QWS PODCAST S1E2 – Professor Gregory Phillips
QWS Podcast S1E2 – To listen to the podcast click on this link from Words and Nerds.
In this episode Rob interviews Professor Gregory Phillips, about his work as a change maker and thought leader. Professor Gregory has been a regular speaker at The Wheeler Centre, and his written work has appeared in Griffith Review and IndigenousX to name a few.
Full interview transcript below. Blarney Books and Art book reviewer, Grace, discusses The Reckless Afterlife of Harriet Stoker by Lauren James and Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas.
Links to his work Professor Gregory Phillips mentioned
Prof Gregory Phillips Shout Outs
QWS Podcast S1E2 – Professor Gregory Phillips interview transcript
Please note: this interview transcript has been modified slightly for ease of reading.
ROB: Professor Gregory Phillips is from the Waanyi and Jaru Aboriginal Australian peoples, and comes from Cloncurry and Mount Isa. Gregory has a PhD (‘Dancing With Power: Aboriginal Health, Cultural Safety and Medical Education’), a research master’s degree in medical science (‘Addictions and Healing in Aboriginal Country’; published as a book in 2003), and a bachelor degree in arts (Aboriginal Studies and Government majors). He is a leading change maker, thought leader and medical anthropologist. He leads change in cultural safety, race relations and decolonisation. Gregory is a Professor of First People’s Health in the School of Medicine at Griffith University and is the Chief Executive Officer of ABSTARR Consulting. He also chairs the Ebony Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Institute.
Welcome to QWS podcast. Gregory. Thanks for joining us.
Prof. GREGORY: No worries. Glad to be here.
ROB: Now our opening question which we ask each of our guests is how has your work influenced your identity?
Prof. GREGORY: Well, it’s probably an interrelationship rather than causal. So, you know, identity for me is about sovereignty and the land. So Aboriginal people don’t have this. I think therefore I am business going on. Our philosophy and knowledge is probably something more like I am located, therefore I am, or I am related. Therefore I am, I can’t exist without a relationship with other human beings or other living things or the land itself. So, our identities are very much tied to land and water and the natural world. And that includes each other. So that being said you know, I suppose that means that it’s impossible for me and my work to, you know, be a writer that just happens to be Aboriginal yeah. Or an academic that just happens to be Aboriginal or a, you know, consultant that just happens to be queer, for example. Yeah. Being so-called non-political is a marker of white and male and heterosexual privilege. But of course, the lie in that is that white, straight men are not political because every conceivable institution around us is built on their values pretty much. So, you know, banking, universities NGOs, government departments, schools, hospitals. So, you can’t really separate. I can’t, I don’t feel like I can separate my identity from the world in which I exist.
Prof. GREGORY: You know, of course I have a particular fabulousness and way of seeing the world
ROB: <Laugh> absolutely.
Prof. GREGORY: And we all do. So yeah, so for Aboriginal people, identity is both individual entities related.
Prof. GREGORY: Rather than one or the other.
Prof. GREGORY: So, I see my work in that bigger sort of frame, you know, it’s like trying to be, or, or being me being uniquely me, but understanding that me is a part of we.
ROB: Yeah, sure. Fantastic. Well, with your work, ABSTARR Consulting you are the Chief Executive Officer, and you are also chairing Ebony Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Institute. Can you tell us listeners about your work, and I guess the intersection with that you see with storytelling or, you know, around the, the narrative that we have in terms of colonialism and, and Australia as a concept, versus the work that you and your organizations are doing?
Prof. GREGORY: Sure. So ABSTARR stands for Aboriginal straight talking about responsibility and respect. It’s a play on my personal dreaming story, which is a shooting star story. And ABSTARR, we specialize in the art and science of decolonization. So, we understand that colonization is not an event, but a process. And so similarly decolonization is not an event, but a process, right. And we bring, you know, the evidence and science of organizational psychology and race relations and critical race theory and you know, workforce reform and all these sorts of things to bear on improving Aboriginal Lander outcomes in a given organization or institutions. So be that a, a public sector agency or, or a corporation or an NGO’s actually very similar patterns operating in all of, of those three sectors in any organization. So that’s what I do is my day job which has, you know, an academic arm to it and a, and a, a relational human arm, a psychology arm to it, and a and a lived experience. The Institute understands that Aboriginal knowledges are good for everybody. We’re not concerned just with so-called Aboriginal affairs, because that’s quite a colonial concept, but we are concerned with un-fucking Australia basically from an Aboriginal perspective.
Prof. GREGORY: So, you know, for example, coronavirus and bushfires and floods to our thinking, they’re all a natural consequence of colonization, right? Colonization hasn’t just affected indigenous people’s worldwide. It’s affected white people in the sense that they have become disconnected from their own land and value system and become increasingly disconnected from the earth so that it is simply something to be exploded and extracted. And so therefore this is why we now have mental health crises amongst predominantly the west. It’s, it’s a, it’s a symptom of privilege and disconnection from the earth and each other. And so Ebony Institute takes big picture policy issues, such as, you know, climate change or social policy or economic policy or foreign policy and thinks about them through an Aboriginal frame and philosophy. So, we say we’re thinking black for the future of Australia and the world. If I were a policy maker or a, a decision maker of in that way, the best thing Australia could do right now is invest in Aboriginal young Aboriginal Torres that are under people learning their culture. Not because it’s special treatment, but because if they don’t learn Aboriginal knowledges and cultures, how are the rest of us going to learn it? And therefore, how are we going to prevent bushfires and ensure better Murray darling base and water flows like it’s within everybody’s interest actually that Aboriginal culture is replicated in an ethical and respectful way so that the rest of us can survive.
Prof. GREGORY: And I think, you know, non-aboriginal people and institutions have been sold the fairy that the Western cannon of knowledge and literature alone and the Western version of science is what’s going to save us from climate change and save us from ourselves. But it in fact is what has led to where we are. So Western religion and science and governance and politics, it’s not all bad, but by itself is not going to solve the problems we find ourselves in. And so, there’s going to need to be a bit of humility and pulling one’s head out of one’s arse.
Prof. GREGORY: If we’re going to survive.
ROB: Yep. Well said I am going ask a writing question now, Gregory. You have been appeared at the Wheeler Centre. You are doing half hour talks on panel discussions. You are also a contributor, and your articles are contributing around, you know national conversations. What advice would you give to someone who’s saying? Yeah, I really, really want to be emulating that or that’s, that’s exactly where I want to get to at some stage is being able to have my voice heard, whether it’s queer or indigenous or disabled, whatever, whatever voice it is, or hopefully an intersection of all of that. What, what sort of advice would you give to someone who’s thinking about hitting that way?
Prof. GREGORY: I think, you know, believe in yourself, your voice is important. Pick your audience so well, know what your message is, what you want to get across and then pick the right audience and then pick the right format. I mean, you know, sometimes a research journal article is going to be the best way to get through the people you need to get to. Other times it’s going to be you know, a short story in a creative literature writing festival in other ways, other ways it’s going to be public speeches and, and, and opinion pieces in newspapers or what have you. So, I think it’s really about what are you trying to say? Who is it that you want to hear it? And then how might you pitch it, but regardless of format or audience, the real thing is I think finding the deeper message, the deeper meaning in your message. Like it’s not, it’s not just a matter of jumping up on a soapbox and saying what your opinion is.
Prof. GREGORY: It’s really about what contribution are you trying to make to make the world a better place?
Prof. GREGORY: Like in the Aboriginal way, we’re all we have this thing called belonging, meaning that our dreaming story and our connection to land and, and family tells us who we are and what our role is in society. So, we already have our belonging in our place. And our role might be to tell that story through music or dance or through the written word or through voice, you know, like speaking speeches or through a combination of all of them. But you, I think it’s, you got to have your heart and soul in what you believe. And, and I think you want to make sure that what you’re talking about is not just your ego talking,
ROB: Right? Yeah.
Prof. GREGORY: It’s got to be something deeper or more connected to humanity or to the natural world or to what people need to hear and think about.
ROB: And, and how important is it to have I don’t know if study’s the right word, but to be aware or educate yourself on what has people and what has gone before in that particular area?
Prof. GREGORY: Yeah. I mean, you don’t want to fall into the Trumpian trap of thinking that, because I have an opinion, I have a right to make everybody else believe it.
Prof. GREGORY: Yeah. And before Trump and the like was, you know the Catholic church or any number of other religions who sort of had this still had this very arrogant view that their view of the world is the only way to see the world or to understand the world. So, yeah, you don’t want to do that. You, you want to think about things from many different perspectives, like what do others think about that thing and what have others said? And there is a theory that there is no such thing as new knowledge in the world. There is only knowledge that is repackaged or reformulated from a different perspective. And so, I, I kind of think, I believe that I, I think that you know, others have already come up with answers. I mean, you know, Aboriginal people didn’t discover science or knowledge or writing when white people got here.
Prof. GREGORY: You know, we, we had our own medicine and law and engineering for 60,000 years. Thanks very much. It looked and felt very different to the way Western knowledge and writing and thinking looks. But it was certainly there. I mean, we didn’t survive ice ages by accident.
ROB: Yes. Yeah.
Prof. GREGORY: We didn’t survive genocide itself by accident. We survived with very sophisticated knowledge systems and sciences. And so, I think particularly for those, if you’re in one culture or one gender or one view of seeing the world, you just want to have a think about what you might not be seeing. Yes. And yeah. Try your best to try and just keep learning, I suppose.
ROB: Excellent. Thank you. We do a shout out question and this is where you Gregory has the opportunity if you wish to shout down any LGBTIQA plus artist books shows organizations, social media accounts whatever, whatever you like. And we can use this as a platform just for, for listeners who might not come across that to check it out.
Prof. GREGORY: Sure. So, there’s Koorie Pride Victoria, there’s an Aboriginal Torres Strait Islander fledgling group that’s starting up, they’re on the socials. And you want to check out IndigiLez up in Brisbane, queer Indigenous women. You want to check out gar’ban’djee’lum in Brisbane. There’s queer indigenous groups around the country. There’s Blaq in Sydney. There’s going to be a whole lot of queer indigenous mobs coming together for World Pride next year in Sydney.
Prof. GREGORY: So, there’s no shortage
ROB: Yeah. Yeah. And we’ll put those links in the show notes for, for the ones that you’ve mentioned. And for your people wanting to, to read more of your articles, where can they go to find you?
Prof. GREGORY: Probably to my website ABSTARR.com with, to ours and also The Wheeler Centre website you could search up there. There’s a few bits and bobs there, right? IndigenousX articles and also conversation Griffith Review bits and pieces.
ROB: Fantastic. Excellent. And our, our final question, which we ask all our guests is what is your hope for the LGBTIQA plus communities?
Prof. GREGORY: I think to understand that there was queerness in Australia for 60,000 years. And so we have to decolonize our understanding of sexualities and genders. And there are pre-existing old human societies that understood, you know, what the colours of the rainbow really meant both individually and collectively. And for us to understand that queer communities have historically and still do play very, very important and unique roles in society. And we should be proud of that.
ROB: Fantastic. That’s beautiful. And absolutely. Thank you so much for your time today. Gregory being on QWS Podcast. Yeah. We’ll have links to your website and socials for ABSTARR Consulting, so anyone wants to follow the journey hopefully they’ll get on board. And I love that decolonizing the queer experience.
Prof. GREGORY: Great chatting.