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Cultural connection comes full circle

Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander heritage is something that is very personal, you might feel strongly about the culture, customs, or the history may resonate with you in a particular way. Maybe the country is calling you.

This was the case for Glenn Barry, who in 1997 was a 25-year-old studying Aboriginal Art as part of a literacy and numeracy program at TAFE Queensland’s Coolangatta campus however at the time he didn’t identify as Indigenous.

“It was my Aboriginal Art teacher, Aunty Joyce Summers who asked me where I came from,” said Glenn.

“For as long as I can remember my grandfather identified as Maori - however after he passed away we learned he only said this to protect himself from being the stolen generation.”

“Aunty Joyce picked my Aboriginal heritage before I even knew it myself and it was through her stories that took me on a purifying experience, where the country called me to the land in north-west New South Wales, helping me understand my identity and ancestral history.”

Glenn said his time at TAFE Queensland helped him establish who he was and where he belonged, something he is truly proud of.

“Since the day I found out I was Aboriginal I have done everything in my power to connect to my culture and I’ve invested everything into it,” he said.

Glenn, who now identifies as a Gamilaraay man, went on to complete a Bachelor of Fine Art and Bachelor of Digital Media with Honours and returned to TAFE Queensland in 2017 as the Indigenous Support Officer for the Gold Coast region.

“Becoming comfortable with my culture later in life inspired me to keep that going for myself and other people, and I have come full circle back to TAFE Queensland where my connection first began,” he said.

“My role at TAFE Queensland provides a platform to engage with staff and students to help them understand their history and see things with an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander lens.”

“I enjoy being of service and having the opportunity to draw on things that are not typically taught in the classroom and to use my ancestral knowledge and connection with culture to embrace all kinds of people.”

Recently Glenn was in a room of 70 TAFE Queensland staff at the Southport campus and one person put their hand up to say they are Aboriginal for the very first time in their life.

“These experiences, where people are finding their Indigenous ancestry late in life happen in many classes where I support the Cultural Safety classes we deliver at TAFE Queensland Gold Coast,” he said.

“It’s heart-warming to be part of these cathartic moments and to be the bridge that helps people connect to culture, just like Aunty Joyce once did for me.”

Glenn’s job is to not only support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander staff and students, but also to work with those who don’t identify and educate them about Indigenous ways and culture.

To anyone who wants to learn more about the culture, their own identity, or is apprehensive about having that conversation Glenn said his door is always open.

“Email me, give me a call or just drop into my office at the Southport campus, I am here to listen and connect TAFE Queensland staff and students to the spirit of this country.”

Glenn said when the voice inside is so loud and you can’t ignore it, that’s the time to start tapping in and connect with people who can help and guide you.

“Our identity is not measured by the shade of our skin, but by something stronger found within.”