This article has been written in collaboration with Leonora Adidi.
Leonora Adidi is a Torres Strait Islander from the Suy-Baydham Clan of Bamaga and Saibai. She is a multi-talented cultural educator who works across many different aspects and intersections of culture, including language, dance, song and visual arts.
Leonora is a linguist, fluent in Kalaw Kawaw Ya and Yumplatok (Torres Strait Creole) and a Certified Provisional Interpreter in both languages. She is passionate about regenerating and strengthening First Nations languages, cultures and stories. She is also in the visual arts space and practises as an artist, using creativity as a means of expressing culture.
Elders are the guardians of our knowledge and culture. They are the people we look for validation in – that we’re walking the straight and narrow when it comes to culture and community. They are our big bosses.
Leonora’s involvement in dance is significant. She manages a dance group and sings, records, performs and composes songs as part of that. The group has achieved notable success, including winning the inaugural National Indigenous Dance Rites Competition in 2015. They have also toured internationally, performing at the Festival of Pacific Arts and Culture in Los Angeles, Rainforest Music Festival in Malaysia, and in Papua New Guinea.
Growing up, Leonora was surrounded by her extended family, with her grandfather, aunties, uncles and cousins living together. This strong sense of family and community shaped her upbringing and instilled a deep appreciation for cultural connections. She grew up in the remote community of Bamaga and surrounding communities, where she played in the bush with her cousins, making cubby houses and picking fresh berries. In the school holidays they would walk to the beach to go fishing and looking for oysters, shellfish and crabs.
We always had so many people living in our family home. There was my grandfather, my aunties and uncles, my two cousin-brothers and my cousin-sister. We didn’t regard ourselves as cousins. To this day, we’re brothers and sisters.
Leonora also grew up surrounded by and speaking Kalaw Kawaw Ya language. It wasn't until she started school that she began to pick up Creole and English.
Throughout her life, Leonora has achieved several significant milestones. She completed a Bachelor of Arts in Language and Linguistics, which was a long-held aspiration fulfilled in her early 40s. She has also collaborated with renowned First Nations arts organisations like Bangarra Dance Theatre and Naygayiw Gigi (Northern Thunder), composing songs for their productions and being nominated for prestigious awards.
Leonora cherishes the impact she has made on individuals' lives through her work. Being a source of inspiration for other young Torres Strait Islanders gives her a sense of fulfilment. She believes in the power of positivity and optimism, always striving to find solutions to challenges and believing that things will improve.
Leonora admires and acknowledges the influence of different people and Elders in her life, particularly her grandfather, who served as the chairman of Bamaga for 27 years, and her grandmother, who left a lasting impression despite passing away when Leonora was young. She also credits her godmother, Mary Betty Harris, as her cultural mentor, from whom she continues to learn and gain valuable insights into culture, language, family and history.
Leonora's lifetime achievements reflect her dedication to cultural education, artistic expression, and community engagement. Her work continues to inspire others and contribute to the preservation and celebration of First Nations cultures. In her next chapter, Leonora wants to explore traditional gardening and nutrition.