How Dame Quentin Bryce is helping change lives of Indigenous girls in Australia

And why she is voting 'yes' in the Voice referendum.
SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - SEPTEMBER 05: Dame Quentin Bryce attends the Women of the Future Awards at Quay on September 05, 2018 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)

Dame Quentin Bryce has always been a passionate advocate for empowering indigenous Australians and her patronage of the Girls from Oz performing arts program is one of her proudest ventures.

“These wonderful girls are why I will be voting ‘yes’. How could I not?” she tells The Weekly.

“I have had the great privilege to get to know many amazing Indigenous Australians from right across our country including elders who have welcomed me into their lives and taught me so much. They have become dear friends, staying at our home, sharing their life experiences with my children and grandchildren. They have changed my life, my understanding of what it means to be Australian,” Dame Quentin says.

In May this year, on National Sorry Day, the former Governor General travelled to remote Halls Creek, in the East Kimberley in WA, to reconnect with a community that has a very special place in her heart and make a video about the magic of Girls from Oz which she is sharing here with The Weekly. This visit she says, made a powerful impression on her in light of the current debates surrounding the Voice referendum.

It was 18 years ago that Quentin Bryce, then Governor of Queensland, and Australian Girls Choir CEO Nicole Muir AM came up with a ground-breaking idea that would transform the lives of young girls in very remote Indigenous communities. “On reflection it was a very bold move but Quentin is emboldening and I’m unafraid of having a go,” says Nicole.

That initial conversation was all about taking high quality performing arts to children in regional and remote Queensland. In the subsequent years it grew into ‘Girls from Oz’, an impactful touring, teaching and cultural exchange program, with Nicole as chair and Quentin as patron.

The impact of music and dance

Members of the Australian Girls Choir travel to remote communities where they go into schools to share their expertise and promote the joy and power only singing and dancing can bring. “For some of the girls it was a turning point,” say Robyn Long, Halls Creek community leader. It brought girls who until then had poor attendance back into school, building confidence, making them feel part of something.

As Governor-General, Quentin invited the Halls Creek girls for a memorable sleepover at Admiralty House in Sydney in 2010 when they performed at the Sydney Opera House. “Having the girls to stay was very special for me. It was about inclusiveness and belonging and friendship. I was so proud to host them,” says Quentin.

The exchange programs started in 2015 adding another crucial element to the Girls from Oz. Now Indigenous girls could experience city life staying with host families. “This was the opportunity of a lifetime for the Halls Creek girls” says Robyn. “It taught them to be strong and courageous young women,” says East Kimberley’s Juliet Dupen.

Why Quentin Bryce is so proud of Girls from Oz

“Girls from Oz brings the magic of music and dance to our young ones. It opens up opportunities. It enhances and develops potential, builds confidence, engagement, participation, friendships…all the wonderful things in life that we want for our young ones as they grow up to be engaged, to participate and to lead in our nation.

“Of course these girls inspire me to vote ‘yes’…,” she concludes. “And I hope they inspire others to do the same.”

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