Born and raised overseas in Germany and having lived on Kangaroo Island in South Australia for the last 13 years, I had never been to Palmerston or attended, let alone heard of, ChangeFest. After losing my farm and house in the Black Summer bushfires, I started a community project to raise funds from a grassroots level. By using the funds to re-equip those unsung heroes in our community and preparing them for future disasters, I hoped to ease the overall anxiety levels on our island. I was invited to speak at ChangeFest21 in Palmerston in the Northern Territory and intrigued about what to expect and who I will meet.
In hindsight, I couldn’t have anticipated how important these three days would be for my personal growth and mindset and how attached I would get to making an impact together with this incredible community of changemakers.
The warmth of the Northern Territory embraced me as much as its people as soon as I stepped out of Darwin airport and caught a taxi to Palmerston going past hundreds of tall palm trees lining the streets. Excitement was in the air the next morning at Goyder Square whilst hundreds of visitors lined up for registrations on a sweltering hot day in the Top End. Once settled in under a marquee shelter with the sun still baking our backs, the Larrakia people celebrated our arrival with an unforgettable welcome ceremony full of smoking, didgeridoos and traditional music and dancing. What I learned about country in that introduction alone, I will proudly carry with me for the rest of my life.
Day one was full of new faces, new ideas and understanding how a small group of determined people can make a big difference. Passionate community leaders had travelled from all over the country to share their ideas and learn from each other to help their region face challenges such as homelessness, youth injustice and cultural integration.
I was nervous about speaking in front of this informed crowd straight after I arrived, wondering what I had to offer and if my story was of any value to them and their issues. A few seconds into my speech, I realised how open-minded and supportive each attending individual was, how one person’s journey can inspire many others to lead in their community, possibly facing very different issues but approaching them in a similar way.
The positive feedback I received straight after my talk—and for days to come—lifted me incredibly and reminded me that we are all in this together. I knew once again that all those big problems the world and every region face can be solved by a community of like-minded individuals carrying each other on their shoulders.
Over the next three days, I enjoyed the fruits of the labour of all those amazing humans involved in creating, hosting and coordinating this event. All of us attending could just completely dive into being creative, connecting and collaborating for impact rather than worrying about transfers, food or the daily schedule.
I felt fortunate to eat great healthy food in a holiday-like environment, be entertained by our hilarious and talented MC, listen to inspiring guest speakers from all over the country and mingle with keen changemakers for days. Hearing Thomas Mayor recite the Uluru Statement from the heart was one of the many unforgettable moments of ChangeFest21 for me.
Finishing off every day with a fun activity such as barbeque and karaoke by the pool, poetry and music under the stars and enjoying food and sunset at the Darwin Mindil Markets created deep connections between participants and strong new friendships. Letting the newfound knowledge and many ideas we all created through daily workshops together settle in, we started each day with renewed energy and positivity.
Being in the company of Elders from the Mount Druitt and Logan areas, as well as those hosting us on Larrakia land, created a warm storytelling atmosphere through the whole of ChangeFest and brought immense learning with it. Listening closely to their issues and ideas to solve them was an incredibly important—if not the most important—part of the whole event. Feeling embraced by the warmth of their families and culture empowered all of us to create change from a community level up, make an impact and see a better future for a united Australia.
During the closing ceremony at beautiful Sanctuary Lakes, we all got to experience an exceptional Larrakia smoking celebration and witness the emotional handover to the Tasmanian crew. Many hugs and tears were shared, promises made to see each other at the next ChangeFest and plans created to collaborate for impact in the future.
On day one of this event, I was Sabrina from Kangaroo Island. At the end of day three of ChangeFest, I was Sabrina living on Karta, thanking the Larrakia people for welcoming us to their country, acknowledging them as the Traditional Custodians of the land we were on and paying my respect to their Elders past, present and emerging.
I left Palmerston and the Northern Territory the next day feeling transformed. I aim to continue to give everyone a voice, hoping to create change where needed and let the powers know how we all feel. Knowing that this three-day event, all the memories I’ve made and all the learnings I’ve had will help me make a difference in my community and hopefully—together with my new friends—in many others as well.