Conversation with Delvene Cockatoo-Collins


Delvene and I are sitting at the Fruit Barn in Dunwich. She is saying first off that “We have a beautiful community here at Dunwich with the Museum, the intellectuals, and the artists, Saltwater Murris. People should know this.”

“I think of myself as a younger woman who truly values and depends upon my mother and the other older women of my community. I returned to the island two years ago from Adelaide with Che and my children, and the main reason was to be sure that my kids know where they come from and learn their family structure. They can walk down the street now and people ask them if they’re okay and care about them as a true community. It is a true community here – and everyone takes part in raising every kid.  I grew up here and then went with my parents to the mainland for work. Now the commitment to young people keeps me here. I work as a project officer at Quandamooka Yoolooburrabee Aboriginal Corporation with two trainees. My aim is to show young people that they can get jobs and have a career on the island looking after country and staying with family, because I know how good a decision it’s been to return to the strength of country and family.

“… We started the dance group 15 months ago based on the need identified by a non-aboriginal mom who said, ‘We can do this – we can rehearse every week and we can take the kids across to Brisbane to the Aboriginal community events and perform here locally as the Q Crew Kids of Quandamooka.’ My understanding of how to build self-esteem is to build confidence, competence and to be connected to community — these are indicators of high self-esteem. We’re two ordinary mums doing extraordinary things and if we can do it other mums can too. We’re not dance teachers or dancers and we have been able to form a group in our own time with our own money and Fred Leone, from Impossible Odds has said that our kids have their own unique identity as a youth performing group. It’s provided a focus, to set goals together, to define what they want. Because the kids have their own roles and responsibilities within the group they now have something to own that is theirs.

“We’re living in a global community and this is what the kids know and want. We just insure that the traditional dancers come and teach as well. The kids are getting an incredible fusion of cultures and dance and music. As their aunties we need to be able to continue to guide them through that and make sure that they respect and are involved in their tradition of passing on values in dance and song.

“And they need to know how their people have always been very independent. Straddie is it’s own special place. My Nan was born in 1908 and she and my mom worked and purchased land – and it still remains in our family today. They took their money up to the lands department in the late 60s when Aboriginal people hadn’t even been acknowledged as citizens. Grandma was ahead of her time. Her name was “Balli” which means “Boss” and she just did things that no one thought she could do. I want to make sure that not just my family, but all the kids have to know that they can do whatever they set their mind to no matter what’s going on around them. Having that self-belief is so important.

“When I was a kid I walked down the street in Dunwich to school and I felt safe because I walked past family. Now at least 50% of the school’s students are Quandamooka people. When I sit at weekly school assemblies there is always an acknowledgement of Quandamooka people as traditional owners and there’s always a welcome to Quandamooka country and acknowledgement of the special relationship my people have to this land. My kids have this now, which I didn’t have. They are growing up with an awareness of their land as sacred and theirs. In 500 years time, how will this land look? What do we need to do to maintain our country so that in 500 years’ time we managed well and we can be proud of our legacy? Researchers from the University of Adelaide have found that Blue Lake here on Stradbroke has been pristine for 7500 years because the way our people managed it. Blue Lake is unique in Australia and the world because of how pure it is. There is no other lake like it in the world.

“There is a peace about being here and being at home and with family in Country. I hope that all people can find this sense of belonging.

“’You can’t have a good place if you don’t have good people  – this is what my Mum (Aunty evelyn Parkin) said yesterday.

“At QYAC – we were doing a youth forum and the kids were asked to think about, ‘What do I love about Quandamooka country? And the idea of needing good people to make a place good has really caught on – and the way we manage this country and places like Blue Lake means we are doing it right.

“I brought my kids back two years ago to celebrate the return of Native Title to the island. Now we know that we can have a say and and our voices are heard by the government.”


One thought on “Conversation with Delvene Cockatoo-Collins

  1. Charles Zuber

    for me, Charles Zuber, one of the most unexpected and yet most enjoyable happening was the Q Crew Kids. So I am really pleased that they were part of the festival. A great example of cross cultural arts in practice. Congratulations to Delvene, her son, and all the dancers.


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