Breathing hope into Coast community
THE General Manager of the Advocate, Brent Rees, says Alison Page is the most interesting person he has met on the Coffs Coast. When he met her in connection with the Saltwater Freshwater Festival in Coffs, his journalist's nose told him she had a story worth telling.
Man, was Brent right...
IF YOU have ever opened the paper or turned on the news and seen a story about Aboriginal Australians that just made you want to weep with hopelessness and despair, then you need to spend an hour with Alison Page.
She is a tonic, a genuine breath of hope with the outlook and energy to change the world.
You may know Alison from her appearances on The New Inventors, as the creator of the exclusive Diamond Dreaming jewellery range, or as the architectural designer on the new hospital in Wilcannia.
But most likely you recognise Alison as the head of the Saltwater Freshwater Arts Alliance, the partnership of Mid North Coast Aboriginal communities that has brought us the Saltwater Freshwater Festival for the past two years.
In whatever guise you know Alison, the core of this woman is her Aboriginal heritage. Her mother is a 10 Pound Pom, and although she says she relates to parts of her English heritage, it is her father's Aboriginality that has captured her imagination and her soul.
Alison's connection with her indigenous heritage began with storytelling and camping trips with her father.
It continued in design school when she discovered 'Aboriginal architecture' and 'sacred geometry' and a love affair with the possibility of indigenous design began.
After working with Merrima Design Aboriginal architectural group, Alison heard the call of the saltwater and moved to Coffs Harbour 10 years ago to open a small design agency. But a small agency was never going to be enough for the vision of this larger-than-life woman.
The Local Aboriginal Land Councils stretching up the Mid North Coast were working to form an alliance to promote Aboriginal arts and culture in the area.
Enter Alison Page to breathe life into the new Saltwater Freshwater Arts Alliance.
It was not only energy and enthusiasm that Alison brought to Saltwater Freshwater, although she has that in abundance.
She brought her distinctive view of Aboriginality and its place in Australian society. Alison's delight and comfort in her own Aboriginality is tangible.
"It took me a long time to realise that you don't need to be in the local dance group or be out bush every weekend to connect with your Aboriginality."
It is Alison's view of Aboriginality and its place in Australian society that inspires everything the Saltwater Freshwater Alliance does.
Consider, for example, that the Saltwater Freshwater Festival, the showpiece of the alliance, is held on Australia Day, a day many Aboriginal advocates see as "Invasion Day".
As part of modern Australian society, Alison believes Aboriginal Australians want and need to be a part of Australia Day.
As well as featuring top country music acts, food stalls and didgeridoo lessons, Alison and her team created the Yarn Tent, where this year Aden Ridgeway, Neil Murray, Professor Margo Neale and a number of others ran the "Blackfella Whitefella" panel discussion on national identity.
Alison is a lot like any other 36-year-old Australian woman; she's frantically busy with work and she loves being mum to two small children.
Yet for all that, while Alison's life is ordinary in many ways, what she is achieving is truly extraordinary.
With programs like the Saltwater Freshwater Festival and the National Aboriginal Design Agency Alison is not only changing the lot of Aboriginal people in our region, she is changing the way black and white think about each other.
It's not just inspiring, it is world changing.
Next week meet David Knight, a bit of a hermit and creator of all kinds of weird and wonderful animations.
In the meantime go to MIPIK.net for the full version of Alison Page's amazing story.