An image of culture, power, strength, beauty and brains, Miss Perth NAIDOC 2019, Ilona McGuire is all that and much, much more.

A proud Wadjuk Noongar and Kungarakan woman, Ms McGuire was crowned this year’s Miss Perth NAIDOC.

“I think about when I was a little girl and what Miss NAIDOC meant to me. The fact I’m Miss NAIDOC now and the responsibility I have on my shoulders. It’s surreal.”

The role opens the door to an entirely new world for Ms McGuire, with numerous appearances scheduled and a speech at the Perth NAIDOC Ball.

“I’m meeting other Indigenous women in the community, being part of the community, connecting with people.”

“I’m quite tied to the McGuire family name in Perth – I think I’ve definitely got a lot to offer as an individual. I have a voice and I want to be contributing to these conversations.”

The competition brought Ms McGuire a network of strong, smart and powerful Aboriginal women and family.

“We are all still so close. I brought a family tree to our cultural day in the hope to make some family connections. I found out I have a couple of cousins and one aunty in there. It made us feel closer.”

“Miss NAIDOC was a lot of work but it was a good challenge. I got right into it, we had empowerment workshops, we did a lot of leadership activities together and it was empowering. It felt good to be sitting around with all these Aboriginal women and connecting and having conversations and debating.”

Born in Kalgoorlie, Ms McGuire’s family moved around before settling in Perth.

“We moved around a bit and started new schools a few times; it’s definitely helped me with my social development. Talking to diverse groups of people.”

“I’ve always stayed true to myself. I’ve got a very strong sense of identity and I’ve always stuck to my guns. I’ve always been the new girl – I’m very take it or leave it.”

Ms McGuire is steadfast in her identity, in her community and in her activism.

“My activism is education around Indigenous history and culture. It’s so common to come across non-Indigenous people that just have no clue and I think that is where a lot of problems lie when it comes to Reconciliation.”

“We’re all in this together – we see people that have different opinions about Aboriginal people, as people who need to be educated. I like open-minded conversation, keeping communication between non-Indigenous and Indigenous people open.”

Her passion for education stems from the strong sense of culture passed to her by her family.

“I’m the youngest granddaughter on both sides of my family, I was the last to be babysat by my grandparents. I was young when they passed away, but the lasting effects they had on my family have always stuck.”

“My Nanna Wetji, she was the matriarch of our Kungarakan family. She wrote a language book on the Kungarakan language which saved the language. Our family references that all the time, she was a linguist and I like to think I am too.”

In 2015, Ms McGuire’s parents launched their family business, Go Cultural – Aboriginal Tours and Experiences.

“They have wanted to do this since they got married over thirty years ago. They are so passionate, they’ve laid the foundations in the hope my sister and I will take over.”

“We do tours in Perth, and the new Rottnest Island tours. We teach a lot of pre- and post-colonial history and we answer questions but still keep the integrity.”

“You can see the enlightenment on a person’s face when they ask a question they’ve always wanted to know – seeing how people react afterwards having new insight, it’s really fulfilling.”

Enrolled in a Bachelor of Fine Arts at Curtin University, Ms McGuire has a passion for the creative.

“I’m interested in storytelling…I’m in the early stages of my learning, it’s only been the first semester of the first year, but I can already feel good ideas coming out.”

“In the future, I want to be somewhere where I can combine culture, art and education.”

Ms McGuire, armed with her passion for culture, education and storytelling, is excited for the doors Miss Perth NAIDOC will open for her and for those in future.

“I think challenging myself is the best way I grow, and I’ve been challenging myself so much this year, but it feels so good when I come out the other side stronger in myself.”

“To anyone thinking about it, I’d say go for it – it’s enriching and empowering as an Aboriginal woman. No matter the outcome, everyone takes away something special from the experience.”

By Rachael Knowles