Image: The author Madi Howarth, with her sister.

My 11-year-old sister is the embodiment of NAIDOC's theme: 'Keep the fire burning! Blak, loud and proud'

I’ve never met anyone who radiates joy quite like my little sister. 

At 11 years old, Bethan is the embodiment of this year’s NAIDOC theme, “Keep the fire burning! Blak, loud and proud.”

The foundation of my culture, for me, is to leave the world a better place than you found it. 

This is a guiding principle found across almost every Indigenous culture in the world. It is the belief that you must always think about how your actions will impact future generations. 

This year’s theme has brought me back to that guiding principle - to think of our young ones and teach them how to keep the fire burning - to keep going, louder and prouder.

It made me think of Bethan.

She is a bright spark with aspirations of being an actor one day because in her words, she “likes stepping into someone else’s shoes to see what their life is like.”

And there’s no doubt in my mind she’ll achieve this dream. A visit to the local Westfield is almost like walking around with a celebrity. It’s common for people to stop and remark on her beautiful red hair, or for cafe staff to take a shine to her as she is adamant she must say her order for herself (she gets chicken nuggets every time). 

Her positive energy is palpable. She doesn’t just walk into a room, she bounces in, or twirls, or skips. And this isn’t just at home or around the people she’s most comfortable with. It’s all the time. She possesses an innate confidence you don’t expect from someone her age.

She is Blak, loud and proud. So who better to ask about this year’s NAIDOC theme?

I call her on FaceTime - our regular way of communicating as I live in London and she’s in rural New South Wales in Australia. 

“Oooooh!” she says immediately as the call connects. “I love that top, where are you going today?” 

That’s her. The ultimate hype girl. 

After the usual catching up I ask her about NAIDOC and what it means to her and she says it’s about respect. 

“NAIDOC to me is acknowledging Aboriginal people and about respecting and learning new things,” she says.

Her favourite part of NAIDOC, she says, is the dancing and art, and listening to the Elders. She says celebration is an important part of acknowledging the past and changing things for the better.

“I think we should have a celebration of Indigenous people and culture because they need to be acknowledged because we went through a lot, and we need it to be known and we need it to be recognised and understood.

“We need to do better.”

At school, Bethan says she has challenged her teacher when learning about this country’s history - something that almost every Indigenous person would have done, or thought about doing, at some point in their schooling.

Bethan says it’s because of those experiences that she thinks history books need to be corrected.

“I want to change history books and make everyone’s lives a little bit easier by letting the truth be known.” 

When it comes to racism, the way she views the world is simple and poignant all at once. A reminder that kids are like sponges, taking in the world around them. 

“If you’re a white person, how would you treat a white person?” she asks. “You would probably treat them with respect, so how come it’s different for Aboriginal people?”

Like me, Bethan has been raised with an acute awareness of the stolen generations and its impact. Our great grandmother, Kathleen Miller, was stolen from her mother, along with her siblings, and placed in Cootamundra Girls’ Home. 

Our Old Nan’s strength and survival has and continues to shape our family. 

Talking about Nan brings us to the NAIDOC theme and she shares her interpretation of ‘keep the fire burning’. 

“We have a lot of strength from what we’ve been through and we’ve just gotten stronger,” she says. “Now we’re teaching the younger generations how maybe they could deal with this type of stuff if it ever happens to them. We’re teaching them how to be strong and keep being strong.”

And what about being Blak, loud and proud? 

“You’ve got to be proud of who you are, stand up for equal rights, do what you need to do… and be Blak, it’s who we are.”

I then ask, “do you like being Blak?” 

She stops and looks at me like it’s obvious, because it is.

“Yeah, who wouldn’t?” she says. “It’s so good. I’m deadly.” 

With the future in the hands of kids like Bethan, I’m sure that fire will keep burning - louder and prouder than ever before.