One Brisbane man is making it his life’s work to remind indigenous kids of the sacrifices their elders made.
Michael Tuahine is a force. One of the most passionate men you’ll ever meet.
An accomplished performer, he is particularly animated talking about the issue closest to his heart; inspiring personal leadership, responsibility and positive change in indigenous communities.
He isn’t shy about telling it like it is. He says this generation of indigenous kids doesn’t know or care how far their community has come.
“My mother is Aborigine, born in Woorabinda, raised in Cherbourg under the Aboriginal Preservation Act,” Michael reflects.
“She was not allowed to go to school, only allowed to be a housemaid, cleaner and cook.
Things have improved but even after 150 years of oppression, I’m working programs because some kids can’t turn up to school and I hear reports they’re giving cheek to their teachers, their elders.”
In 2010, Michael co-founded Community Leadership Solutions (CLS), to improve opportunities for and attitudes within the indigenous community. It also helps individuals and organisations better understand and connect with indigenous culture.
“Community work is definitely a choice and once you get into it you realise the problems are many.”
His mother Viola was a passionate supporter of her local community, both indigenous and later, in Brisbane’s western suburbs.
His dad John was a bus driver when Brisbane was more a country town than the city of today.
“He’d go off the route and drive people home, you know. You could do that in those days. Watching my parents do those simple things had an impact on me.”
Michael is currently on a three week tour of schools across Gladstone, Rockhampton and Townsville with Petero Civoneceva. CLS works with FOGS, the Former Origin Greats, and their Artie Academy initiative, named after indigenous league legend Artie Beetson.
The academy is focused on improving school attendance levels among indigenous students, providing kids the support to progress through and ideally, finish school with results similar to their non-indigenous peers.
“The biggest kick I get is when kids get on facebook and send me messages to say thanks for coming into our school today.
“Please and thank you. Attitude is gratitude. My fear is we have a generation of kids who have let that stuff go, because it’s not being mentored to them.”
A NIDA graduate, corporate MC and host of the national Deadly Awards, an annual celebration of indigenous achievement, Michael is proof of what passion and hard work can achieve.
Several days after our interview, he was devastated to learn that one of his mentors, Deadly Awards founder Gavin Jones, died after the awards lost federal funding and this year’s event was cancelled.
“Gavin was a pioneer and I was honoured to be part of his amazing and influential life,” said Michael.
He’s preparing to honour another of his role models, the late Jimmy Little, in a play he co-wrote called Country Song, which has been commissioned by the Queensland Theatre Company for 2015.
“Things are better,” admits Michael, but he says until this generation of indigenous young people understand how privileged they are, thanks to the actions of people like Little, Jones and Charlie Perkins, there’s still a long way to go.