ngemba man, with family ties to Brewarrina and Gunnedah. He moved to Canberra in 2017, drawn by the professional opportunities available, a thankful guest of the Ngunnawal and Ngambri peoples. Blake is committed to moving Australia towards respectful cooperation and reconciliation – with a commitment to addressing the enduring deficits in the representation of Indigenous peoples due to enduring colonial legacies. Blake’s commitment to the development of academic knowledge is evidenced by his Bachelor of Laws, Graduate Diploma of Legal Practice, and Masters of Asian and Pacific Studies, completed at ANU in 2020. His international experience facilitated a deeper understanding of how the Australian approach to meaningful reconciliation domestically can draw insights from international practices applied in Norwegian, Swedish, and Finnish policy. Particularly valuable was gaining an understanding of the Sami Parliament system, a third chamber of the legislature that is solely for the representation of Indigenous peoples’ as an integrated component of government. In his journey of learning through consultation, he has been granted global perspectives and insights, specifically that of his university exchange programs to Hong Kong, Norway, and Japan. Blake was the 2019 – 2020 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander student representative with the ANU Postgraduate and Research Students’ Association. He currently works with the Australian Indigenous Doctors’ Association and in part-time roles as a tutor for high school and undergraduate university students as well as hobbies of oil painting and photography.
This work shares the theme of the contrast and juxtaposition journeys often present. Within the painting, an “old school” artwork, in classic romanticist European style is an oil-on-canvas painting of my journey to Norway as an exchange student. This “old” is contrasted with “new” digital framing of my silhouette and flag. Being unable to return to our Countries and our families is a challenge we all continue to face in 2020. Through the medium, I convey that new and old can cooperate. It is through shared solidarity that we, together, can overcome challenges that we will continue to share. I am passionate about promoting international solidarity for Indigenous peoples. I was supported to take part in the European Union’s Erasmus + program, which granted me travel to Norway to undertake academic research exploring the experience and government policy of Indigenous Sami peoples in Northern Scandinavia. The stories of Australia are far too commonly echoed around the world, in enduring colonial legacies. Under the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, specifically, outlining self-determination and the right to consultation is needed to address the issues inherited from Australia’s colonial, paternalistic legacy. Our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community of over 250 language groups and diverse cultural practices does not, and never has, benefited from a one-size-fits-all approach. I created this work as an illustration of the multifariousness of the journeys of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples undertake. My international experiences have allowed me to synthesise a unique perspective and understanding of the issues that Indigenous people continue to experience in society. To paraphrase a locally grown master orator, Robert Menzies, Australia has great and imperative obligations to the weak, the sick, and the unfortunate – it must give them all the sustenance and support it can.
In January 2020, I visited the National Gallery of Australia and for the first time saw the collection of Albert Namatjira. I immediately connected with his depictions of a pastoralist landscape of his Country. Our tour guide detailed the experiences of Namatjira’s life. Of specific relatability to me was his European influence in an Australian context, his training under a German teacher. I learned that Namatjira’s was granted the first Australian citizenship of an Aboriginal person in recognition of his talent, only to have it revoked because of his sharing alcohol with his family, a criminal act at the time in Australia. The legacy of this policy endures with the prohibitions of Intervention regions of the Northern Territory and Queensland today. I was impacted by the powerful message the presentation of a romanticised landscape and the connotations land can have. As it became more obvious that COVID-19 would result in unsafe public conditions and the onset of cabin fever was likely, I committed to improving my skills during the lockdown.