At first glance, it’s easy to mistake Meredith’s initial quiet disposition as timidity, but this forthright Gungaanji woman is a force to be reckoned with. Fiercely passionate about her children, her community and her culture, Meredith has been fighting against injustice and a better future for her mob for as long as she can remember.
Born and raised in the coastal ‘paradise by the sea’, Yarrabah has long been a nucleus for staunch Aboriginal campaigners and advocates for social change. While Meredith has now been adopted into the Cape York community of Wujal Wujal where her husband, Mayor Bradley Creek hails from, she still maintains close ties with the land and its people.
As the Community Engagement Office – also known as the Local Backbone – for Pama Futures (PF) in Wujal Wujal, Meredith and the PF team recently supported the community, local council and service provider to successfully negotiate a Joint Decision-Making Plan (JDMP) on the Justice Group Youth Leadership Program supported by Federal Government funding. Meredith says this has empowered Wujal Wujal to have direct input into one of the most important issues and services affecting them.
Meredith said she also values being part of a national network of ten Empowered Communities across Australia working with communities and Governments to reform how Indigenous policies and programs were designed and delivered.
The youth advocate has come full circle in becoming a leader. She is particularly passionate about passing on the mantle to the younger generation to take on greater responsibility. It was something that was instilled in her from a young age, and now, with four children of her own, she wants her children always to have the courage to stand up for what they believe in and use their voice for the greater good.
I’ve been in Wujal for ten years now and I’ve seen a lot of changes over that time. My biggest concern right now is for the youth. That’s one of the reasons I stepped up to take on the Community Engagement Officer position for Pama Futures. We desperately need more things for our youth.
"We hear a lot of people here talking about our young people and engaging them, but we don't have any designated youth space or even a leadership program. If you're looking at the 18-25-year-old age group, they don't get involved because they don't feel it's for them, not because they're apathetic.
“Do something for them and they can make it their own and feel ownership of something. The way it is, they don’t feel connected to the things that are going on around here. But we also need to create a supportive element to get them ready to be involved. A lot of them wouldn’t even know how to start, so we need to get them ready, not just create a group and expect them to come.”
Meredith says that in remote Aboriginal communities, like Wujal Wujal, people need to be creative in the way they approach community and youth engagement, and ensure culture is always front and centre.
“Things like leadership camps are an effective way to gather like-minded young people and bring them together to talk about the issues that matter to them and find out what they’re passionate about. We need to create employment and training opportunities to all young people, not just those that are considered ‘work-ready’.
Meredith wants all young people to have the kind of choices and access to education that was available to her, which, according to the UN Declaration of the Rights of the Child says the child is entitled to ‘receive education that will be free and promote their culture and enable them, on the basis of equal opportunity, to develop their abilities, judgement and sense of moral and social responsibility, and to become a useful member of society'.
However, all too often she says, children and young people are left to navigate their own paths and are then quickly criticized when they stray off the straight and narrow.
I am big on respect, for our Elders, but it goes both ways. Respect must be given but it also has to be earnt.
"I think that's why a lot of people shy away from lending their voice to issues. If you don't feel like you have a place in the conversation, you don't come to the conversation. The lack of opportunities for our young people means that even when they are fortunate to go away to boarding schools, they graduate then come back and find that there's nothing here for them."
“Some are lucky and go straight into jobs, but others aren’t. Kids are away from home for five years, and I find a lot of them wanting to come home and stay here after they finish school. It would be good if there were more opportunities awaiting them when they come home.”
Meredith needs only to look to her family for inspiration behind her drive and passion.
“My family are all natural leaders and that’s how they raised me, and how I raise my own children. My mum is a councillor, she had six kids and has never been a stay-at-home mum, but she’s always had family support. My mum is my biggest role model. The women in our family and community were always supported to do whatever they wanted to do. We have occupied high positions in Yarrabah, and there are strong leaders everywhere in our community and family.”
Meredith says that as long as she keeps her family close and her culture in mind, she is driven to overcome any obstacles that life in a remote community might throw at her.
“I look around in this community and there’s not a lot of service providers. You can only name a handful and it’s easy to see why there isn’t much happening. Even with the community itself, you really want to see more happening here, not just for our young ones, but for everyone.”
“Our old people are our knowledge holders, and our young people bring new ideas, and it’s the middle that connects both.”
Meredith said she looked forward to being one of the connectors between the old ways and the new, for a better future for all.