YES in my family won’t be celebrated with a wedding. For 33 years my mums have lived outside this tradition of love and expressed their commitment in many other meaningful ways. Instead, YES for us means a future is possible where I can turn on the TV and not be afraid to see a politician tell my family we are worth less.
YES means the next generation of queer parents might be able to parent, without battling the assumption that they are harming their kids, and those kids will grow with the confidence of parents who know they can do it. Now there is more space for families like mine to exist without having to hide, explain or work out how to protect our children from unjust discrimination. It will be a huge win.
And one of the best parts of this win for me is that a film I directed, Gayby Baby (or as some like to refer to it as, “That film that got banned”) helped get us here. With fellow filmmaker and impact producer Charlotte Mars, as well as the unwavering support from Good Pitch² Australia and national impact funders and partners, we used stories of children with same-sex parents as a way to push for social change on Marriage Equality, Adoption Equality and LGBTIQ curriculum in schools. It was seven years of creating, strategising and actioning an elaborate plan for change.
This year I moved to Alice Springs to make a new documentary. I decided to take a month off to campaign for Marriage Equality one last time—we were so close! While setting up #VoteYes stalls at Alice Springs markets, organising calling parties, shooting a Northern Territory TVC for the Equality Campaign, and a co-production film with the Guardian Australia, I was consistently interrogated by Dujuan—the curious, witty, 10-year-old Central Australian Arrernte boy who is the lead character in KIDS. For him, my absence was well noted as we had been filming for over a year and living in each other’s pockets.
“What are all the rainbows for?” “What is the vote for?” “Why aren’t you filming… me?” Living on a town camp in Alice Springs, Dujuan hadn’t come across much queer culture, and only heard whispers of the brotherboys and sistergirls in Tiwi Islands. I realised that I hadn’t “outed” my family to my newest friend. “Dujuan, did I tell you that I have two mums?” I said carefully. Dujuan replied without hesitation, “Oh yeah, well I have three.” Dujuan was referring to the fact that in his family, aunties are mums too, which is the community-parenting model in Arrernte culture—one of the many unique strengths of an Aboriginal family view.
While I have pondered the relationship between Gayby Baby and this new documentary, KIDS, Dujuan saw it quite clearly. He and I have families that do not fit neatly with the status quo. When marginalised communities are under attack, the public’s concern flurries to kids’ wellbeing, often with an overwhelming desire to “save the children” (from their own families and communities). Historically, children have been used to legitimise unjust political acts against their parents—such as the forced removal of Indigenous children (Stolen Generations) and the dehumanisation of asylum seekers (Children Overboard). Strangely, children’s own voices are eclipsed from the very debates that are striving to “save” them. Dujuan and I know what it is like to be these children.
In making Gayby Baby, I learned that while children are rarely given the agency to tell their own stories, when they do, people stop and listen. By sharing their stories and their worlds, the kids in Gayby Baby triggered a national conversation about the validity of kids like them, and began to shift a dominant worldview that their parents were doing them harm. They spoke truth to power.
As I celebrate this relative win for my community, I am painfully aware that next to me sits a 10-year-old boy and his family who are long overdue for a similar kind of win. So I want to share with you a bit about this new documentary, KIDS—this time fought as an ally, alongside the Arrernte families and communities I have learnt so much from in Alice Springs. KIDS is being created by a mixed Indigenous and non-Indigenous core team and in partnership with those represented, and confronts the political rhetoric and racism surrounding First Nations youth by presenting a missing voice—the voice of the children themselves.
While my personal background as a half-Japanese woman from a lesbian-parented family gives me experience of marginalisation on a number of levels, I am also a Sydney-raised, middle-class, non-Indigenous person with doors open to me that are tightly shut for children like Dujuan. In making KIDS, I choose to use my privilege to support the redistribution of power to those who are disempowered. I want to be someone who stands beside the First Peoples of this country and supports their inherent right to equality and agency. I want to be someone who uses my profession to lend space, voice and validity to other children who are forced to navigate the pressures of a world that uses them for political gain.
KIDS really began eight years ago when I had the privilege to be invited by Arrernte elders to make films about the empowering work they are doing to educate their children. When I listened to these children, I was shocked that many felt like failures at school. But it came to make sense, given they are only taught in English and are measured by Western values. The UN Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples states that, “Children have a right to learn in their own language and through their own culture.” We don’t afford that right to Indigenous kids in Australia. We are denying entire generations of First Australians access to their identity.
We are now a year into filming, and the story we are seeing unfold is as simple as it is powerful. Dujuan is a child-healer, a good hunter, speaks two Indigenous languages, but is “failing” in school. With little space in the western system for Dujuan’s language and culture, his grandmother Carol is fighting a loving battle to give him a strong Arrernte education alongside his western education lest he becomes another statistic in juvenile detention or the welfare system. We have followed him as he grapples this educational schism, and somewhere in-between finds a space to dream, imagine and hope for his future self.
Rarely do we as Australians get to see into the inner lives of First Nations children growing up as they navigate the rich and complex bicultural society they are born into. With the guidance of Arrernte elders, our combined vision is that it will not reiterate the ignorance or statistics, but will creatively accentuate the strengths and insights of Dujuan and First Nations families everywhere.
Filming this year, I have witnessed the grace in which Dujuan’s family and community navigate the injustices they live with on a daily basis, despite having to defend themselves to mainstream Australia. As I watch Dujuan’s family, elders and community fight for his wellbeing, I am aware that they are propped up by their love for him and the next generation of Arrernte children. It is an unshakeable lesson in the power of love. This love provides the strongest energy to resist. I can attest to that as my parents and elders fought over many generations for Marriage Equality, and the fuel that kept them going was the same: love for their children.
I think we have a lot to learn from kids so I am opening my ears to listen to what Dujuan has to tell me about myself—to tell us about ourselves—and how when we listen we can figure out how to make a better Australia. I’d love you to come along on another impact journey and lend your privilege to support community agency for First Nations families too. Sign up to receive updates at www.closerproductions.com.au/films/kids and come on the ride.