November 26, 2012

Queen of the Desert

No, not Priscilla. The real one. Starlady.

ABC2 last night screened a terrific 30min doco about Starlady - a hairdressing, youth worker phenom doing great work in desert communities. If you missed the program then lucky for you the director has posted it on Vimeo

Starlady in Areyonga. Source: ABC
Not only was it a wonderful and interesting story, it provided a few genuine gems of wisdom. Starlady demonstrates how to deliver training and youth programs that are popular and engaging to young people in remote communities; a feat that many programs, including government school education delivery, often fails to accomplish. What is particularly special about this story is that the wisdom and positive example is being set by someone who has been discriminated against and would be seen as an outcast by many. Yet Starlady has a lot to teach munanga (non-Indigenous people). Some of the same people who would undoubtedly disparage or discriminate against her would probably be the same people struggling to get beyond their own ignorance to understand how life works in the bush and how to engage with people in communities. It was great to watch this positive story unfold and see how much Starlady actually likes the people she's working with. (Seriously and sadly - it is not at all a given that munanga working out bush actually *like* Aboriginal people). It was very moving to see her choke back tears while contrasting her city life with her remote community work:
"I was so used to being abused. I had people spitting on me, I had people throwing stuff at me. There was people trying fights everyday on public transport. And I was just being abused so much. And then I went to this place where people gave me lots of love and, you know, I could be this. I could be something special and you could do some really positive things." 
Starlady *gets* it where many government and non-government service providers in remote Australia don't. Where too many munanga go to communities and see mess, dysfunction and apathy, Starlady correctly sees beyond:
"The young people, they're styling! There's a sense of style out in the desert. People take really great personal pride in their appearance out here. But they don't always have the tools and access to the materials to be able to do that". 
But Starlady's no academic or deep-thinker. Just a clear-seer. Speaking about remote youth:
"They know that there's not a lot of real opportunities for them. They know that compared to the rest of Australia they're living in poverty". 
Starlady's approach and perspectives should be the norm for non-Indigenous people working out bush but unfortunately, people like her are rare. Dominating service providers like schools just aren't given the space and freedom to approach education and training the same way. Caught up in NAPLAN testing, policies, curricula and being part of a massive institution makes such dynamism nigh on impossible for most government teachers in remote schools. A pity. It was also great to see in the program some of the responses from the community members in Areyonga to Starlady's work: the boys on the catwalk showing off; the teenage girls shyly but proudly presenting their style. And the final quote from a community leader is gold:
"I've seen the movie Priscilla and I think Starlady is a real queen of the desert. And not Priscilla. Priscilla came here to act but Starlady is for real. And we loved her." 
Lovely. It was a great program and got a great response too, despite having a limited audience because of its 9:30 timeslot on ABC2. A number of tweets raved about the program, such as:

Make sure you catch the program! And keep doing what you do Starlady.