Activism, truth telling a bedrock for change

02 July 2023
Leonie Taylor smiles as she displays art and photos from her Elders
CQU staff member Leonie Taylor celebrates NAIDOC Week by honouring her Elders and sharing her story

From a legacy founded in advocacy, trailblazing and changemaking with connections to Mabo, Leonie Taylor knows what it means to work hard for better, resting upon a foundation of strength and knowing oneself in spirit.

The Senior Coordinator for Indigenous Student Engagement at CQUniversity is a proud Djaku-nde woman and is this week reflecting on how blessed she was to have the strength of her parents and Elders in her community, who were pivotal in passing down knowledge and instilling the culture and truth of generations passed, that formed who she is today.

“My parents were activists and I’m proud of what they did for us, because they made us alert to what we should be fighting for,” Leonie said.

“Growing up they didn’t have access to education and they fought for the services they got, so they instilled in me the importance of getting an education so that we could advance.”

Leonie’s activist parents were involved in the movement with the late Eddie “Koiki” and Bonita Mabo, who initiated the first ‘Black Community School’ in Townsville – where Leonie also attended. 

She said the school was integral in instilling the values of her culture and identity, along with learning and speaking language that was carried on from her Elders.

One of seven children, Leonie was the first in her family to attend university, completing a Bachelor of Social Work and she says if not for the activism and encouragement of her parents, and the Elders who came alongside them, her story would’ve been very different. 

“I initially dreamt of becoming a flight attendant!

“But when my parents saw my high school scores, they made it clear that I was to go to university. From my time there I was also blessed to make some beautiful connections with people, and as graduating social workers we founded Gallang Place, which is an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander counselling service, as there was a real need in the community for those services,” Leonie said.

Looking back at pivotal moments in her life, Leonie can only attest her resilience to the path paved by her Elders, honouring them and their profound impact. 

“The year’s NAIDOC theme ‘For Our Elders’ is so close to my heart – I truly honour my ancestors and my Elders who not only created the pathway, but helped me to become strong in spirit so that I could pass that onto my children,” Leonie said.

“You never forget the words that have been spoken over your life to become and to lead, and instill in the future generation to be proud, to be strong, to be deadly – and to never forget who you are and where you come from.”

As a proud mother, stepmother and grandmother, Leonie has taught her children that even through trauma, there’s healing and strength to be found.

“It reminds me of the importance of reconciliation – but that can’t come until there’s truth telling and our people themselves find out who they are.

“Some of us are still on that journey and it must be known that we are here to support them, and we as a nation need to recognise that. 

“But with the foundation and legacy of our Elders, with the resilience and activism they showed to keep on that journey to show initiative like they did in the 1967 referendum, it has provided us with the pathway to be empowered to see this nation prosper.”

NAIDOC Week is regarded around the nation as one of the most pivotal key dates on the annual calendar, as we move further towards reconciliation, closing the gap and celebrating the rich history of this country and the tapestry of those who’ve forged the path.


Celebrating NAIDOC Week with Leonie Taylor


hello my name is Leonie Taylor and I've

just spoken some of our language that

we're recovering from the Djaku-nde and

Wokka Wokka who I'm a proud descendant of


I want to honour today the beautiful

Darumbal people on the lands that we're

meeting and just pay my respect to their

Elders that have allowed me to live and

raise my children on beautiful Darumbal


I also honour my ancestors and Elders

that have created the pathway and helped

me become strong in spirit so that I

could then pass that on to my children

I'm not only honoring my elders but I

also honour those that have come

alongside them

and this beautiful

shawl that I'm wearing today was made by

the late Auntie Muriel thing but Auntie

Muriel is a special lady through our

family and our community in Brisbane she

headed up the one people of Australia

League where it allowed children to come

in from those areas where they've never

seen the ocean to go to the ocean and

she was also a founding member of the

Aboriginal School in Brisbane and she

was a volunteer until she retired and so

I just want to honour those that have

come alongside and they are also our

respectful Elders that have been those

activists to support our mob to get

where they are today

and my story starts

um I'm a one of seven children

and I have I'm very proud of my

Aboriginal Heritage on my both sides of

my father and mother

and some of that Journey with Australian

history we've had to recover ourselves

like we're saying with our language but

we're recovering and and that's what

makes us strong in spirit and I'm very

grateful for them I'm grateful because

uh they taught me about our Aboriginal

Heritage and then on my mum's side the

Aboriginal and Australian South Sea Islander

Heritage and we have these lovely

connections back to Tanner Island and so

I'm honouring those Elders too and it

similar to The Stolen generation there's

a place where our families still have

those connections and I've taken my

children back and to find that we still

have those relationships and land and

it's such an honour to know that even

though they were brought out here to as

a part of the blackbirding to work in

the cane fields that we still have those

connections and they kept they kept that

space in the same way that our stolen

generation that were taken from their

homelands and dispossessed that they

have a place when they are returned and

so I think I'm so thankful for that that

I've been able to do that and part of my

journey is also just acknowledging those

elders and so on my

outside I have my granddad and Grandma


Granddad was growing up as a free

Aboriginal so he wasn't under the

protection act but he wanted to marry my

grandmother who was a domestic and grew

under the act and they needed permission

to marry so they got that permission to

wear it marry but they were very strong

in who they were and although they had

to stop speaking their language or

practising they still in secret spoke

language and passed on what they could

and then on my mum's side that's where

there's that beautiful connection back

to Tanner and you know for Jack and

Topsy yeah so but my that's my great

grandparents but my grandparents on my

mum's side are Fred and Olive Power so

Fred yes Fred um Power and Olive Yasso

and so I just want to honour them today

growing up it was

um my parents were activists so I'm very

proud of the what they did for us

because they made us Alert in terms of

you know

where they didn't have they fought for

the services that they got so education

my parents were part of the movement

with the late Uncle 'Koiki' Bonita

just to get the black community school

so I was able to attend the black

community school in Townsville and that

shaped me in terms of culture and

identity because we were able to speak

language and learn language not only


within the Torres Strait Islander

community of which we were adopted into

you could say because we were they had

that respect with it and then my mum's

initiated the first

kindergarten in Townsville and it's

still going to this day so it's 53 years

at 53 years since she started that and

it's still going strong and the other

part of the journey is you know just

growing up and knowing that they didn't

have the access to education my mum

finished school I think I think it was

grade four and dad was a grade three and

they always instilled in us the

importance of education and getting that


white men's education so that you know

you could advance and um

so we it was always about you know

making when we had that opportunity and

that's what I had I had that opportunity

to go to university to study

social work and I you know and through

that Journey I've met some other

Beautiful People which I still stay

connected with and we started Galang

Place Aboriginal counseling service and

because that was a need and that service

is still going to this day and that's

something else as a founding member I'm

very honored to be part of that journey

and yeah still seeing other ones coming


my childhood you know there's a trauma

there but we don't focus on the trauma

you know we know that that's part of us

but that's what we also use to get

strength from that and heal and there's

been lots of healing over the years and

that's why I can stand strong in who I

am and I've taught my children to stand

strong in who they are and yeah I'm just

very grateful that yes I think as I

think of those on my journey today

summer with me in spirit

and you never forget the words that have

been spoken over your life to to be


and to lead and to instill


in the future generation

to be proud to be strong to be deadly

and never forget who you are and where

you come from

I think the important things of me

instilling being strong being you know

being courageous and also being deadly

is my children so all of my children

have been blessed in the way that you

know they've all been given traditional

names and those traditional names are

passed down by my dad so they don't get

their name until they've actually been

observed for a year and then we have a

little ceremony and their names given to

them and so my firstborn is Shea and his

name's mangana which means spotted gum

because my dad's seen the strength and

how he was he was a strong staunch young

man that had leadership qualities and so

Dad gave him the name of mangana my next

one down is Leon and his name one gamma

because he used to sleep on his belly

all the time and he and that's how he is

he's very cool Carmen collected and one

camera is a little sand frog so that's

my second boy and then the third boy is

Josiah and his name's burigum and he

just loved to he had lots of energy and

boroughgum in our languages Rock

kangaroo and that's uh and he just

bounces all over the place and he's

still the same very active and um very

healthy and then the my youngest


um her name was given on the day she was

born so um the the journey with her is

that I was told at the age of 18 that

I'd never have children so my dad was

with me and so when the girl came along

he knew that she was coming along and

because my husband is uh he we have

connections also to noogie down near

stradbroke Island so he's a guruful man

and also has connections to the younger

country my girl my dad gave her the name

of Miramar which is Morningstar And he

as soon as he held her on the day that

she was born he goes I've got her name

and I'm naming her now so everyone else

had to wait 12 months but my dad was

like no I've been waiting for her and

it's just lovely how he knew that she

was coming I had no idea I did and then

just I just want to acknowledge that as

a stepmom I have two beautiful

um older girls too that you know they've

helped shape me and as a person and I'm

just grateful for them too so I just

want to acknowledge them too and my

beautiful four grandchildren so thank



so I just like to you know the theme for

our elders is something that's very

close to my heart because we are we

wouldn't be who we are today if it

wasn't for our elders and the many

Pathways and the activism that they

showed and the initiative and they were

resilient and they empowered not only

themselves to keep on that journey of

you know getting recognized and being

part of the community you know the 1967

referendum was you know a big turning

point and we've got other turning points

that are coming up when we're talking

about voice and treaty and Truth telling

in this country so there's still a long

journey to go but I'd like to just end

with a quote from my parents and it says

it's important that people recognize us

and our culture and understand that the

spiritual mental and physical well-being

depends on being able to connect

physically with our country when we

achieve this goal along with all other

Aboriginal people Australians overall

will benefit and we as a nation will

prosper and I you know it just reminds

me of the importance of you know

reconciliation but reconciliation can't

come until there's truth-telling and our

people are themselves find out who they

are I was so privileged to know who I am

and I have that you know that I'm strong

in spirit but there's many others that

are still on that journey and we're here

to support them and as a nation we now

need to recognize that so thank you for

allowing me to share my some of my heart

with you today