A new creative initiative between Australia and the UK will see First Nations students from the University of Melbourne showcase their culture on a global platform.

The UK/Australia Season is the largest cultural exchange program between the two countries, with the 2021/2022 season theme Who Are We Now? aiming to highlight the cultures and languages of both nations.

After a successful application to partake in the season, the University of Melbourne directed the program funding to Murrup Barak – the university’s Institute for Indigenous Development.

First Nations students Jessica Alderton, Maggie Blanden, Nicholas Currie, Shanysa McConville, and Ethan Savage then produced a documentary titled Warriors.

“Indigenous cultures typically rely on oral teachings, so making a film seemed a natural creative response,” Currie, a Yugambah and Kuku Yalni man, said.

Told through a series of conversations, Warriors explores how the lived experiences of Elders, ancestors, and community leaders across Australia has shaped the lives of young Indigenous people.

Navigated in a modern context, the documentary covers themes such as growing up black, native title, language, Torres Strait Island culture, and identity and pride.

“Warriors is an evidence piece of how colonisation continues to effect the lives of First Nations people,” Savage, a Badu and northern Kaantju and Girramay man said.

“But we don’t dwell on the deficit narrative – we showcase how mob is thriving despite our dark history.

“Although people today aren’t responsible for the past, we are responsible for shaping the future, and understanding the impact of western ideologies on Indigenous people and culture is critical in creating an environment that enables our culture to thrive.”

For Palawa woman Maggie Blanden, presenting a First Nations-led narrative to a UK audience is a key step in Indigenous truth-telling.

“Warriors represents our mob as owners of the narrative of ‘Who We Are Now’,” she said.

“Being able to bring our work directly to the seat of the colony to demonstrate the effects of colonialism from a young Indigenous perspective is an incredible opportunity.”

Currie hopes Warriors showcases the complexity of Australia’s Indigenous cultures to a global audience.

“Indigenous cultures and people are layered and nuanced, which is not often understood,” he said.

“Having the opportunity to change people’s perceptions – especially on a global scale – of what an Indigenous person looks like or can do is a powerful thing.”

Darug woman Jessica Alderton said the opportunity to share the experiences of community members was a critical aspect of the film.

“Warriors provides agency for our ancestors who haven’t had the chance to share their stories,” she said.

As part of production, several students spent time on Country collecting a diversity of lived experiences from community members.

While the students received guidance from the University of Melbourne and various stakeholders, Warriors was ultimately led by First Nations voices.

“We wanted to address the damaging narrative of black stories being told by white voices,” Eastern Arrente woman Shanysa McConville said.

“Having black people tell their stories and owning their black autonomy is super important – we didn’t shy away from that in either our creative process or the documentary.”

The students will travel to London to present Warriors at Kings College on July 21.

While in the UK, the students will also participate in cultural exchange activities including visits to cultural institutions across London, Oxford, and Cambridge.

Blanden said she hoped the film highlighted the importance of amplifying young First Nations voices.

“As upcoming leaders in our community, it is time we take on the role of change-makers or warriors to let our Elders rest,” she said.

After returning from the UK, Warriors will have a public launch for a local audience at the University of Melbourne.

  • Story by Nick Harvey-Doyle