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Five minutes with Nakari Thorpe

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Nakari Thorpe knows politics.

As a Political Reporter with SBS World News, working in the Press Gallery at Parliament House, and recently covering the 2019 federal election campaign, she has had opportunities that some people only dream of. But there’s no doubt that she has worked hard to get where she is today.

Nakari is a speaker at YWCA Canberra’s upcoming She Leads Conference, where she will be discussing her influences and achievements, along with the obstacles she has faced along the way.

This year, the sold-out conference will bring over 350 emerging women leaders in Canberra together, to deliver a fresh and innovative approach to women’s leadership development.

In the lead up to the event, we chatted with Nakari about her career, culture and what gets her out of bed in the morning.

What is your job title?

Political Reporter, SBS World News (formerly Political Correspondent, National Indigenous Television (NITV).

Tell us about three highlights in your career so far:

2019 Federal Election Campaign – As a Political Reporter with SBS World News, I had the opportunity to cover the 2019 Federal Election Campaign and join the campaign buses. I spent most of my time following Prime Minister Scott Morrison around the country; many times, travelling to three states in one day. It was extremely challenging yet rewarding. I learned a lot on the road and am grateful for the experience.

Garma Festival – In my previous role as the Political Correspondent for National Indigenous Television (NITV), I attended the 2017 and 2018 annual Garma Festival in north-east Arnhem Land. Each time has been a great immersion into Yolngu culture. The community is extremely welcoming and generous with sharing their knowledge, wisdom and time. At the heart of the Garma festival is the celebration of Yolngu culture.

Over its 20-year history, the festival has evolved into one of the country’s premier cultural events. Over that time, it has also become an important political event attended by prime ministers and other government ministers. This has allowed Yolgnu people the opportunity to address political leaders face-to-face about the needs and wants of many Indigenous communities. The whole festival is a great time to connect and reflect on the political state of Indigenous affairs and is deeply moving and enlightening for anyone who attends.

NAIDOC Week 2018 – During NAIDOC Week 2018, I had the honour of travelling back to my birthplace to tell my paternal grandmother’s story in a half-hour documentary for NITV’s Living Black program. Her story of strength and resilience in creating health solutions for Aboriginal people in Victoria’s Fitzroy inspired me to journey through her life and her achievements. It was emotional, challenging and rewarding being able to tell her story. My grandmother, Alma Thorpe, was instrumental in setting up the Victorian Aboriginal Health Service, originally an Aboriginal-owned and run organisation providing health and dental services for the local Aboriginal community.

The health service was borne out of a need in the Fitzroy community for provision of shelter and food for the men on the streets. Many of the Indigenous community were succumbing to alcohol and dying on the streets. It evolved into a health service for the Aboriginal community, providing critical services for the first time. From the 1930s, Fitzroy was a community where many Aboriginal people gathered after being moved there from missions. It quickly became a strong community for Aboriginal people, which is now steeped in history. The story was a finalist at the UN Media Awards last year.

What gets you out of bed in the morning? What are you most passionate about?

I’m passionate about telling stories that matter, giving a voice to the voiceless and shining a light on issues that need highlighting – this is a central reason why I decided to pursue journalism. I felt many stories, particularly the stories and voices of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, were not being told or given the attention they deserved. If they were, it was usually negative or stereotypical, which comes from a lack of understanding and lack of connection with those communities being reported on.

Mainstream media reporting on Indigenous issues/affairs shapes much of the attitudes of wider society, in turn widening the fractured relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. It is imperative that we tell Indigenous stories from Indigenous storytellers, and a give a voice to those communities that are widely reported, on yet do not get the opportunity to speak.

How important is Indigenous cultural awareness in today’s Australia?

Incredibly important. Understanding First Nations peoples in Australia is crucial to the relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australia. Only one in six Australians have met an Indigenous person, an astounding figure. It really demonstrates the lack of connection. For too long Indigenous Australians have been viewed as a problem that needs to be dealt with, our issues are thrown into the too-hard basket or misunderstood – there always seems to be a negative connotation.

I believe we should see the positive and be proud of the oldest living culture in the world; something Australians can embrace, appreciate and respect. If we move toward more sufficient culture awareness, not something that is tokenistic, then we will begin to break down the barriers and understand each other much better. It will change the way we all see each other and only work toward a better nation.

How can Australia give First Nations Peoples more space to tell their stories?

There is a lot of that has been and is being done to allow First Nations peoples to tell their stories, whether it be through artwork, music, dancing, academia or even social media, but there is obviously still a long way to go.

I think the work of First Nations media like NITV, the Koori Mail, Central Australian Aboriginal Media Association (CAAMA), and many other Indigenous organisations, provide an outlet for stories to be told. Unfortunately, many of these stories do not reach mainstream audiences.

I think a lot of work can be done within the commercial media space in understanding and providing spaces for Indigenous stories. For example, utilising Indigenous experts when speaking on Indigenous matters.

It’s critical we provide safe spaces for First Nations peoples to tell their stories because historically, Indigenous peoples have been viewed as less than or not worthy enough and it’s important we do not allow trauma to carry on.

What will you be speaking about at YWCA Canberra’s 2019 She Leads Conference?

I will be talking about my motivations and achievements leading to where I am now as a Political Reporter for SBS World News.

I’ll be discussing the pressures I face, not only from a work perspective but from a social and cultural perspective and my perspective of success.

Nakari Thorpe is a proud Gunnai, Gunditjmara and Gooreng Gooreng woman from Victoria and Queensland.

She graduated with a Bachelor of Media (Communications and Journalism) at the University of New South Wales in 2015, and shortly after completed a 12-month journalism cadetship with the Special Broadcasting Service (SBS) in 2016.

Nakari is now a Political Reporter with SBS World News, working in the Press Gallery at Parliament House in Canberra, and recently covered the 2019 federal election campaign. She is a cross-platform reporter filing for television, online and radio.

She previously worked as the Political Correspondent for NITV.

the essentials 

What: YWCA Canberra’s 2019 She Leads Conference, an empowering conference centred on the theme of women supporting one another to thrive.
When: Friday 2 August from 9.00 am–5 pm. A networking function will also be held the night before, on Thursday 1 August.
Where: QT Canberra

HerCanberra is a proud media partner of YWCA Canberra’s 2019 She Leads Conference. As a part of this partnership, HerCanberra is offering readers 10% off the She Leads Conference Networking event to be held Thursday 1 August at Lucky’s Speakeasy, QT Canberra. Use the code HERCAN on checkout to redeem your discount.  

Held at QT Canberra on Friday 2 August 2019, the She Leads Conference is set to attract a range of women leaders, including female-identifying and non-binary people, at all stages of their leadership journeys, from a variety of fields.

The Conference centres around the theme ‘Thrive’ and includes a diverse and full program of keynote speeches, panels and networking activities that will build your capacity to thrive in your community or workplace while supporting other women alongside you.

The 2019 She Leads Conference also includes a networking and cocktail function the evening prior on Thursday 1 August, providing attendees with the opportunity to network with our incredible speakers and fellow attendees.

The complete program and speaker line-up is available here.

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