• Culture

Caring for Country, and One Another

Zoe Sims explains how to weave First Nations values into every day

By Felicity Bonello

On the eve of NAIDOC Week 2022, we are reminded of the rich culture fostered by our First Nations people over 60,000 years, and this year all Australians are called to lead the conversation as allies: to Get Up! Stand Up! Show Up! Passionate about telling First Nation’s stories, we will continue to highlight prevalent figures in the Indigenous community to give all Australians a clearer understanding of our country’s true history.

But NAIDOC Week is no longer just about learning from First Nations people; it’s about inheriting First Nations core values in how we govern our country sustainably. This year Zoe Sims, Koskela’s First Nations Impact Specialist, talks to Green + Simple about the importance of small changes and considerations we can all make, to help us adopt First Nations ideology into the fabric of our own families and communities.

Born, raised, and living on Darug Country in Penrith Western Sydney, Zoe credits her Aboriginal kindergarten teacher with nurturing her indigenous identity from a young age. 

“Mr Devitt brought my mum and dad into school and wanted to chat to my dad about his identity. My dad is First Nations, and our family line – as far back as we can trace – goes to Forbes which is Wiradjuri Country,” says Zoe

“We’re all now based in beautiful Penrith, and we’re very proud to be from Western Sydney.” Beyond school and university, Zoe now finds herself in the workplace as the First Nations Impact Specialist for ethical lifestyle brand, Koskela.

As well as leading Koskela’s exhibition program, which is a space for First Nations artists, Zoe collaborates with First Nations art centres from across the country; and leads cultural confidence internally in the business and externally with clients. A conduit to engage people in further discussion around First Nations culture, artwork, and opportunity, it’s at a Koskela event – where Zoe guided a very moving Acknowledgement to Country, that our paths first crossed. 

Connecting to Country 

“When I conduct an Acknowledgement to Country, I nod to the fact that every day I consider country. It isn’t necessarily a verbal thing but it’s a feeling or it’s a moment to pause and reflect. Now that I’m older and speaking about country in design, I recognise that I’ve spent my whole life acknowledging and connecting with country without even realising it.”

Growing up, Zoe and her family were part of a 4WD club which saw her on country, connected, every other weekend. Today, even in a workplace setting she will physically position herself where possible throughout the day, in view of nature.

“It just provides me with that moment to pause and reflect and connect,’’ she says.

Zoe is keen to highlight connecting to country is something we can all do, Indigenous and non-Indigenous alike. 

“I think for all Australians, where you were born and raised you will have a connection to country. A lot of my colleagues and teammates were born on the beaches and they have a strong connection to saltwater country, and we talk about that when I lead the internal cultural competence (discussions). Whereas I connect to the bush and the Blue Mountains because I live right at the bottom of it. It’s just about how you connect and what that looks like; sometimes it’s a feeling that words can’t describe, it’s just how I feel when I’m out with my dad and our dogs and we go out to the bush.” 

Civilisation vs Nature

While many of us feel a yearning to hit the wide-open road and reconnect with our surroundings, there does seem to be a huge disconnect between the needs of civilisation in 2022, and nature. For Zoe, who has a Bachelor of Ancient History and studied western society for three years, the disconnect lies in how culture defines success and how we view structure. 

“The way the western world views success is through man-made structures, whereas if you look at Aboriginal culture, we value nature and we work with it, not against it. A lot of our sacred sites are natural elements or things that the western world doesn’t respond to in the same way that we would.”

Take Uluru for example. “For those people who feel that it’s just a rock to be walked on, I try to make the comparison that it’s the same as when you take off your shoes when you’re entering a mosque or a church or any other sacred place. It’s about making those comparisons so that all people can understand and realise the sacred sanctity of natural elements just the same as man-made structures.” It all comes back to nature, and the world’s oldest living culture.

First Nations and Sustainability

You only need to cast your mind back to the devastating bushfires of late 2019 and early 2020, to know that indigenous expertise is crucial to avoiding another Black Summer, and that’s just one example.

“We continue to apply western notions of sustainability to Australia, but a lot of things that we can apply are already here and they’ve been here for 60,000 years. It’s time to recentre those, to learn from First Nations people and to adopt and inherit these (methods) into the core values of how we govern the country sustainably,” says Zoe.

Zoe adds we need to look at, “integrating the D’harawal Six Seasons Calendar which explains our weather patterns in the southern hemisphere so much better than the western world can, and look at things like the Brewarrina Fish Traps and all these existing practices like backburning to get us back on the right path and connect to how Australia’s climate should be.” Beyond petitioning, campaigning, and speaking to our local representatives, there are other practical ways that each of us as individuals can Get Up! Stand Up! and Show Up! today.

Get Up! Stand Up! Show Up! 

This year’s call goes out to allies across the country to stand up and do their part, to flip the dynamic and to lead the change alongside our First Nations people. And it needn’t be complicated. “These days there’s so much on the internet, so research what country you’re on, look at what the local First Nations organisations are around you, even look at the demographic or the make-up of First Nations people in your area. It gives you an opportunity to recognise and understand your context, your position and your privileges, and place First Nations people on that equal platform. It’s a way to understand and really rethink the way that you view, or interact or provide opportunities for First Nations people,” suggests Zoe.

NAIDOC Week highlights the opportunity for all Australians to learn about First Nations cultures and histories and participate in celebrations of the oldest, continuous living culture on earth. Learn, yes. But then implement those learnings. “There’s so much to absorb from First Nations people, from our communities and from our knowledge, that really gives and adds significance to your daily life. Even just consider and research the names of the towns that you live in, like Parramatta and Cronulla, for example. It will add significance and make you have more respect for the country. When that respect comes, I feel that it makes custodianship and ownership over country and wanting to care for it greater. If we develop these relationships genuinely between one another, the solution is to care for country and care for one another on a more respectful, deeper level.”

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