Kerry Arabena, you are a descendant of the Meriam people of Torres Strait, Australia, and your work has brought you to the forefront of Indigenous affairs in Australia. You are a former social worker with a Doctorate in Human Ecology and the former Chair of Indigenous Health at the University of Melbourne and now Managing Director of First 1,000 Days Australia. We're so pleased to have this opportunity to have a conversation, Kerry. Oh, John, I am absolutely delighted to be here. Thank you so much for the very kind invitation. Kerry, I find that many people have difficulty understanding the diversity of Native peoples in Australia. Is it possible to give us a brief overview so that we have a sense that we're not masking a diversity by a single term like Indigenous or Aboriginal. John, I'm really grateful for the question, actually, because there are two very distinct Indigenous populations in Australia and the diversity within those groups is very rarely acknowledged nor appreciated. There are Aboriginal people who crossed the line of Lombok over 70,000 years ago as part of that diaspora and made their way to Australia, which was a continent that was joined to other continents by land bridges. Once that land bridge was crossed, people were able to migrate across the very vast continent, actually. As they left the top of Australia and moved down towards the bottom, what they did was carve all these song lines and the relationships between land and the terraformer that was happening during that time, because there was great changes within the environment over a long period of time. There was also then the Torres Strait Islanders who now occupy a space that was the land bridge between what we now know as Papua New Guinea and the very top of Australia. Our peoples migrated to that region from the Melanesian area, and there is evidence of Torres Strait Islanders being in that part of our world for over 18,000 years. And of course, Aboriginal peoples on mainland Australia have got one of the oldest living continuing cultures in the world, which spans at least 60,000 years. The diversity is really important. As it's evident, it comes through in our different languages, dialects, and understandings of the world. The languages, as we learned from Vandana Shiva, is a direct relationship between people's experience of their ecosystems and their environments. Wonderful. Language is absolutely connected to place. What we've got is not only diversity in look, because we find that people who live in the tropical areas have a very different body composition, cosmological beauty, language construct to those who live in the desert areas and those who might live in the snow regions in the Great Dividing Range, for example. We use that diversity of language to express the diversity of our lived experiences. What we do when we stop homogenizing Native peoples is that we start to appreciate the diversity within our environments and the biodiversity of our continent. We always think of Australia as one big glass continent, but to realize it is a group of interconnecting ecosystems, each with their own set of integrity and understanding of ways of living in it. The language that people use very intimately describes and connects people to place. Three hundred languages also designate 300 different ecosystems in which we're able to provide for people and the songlines of what connects us all. That's okay. Three hundred on mainland Australia and over seven different languages in the Torres Strait, again, replicating on different regions, connections, songlines, ways of understanding the world and also been how people have that level of intimacy with country and place. Such a beautiful answer, Kerry. Our response, it's a ongoing exploration of these issues. I'm especially struck by this richness that you're directing towards us of understanding place and language, and if I could add cosmovision to that understanding. My perspective would be that the depth of richness then among Indigenous Aboriginal peoples in the Australian Torres Strait region, that there is a depth of understanding that is brought to environmental or ecological understanding. Could you explore some of those connections for us between cosmovision and ecological understanding? Absolutely. One of pieces of work and one of the reasons why I'm focusing on First 1000 Days, which is the period of time between conception and a child's second birthday, is that whilst the Western system deals with all of the physicality of that, so the biological carrying of children, monitoring the body. What we also understand in a cultural sense is that there is a metaphysical transition that is happening, where a child who has chosen to be with you is being born into you to be carried through to have their life experience. So what we're doing through the work of First 1000 Days Australia is expanding people's worldviews, understanding that there are different ways of acknowledging health and wellness and being and where we be and how we be, which I find just deeply fascinating. What we've done is try to find ways of communicating these very rich histories and contexts to non-Indigenous peoples and we've had to try to find ways of communicating that level of connection. One of the ways in which we've done that is through the cultural determinants of health and well-being. We've recently been looking at: how do you understand and work within a population of people who do not believe that we're born into societies, we're born into ecosystems? Wonderful. Yeah. The ecosystems are the ways in which we're able to be held and nourished beyond economies. And when we see the richness of how people explore that and how we orientate ourselves into those environments, again the diversity of that cosmological view is very rich and very deep and very meaningful. It does give us a different sense of how we are. It's very rarely recognized. In an Australian context we're often put into a hierarchical system with other people. It's a very human-centric view of the world. But when we're out on country we're actually in non-hierarchical relationships with everything else around us in that we're able to conceive ourselves as just another species that is part of the ecosystem. I find it a very rare phenomenon for people to consider themselves as a species when you're so human-centric and driven by our own concerns. But there are often ways of describing different kinds of universes that we occupy. Part of the work that I did was talking about being indigenous to the universe. So leaving this earthly bound and using Thomas Berry as a frame of describing the largest political and geological formation or system that actually holds our humanity. When you think about that universe, and then you can transcend a whole lot of understandings about culture, hierarchy, how we're socialized, what we're meant to be paying attention to. As a result of that, what we've become quite autistic to, in my view, is that way of being able to connect in with our environments. So we don't have a deep sense of reverence, but we all, as a country, have felt exquisite pain in recent years because of the fires that happened. Yes. When you look at the cost of having lost 3 billion other life forms that we co-existed with and co-evolved for generations. Those things are difficult. So we try to expand people's view to understand and comprehend that we bring the universe into our discussions. When we think about country, we give it such a status in our view that we long for it, we sing to it, we cry for country, we exist within country. We take the view that we're born into ecosystems because pre-colonial times, we were actually born into the ground and part of the practices that are very public during that time was that the smoking ceremony occurred for mother and baby. And what that was was actually not only were babies passing through mothers bodies into the ground. The way that my ancestors describe that is being held in the womb of the mother and then being born into the womb of our father, which is our country. So understanding that masculinity, then, has a very deep capacity for nurturance rather than the hyper-vigilant and violence that we see enshrining masculinity at the moment. Through the smoking ceremony, you're actually releasing all the microbiome from that country and using that to honor the child that's being born into that country. So we have an external but a very deeply internal connection to country through our microbiome and the microbiota. These are wonderful ways of understanding the world, the atom in the universe and the universe in the atom, and understanding that we're born into country. I think are the two major defining and enduring experiences of indigeneity in an Australian context. Kerry, that's just remarkable to hear the work of First 1000 Days Australia laid out in that type of vision. I also wanted to ask about the sense of a cosmovision in the Australian context being brought into environmental activity on the ground. And people have been using the term "cosmopolitics" now to begin to describe the ways in which the values of Native peoples are brought into their activities, often as a type of protection and mutuality rather than resistance. Is it possible to speak of ways in which cosmopolitics is evident now in the Australian Indigenous setting? It's very interesting to have this question posed at this time. We're very stuck in an academic sense in Indigenous Australia, driving and working about achieving equity through addressing racism, for example. Even through the institutions that provide this higher level of education, we find that people get trapped in discourses, which are very human-centric orientated. And it's not until people get out on country that they can have a different view. We tried to re-orientate people to the deeper reverence and connection that we have by re-introducing ceremony, to re-introducing which rule, to take people out, and to understand the stories from those places. The stories often are patent. They show the relationships between the different formations on the country and people's experience of that. We've also been going through processes, where we're trying to assign legal rights to bodies of water, for example, so that rivers have their own right to flow without irrigations taking those things out. We've got a lot of country that's protected through Native title claims. In fact, what will happen by 2030 is that every Torres Strait Islander people will have a controlling interest over 50 percent of this continent's land and oceans, which is phenomenal. I'm very proud of my people actually. It was just this one little tiny island, which is one tip of a volcanic, the tip of an underwater volcano. There's three little tips of that, one is called Mer. And on Mer (Murray Island), we're able to demonstrate to the Supreme Court in Australia that the land boundaries that existed within our clan groups remained intact beyond the references to terra nullius, which is that there are no people who are in control of these lands, and so we've got the right to occupy. The Terra Maki Maki is a very deep principle of following in your father's footsteps, and that you cannot take what is not yours without permission. Through this process of describing these bounds and the obligations across those bounds, we were able to disrupt this idea that terra nullius should have legal rights that are established over Indigenous people's rights. That has completely transformed into Native title and this 50 percent landholding. We're activating our consumer rights and our consumer choices too, in where we're starting to re-emerge. We're doing Indigenous to Indigenous trade through our entrepreneurial activities. We're reactivating traditional trade routes. We're starting to negotiate with Indonesia and Papua New Guinea rather than the colonial connectedness through England and the colonial experiences in New Zealand and Canada, for example. We're just re-imagining what our economies are like, what our jurisprudence is like, based on principle of abundance, rather than on consumerism. For us, we've tried to find some very pragmatic ways to demonstrate the value to those big multinational interests about what things are important to us. But they are enormously powerful, and they are unregulated. They have no regard for paying tax or making contribution back, and people in our communities have had to become very skilled in negotiating. We also started to re-imagining what hunting and gathering looks like through these processes of negotiation. Young ones who are very successful are the ones who've got elders who back them up and who support them and provide them with that inter-generational care. We find in an Australian society, and perhaps a lot of modern societies, that elders' thought, leadership, and wisdom is disregarded. Stories do not have value too, in a local sense, there's ageism. We're starting to see a lot more elders of all of their knowledge traditions being homed in institutional care at the end of life, rather than being kept within families and to share their wisdom in those ways. Do you see young people stepping up with regard to these issues we've been discussing? It is extraordinary to see what this next generation or their species really are going to be faced with in terms of the collective legacy of our generations, or what it is that we're leaving them to do. Sometimes I feel desperately sad that my grandchildren are going to be faced with the devolution of all of these earth processes, which are already necessarily impacting on our species but we're in the six largest mass extinction around the world. Every morning I'd wake up and I honor this place, and I honor all of the insects that live with me because I understand how important they are for food security. I honor all of the species that we've co-evolved with. I couldn't live without my dogs. It's not only that we're engaging young people with elders in our own species, but we're re-engaging them with their totems. Species that are, again, very specific to place that have a deeper meaning and connecting them with that, and what we're doing nationally, we've got a great big longitudinal study going on to have a look at the contribution of culture to help in well being of all of the things that people are missing. It is their totem, they don't understand what their totem is and how to connect back into the life cycle of that totem. How do you go out and understand the life cycle when the environments that held those species are being degraded? Interestingly, my own son, he's into bio-security, and my daughter does wildlife regeneration, and there are so many more young people who I think would benefit from not participating in modern Australian schooling systems. They would benefit more from being out on country. That is what their soul is yearning for. You can see this yearning emerge as soon as they come into contact with elders and hear those stories. It really is helping people be less lost to come back and find their place, and it's amazing because many non-Indigenous peoples look at us and say, well, you've got culture, it's so strong. I said, well, you've got culture too. The fact that you can't imagine what that looks like, and that you're feeling bereft, empty, that you've got loneliness as part of your experience. We can change that by being in nature, by engaging with being a pollinator protector, give people something to protect and it gives people much more meaning and value, I think. Kerry, this has been a marvelous conversation and lest I conclude without asking, is there anything that you would like to add that may, perhaps my questions haven't drawn out? No. I'm just delighted that all of you are watching this series and that we hope you not only embody the lessons but go and practice the lessons. And I'm hoping that it is a deep and sincere invitation to keep on exploring new ways of being in the world, and that's probably what I would love to say to all of you. Thank you so much for your time. John, it is an absolute privilege. It really is my pleasure. Thank you Kerry, I'm hoping we can stay in touch and have the opportunity to exchange ideas. Especially as we move into these new understandings that are emerging. It's been delightful, Kerry. Absolutely delightful too, John. Thank you so much for your time this morning and go well everyone. Take care. Thank you so much.