I first met Lydia in Byron Bay, at Folk, a café wedged between wetlands and a caravan park on very sacred Indigenous land. At the time, she was the co-CEO and executive producer of Ilbijerri Theatre Company, one of Australia’s leading companies showcasing the work of First Nations artists, where she has fostered in a new era of maturity for the organisation during a period of growing awareness—maybe even awakening—of the broader Australian culture to the richness of our First Nations people’s traditions and voices. Lydia has lived many lives in this one life. She is a Worimi woman, born on Bundjalung country, now living between the Kulin nations and Gubbi Gubbi country. From experiencing trauma in early life to an art-filled, soulful adult life as a mother, producer, executive, singer/songwriter and custodian of ancient wisdom, Lydia is the embodiment of compassionate resilience.
Amongst the many things that moved me when we first met was her unique capacity to bridge the trauma that the Indigenous community experiences with a hopeful, indeed joyful vision of the future. For me, growing up in the ’80s and ’90s in Melbourne, Australia, the ancient culture of this land was invisible in the urban landscape. We were never taught ANYTHING about First Nations people at school. My only connection was at home when my mum read me The Rainbow Serpent, a Dreamtime story about Goorialla, the Rainbow Serpent and the Rainbow Lorikeet brothers. It was one of my favourite books, and somewhere, deep in my psyche, the Indigenous culture of the country I was born on/to, felt strong and vibrant and beautiful. The decimation that I thought was in the past was very much alive and present. It wasn’t until my twenties that I knew about the Songlines, and my thirties that I knew there was an Indigenous map of Australia. When I saw it I cried. Shocked by the lost opportunities for knowledge and connection, I’ve been playing catch-up since with my own inherited cultural biases and the emerging, powerful cultural shift to honouring the Indigenous people of this land, and in so doing, slowly restoring our collective dignity.
Proximity changes everything. That day at Folk, I met a fellow traveller, a cherished friend and a great teacher. Lydia’s vision is one where the elevation of the Indigenous voice informs the broader culture in a mutually-enriching exchange which she tells me some First Peoples refer to as “two-way strong.” In a world swirling with identity politics, this concept is profoundly healing—the idea that maybe we belong to each other. Lydia reminds us that in Indigenous tradition we must care for country, and that we are country. So if we are one with the earth, then we are inextricably bound to a loving interdependence, a dance of wholeness and belonging that we have forgotten but which Indigenous cultures around the world can teach us, remind us and bring us back to. It feels to me that if we are to re-make the world to live within the bounds of the ecology and towards human flourishing, we must cherish ancient wisdom traditions and place them at the heart of our collective story.