Remembering our journey: Anwernekenhe 6 opening address

Remembering our journey: Anwernekenhe 6 opening address

HIV Australia | Vol. 13 No. 3 | December 2015

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are advised that this article of HIV Australia contains names of people who have passed away.

By Neville Fazulla

On Thursday 12 November, Anwernekenhe National HIV Alliance (ANA) Chair, Neville Fazulla, officially opened the Anwernekenhe 6 conference in Alice Springs.

In his address, Neville shared his recollections of the formation of the Anwernekenhe movement and paid tribute to the founders and pioneers of Anwernekenhe 1, some of whom were present for the sixth conference, which marked Anwernekenhe’s 21st anniversary.

Below are some brief excerpts from Neville’s address, where he describes the beginnings and the significance of the inaugural Anwernekenhe event.

‘Back in 1993, there were a group of us that were very aware on what was going on in the HIV environment, how that was having an impact on the gay and sistergirl community in Australia. What happened was, there was a conference up in Alice Springs in 1992, which was an Aboriginal sexual health conference.

That conference had some members of the Aboriginal, gay, lesbian and sistergirl community attend it, but we were in a sense not on the agenda and ostracised. Some of our brothers had travelled overseas and seen what was happening overseas, and programs happening there, and came back and started a discussion.

We went to the Commonwealth for funding; John, along with Colin and Rodney1 coordinated that process, and we were successful in getting funding to hold a conference.

It was only a small amount of funding, but the spirit of the people who came to the conference proved too powerful to worry about the money. The first Anwernekenhe conference was held in a creek bed.

We’d invited AFAO (who was still based in Canberra at the time) to attend and see what we were doing, and how we could liaise with them.

They turned up on the Thursday morning, and we were all paying volleyball and sitting around, putting on makeup and doing different things.

Every night we’d have a deadly disco run on a car battery. We got into trouble with the man who was running the homestead because he would turn the lights off at 10 o’clock every night, and we’d get the car battery and put all the leads on it and light the whole place up and have a big disco until 2 or 3 o’clock in the morning.

There was no drugs, no alcohol, but we let ‘em know we were there. And in that process, we also wrote a Plan which had 116 recommendations in it.

When the AFAO guys turned up and they could see us all playing around, lying around, doing different things, some of them must’ve thought, ‘Oh … what’ve we walked into?’

When they walked down, we presented them with the pieces of paper – some of them were hand written and some of them were printed out – and we said: ‘That’s what we want’.

They took it away, read it and agreed to it. From there, we got the name from the traditional owners around here: Anwernekenhe (‘Us Mob’).

We took that name; we cherished that name, and we moved forward. From there, we’ve grown to what we’ve are today.

We’ve had eight Chairs. We’ve moved from a project at AFAO to an incorporated organisation that makes our own decisions.

When we left Hamilton Downs we were the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Gay and Sistergirl Forum. We’re now the Anwernekenhe National HIV Alliance.

About three months after we left Hamilton Downs with all these Recommendations, we began working with AFAO and we went to the Commonwealth.

Our role was the first working party on the first National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander HIV Strategy. We’re now at the fourth – we’ve been involved in and informed every single one.

The major thing was we got to write our own strategy, in our own way, to address the issues in our community.

It was ours. We informed the process and we did it.

We’ve moved along quite rapidly. In some senses it’s been a long time – 21 years – but we’ve never lost the vision.

We’ve changed the way we’ve looked. … we’ve had to move our boundaries and exteriors to suit what the national environment is, but we’ve never lost the fact that we’re here.

It’s about us as a community, and it always will be. We’ve built capacity for positive people to have a voice at the national level, which is called PATSIN (Positive Aboriginal and Torres Strait islander Network).

We’ve got the sistergirl movement and forum; we brought in the injecting drug user community, the sex worker community, and men who have sex with men.

And we’ve taken on all those groups within our community and supported them until they can have a voice in their community on their own.

Anwernekenhe isn’t just about gay men, it’s about the community response to HIV.

We showed that we can take the lead and do it in a constructive, community driven way. The work we do isn’t just imagined in an office block, it’s actually informed by the community.

So applaud yourself everybody’.

(And much applause there was indeed.)


1 John Cross, Colin Ross and Rodney Junga-Williams.