Our voices run through our blood…

2023 National NAIDOC Male Elder Award recipient, William Tilmouth, speaks on the referendum results, the state of youth education in Alice Springs and the ongoing fight for self-determination.
Blood. An Elder Aboriginal man with white hair and beard, stands behind a young Aboriginal man with a backwards white baseball cap and black T shirt with a sunny emblem on the front.

It has been a long few weeks and the referendum took me back through a lifetime of rejection and displacement. But as I stood with Dujuan Hoosan to launch his story, told through the important children’s book, In My Blood it Runs, I reflected on my own story, and I am proud of Dujuan who is using his voice to bridge the chasm of understanding that was so evident in the referendum result. 

This year I was honoured to become the Elder of the Year at the National NAIDOC Awards. And while the “No” vote has left me questioning the value of my opinion, I know my responsibility is to both my people and young people like Dujuan to not give up. The referendum knocked me for six. I felt like I was irrelevant again – “Behave yourself black boy or we’ll put you back in the mission.” But it was the combination of political ill-will and an Australian people who are so disconnected from Aboriginal people’s reality and truth, that has relegated us again to the margins. And so we must create the stories that bring our truth to the Australian people and In My Blood it Runs is one of those stories.  

In My Blood it Runs is a children’s book that gives an insight into Aboriginal lives, the lives of our young people and our families. It is a story about resilience, culture, love, trauma, fear, history and future. It is a story about an Alice Springs 10-year-old boy Dujuan, an Arrernte/Garawa boy, failing in the system – a status quo that is failing too many of our children. Dujuan finds his way through his family’s guidance and love.

Dujuan’s story shows the power of Aboriginal-led solutions and the importance of language, culture and identity. His parents and grandparents realised the dangers of the line he was walking and took every step they could to bring him back from the boundary he was about to overstep. We all test boundaries, but some kids will test them to the extreme. And that’s when you fall foul of the law and justice system. As Aboriginal people, we live under constant surveillance. For too many Aboriginal children, every step they take, welfare is watching, police are watching, the system is closing in and the statistics show that we are locked up for being black. It was the truth when I was young and it remains the truth today.  

For me, as a product of the Stolen Generation, as a young boy, I was looking for clues about who I was. In My Blood it Runs shows the alternative to being removed. Megan, Carol and Jim Jim prevented that from happening through perseverance and against the odds. Aboriginal parents love their children; that is the one thread that runs throughout this whole story. 

At one point Dujuan is on the hill looking over Hidden Valley town camp comparing his house with the white folk. The haves and the have nots. Alice Springs has never embraced our young people and their anger is a reaction to a history of rejection. While there is no place for unlawful behaviour, understanding our kids is the only place to begin… As a kid, I was institutionalised for no crime and branded a ringleader. I found myself in a lot trouble and it took me years to escape this system. This book is for those young Aboriginal people who are on that same path and to see a mirror of themselves. It is for others to understand and listen to their voices.

Read: Burning questions

Too often Aboriginal people are silenced, and our solutions aren’t heard. In the Northern Territory, punishments are the preferred solution by the system – with investment in policing and controls, but not in prevention. The punitive Western model of locking children up is an act of violence and denies responsibility for the basic principles of care and protection. Why are governments not investing in Aboriginal-led solutions? Especially when we have the upstream models of prevention, that give agency, ownership and control of decisions back to the people. 

As First Nations people we have shown that we can create solutions that work. Children’s Ground is where I put my efforts. Children’s Ground is the vehicle Aboriginal people are driving to make decisions in their lives. We see children more engaged, learning and happy, with families participating and positive outcomes in our communities’ well-being. Families are employed and work tirelessly to create a future for their children and grandchildren to ensure that our languages, cultures and identity are preserved. Our children are finding the skills within their culture, as well as the necessary Western skills and this will make them formidable in a global world. Our people have agency as they make their own decisions for their communities. Our focus is the prevention of children being removed and incarcerated. Our focus is on the ability of our children, their opportunities and their future, so that kids like Dujuan see their worth, not their failure. 

In My Blood it Runs is for all children. It shows the wisdom of youth. It is written in loving memory of Dr MK Turner OAM, Dujuan’s great-grandmother and a founding Elder of Children’s Ground. Her vision set the path forward for First Nations-led education, a solution for our children’s education and success. A solution that we continue to present to Government, awaiting their response.  

Dujuan Hoosan (centre) with Carol Turner (left) and Megan Hoosan (right). Photo: Supplied.

After Australia voted against the Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander Voice to Parliament, we have a lot of emotions. But we just have to pick ourselves up and dust ourselves off, because there is work to be done. Dujuan’s story deserves to be heard. We will tell our stories. We will build our programs and teach our kids to be strong in their language, culture and identity. We will lift up and listen to the voices of our people in our communities.

Through our blood it runs: through our ancestors, our Elders, our children. It will always be. It is a power that comes from the land and we will invite others to listen. 

In My Blood It Runs: History. Learning. Love. Resistance by Dujuan Hoosan, Margaret Anderson and Carol Turner, illustrated by Blak Douglas was published by Pan Macmillan on 31 October 2023.

William Tilmouth is an Arrernte man and the Founding Chair of Children's Ground. William is a recognised and respected leader in the Northern Territory and throughout Australia. He has dedicated his life to his people to prevent the trauma of previous generations. As a member of the Stolen Generations, William has overcome poverty, incarceration, injustice and inequality and has survived trauma to become a respected role model for Arrernte and all First Nations people. More recently, he was a key advisor for the 2019 film ‘In My Blood It Runs’.