The Trials and Triumphs of a Trailblazer

with Yvonne Weldon. City of Sydney

Thought Leadership

In this episode of Humanity Works, Yvonne discusses the challenges and gifts she experienced as an Aboriginal growing up in Australia, how she approaches difficult conversations about race, and her unique perspective on leadership.

Yvonne Weldon made history by becoming the first Aboriginal person elected to the City of Sydney Council in 2021. 

Yvonne is a proud Wiradjuri woman. From a young age, she has strived to bring about positive change for Aboriginal people and communities. Through her work in key First Nations and government organisations across the country, to her work with youth in detention centres - Yvonne has inspired many, many people along her path, including us!      

In this episode of Humanity Works, Yvonne discusses the challenges and gifts she experienced as an Aboriginal growing up in Australia, how she approaches difficult conversations about race, and her unique perspective on leadership.    

If you’d prefer to listen to our conversation you can do so here: Apple Podcasts or Spotify

For those who aren’t aware, what's your current government role?

[Yvonne:] I am currently an elected councillor, the first Aboriginal elected in the 180 year history of the City of Sydney. I was the first Aboriginal candidate nominated for the Lord Mayor here in the City of Sydney. And I must say, although it's a milestone, and it's an honour, it's so long overdue. There should have been an Aboriginal councillor (or Lord Mayor) long before now.

I'm an independent, so I'm not affiliated with any major political party, but we think that I'm the only Aboriginal person to ever stand in a capital city in the whole country. We’re currently trying to get historians to confirm it. 

When you think of your upbringing as an Aboriginal, what were some of the challenges and gifts?  

[Yvonne:] I'll start with the gifts, in terms of my people, and the misunderstandings of what has taken place, not just in this country, but across the world. 

There are so many issues that people aren't aware of. And until we have those conversations, people don't become aware unless they look further into it. 

When I think about my parents and the hardships they faced in being here, but also giving me opportunities here in Sydney, opportunities weren't always easy. My parents couldn't get a real estate agent to show them property to buy a house because the real estate agents would not show houses to an Aboriginal couple, they just wouldn’t. 

It's pretty astounding to think that this has been my journey. And yet, I've been so accepting of so many others. 

For a culture that is the world's oldest living culture, and yet, we can't even be accepted in my lifetime, I certainly hope that we can be in my grandson's lifetime. We need more acceptance. And rather than dealing with the negatives, start to deal with the positives. That's my strength, that's my resilience, because that's what my people have continued to endure, and we continue to be accepting and inclusive of others around us. It's just the others around us are not always the same to my people.

How do you approach somebody who is open to a discussion about race but doesn’t see themselves as part of the problem? 

[Yvonne:] If I've got someone that I need to work with and we need to share, but I know that they've already got their bias or they think they’re already an expert on me, without even knowing me, it’s really great to have those conversations. I don’t find it to be a challenge, I actually think it’s the best opportunity for me as well as for them. 

That person now has the chance to broaden their own knowledge beyond themselves. And me too. I may have my own perceptions of this person, but I'm also open enough to say, if I'm going to share with you, you also need to share with me. 

Some of those conversations have been a little bit awkward. Until the penny drops for them, then they may see insights that they probably hadn't considered before. 

“My approach has always been let's share, and when you sit down and you break bread with someone, you can have some of those difficult conversations.” 

If I have negative views about a person’s perception of my people, there's a subtlety to their racist behaviours or thoughts. And so I flip that back on that person, and then they stop to think, well that's offensive to me. But then they start to realise that I've mirrored how they have treated me, or how they've shared their views with me. So if I share the same views back onto them, that certainly challenges that person more so than it does me.

When did you first feel the call towards leadership?

[Yvonne:] It’s a funny question, because when I think about leadership, I think about people that are leading, and I don't believe I'm leading. I just think I'm doing. 

So it's an uncomfortable question, because I don't believe I'm leading anyone, anywhere. I'm just doing what I am with others that happen to be walking with me. And that’s been something I’ve done my entire life. I’ve always just been one of everyone else.   

But sometimes, there have been opportunities that have come my way where I’ve said to myself, am I going to shy away from it? Or do I take it on? And I have just taken things on.  And it's not because of confidence or high self esteem. 

It's just like, alright I'll have a go. It's not that I don't have any fear, it's just that I think that there is something to learn from the opportunity and maybe I have something to offer. The path of where I've been in my entire life has already been set for me by so many leaders and so many elders and I pay homage to them and I will continue to follow them. 

You work with a lot of youth, what do you share with them about making a difference in the world? 

[Yvonne:] I think showing up and being present is a key part. I’ve had so many in my life that have always believed. Whether it be young people or older people, or people that are isolated and vulnerable, being present and showing up and making sure that they know that they matter, is an important part of who we all need to be. 

“Sometimes people are dealing with issues that you don't know about, because what we're all dealing with is all beneath the surface. So until we engage and reach out to those around us, we'll never know if we can make the most profound difference.” 

I think that the leadership and the belief in others and the time that you give is one of the greatest gifts you can give in life. This comes up a lot in my work in youth justice. When I go to the detention centres and I see young people. The fact that you're there, and you're having the discussion and sitting down having a yarn, they feel valued. And they should feel valued. 

But they shouldn’t only feel valued because they've come in contact with the criminal justice system, they should be equally as valued outside of that system as well. And I think we need to show up in ways for our fellow humankind. Otherwise, no one will ever do it. We all have the opportunity in our workplaces and in our everyday lives, we can make a difference. And we have to because otherwise, if we leave it up to someone else, it may never get done. 

How do you feel about the term ‘allyship’? 

[Yvonne:] Well, I just think that allyship for me is just supporting others and them supporting me. 

There are people that want to be an ally, because they want to show up in a way but may not necessarily know all the issues. I think there are people that use different terms for different reasons. 

But there are also people that don't want the title of being an ally, they just want to be there. And I think that there are times in life where you can make it more of a presence of you being an ally, or you can actually just have that be who you are in all forms of acceptance and inclusion.

“It's funny, the thing about power and privilege is that a lot of people actually don't think that they have it. And and it's such a challenge. It comes back to whether you walk with others, and actually support all people in their various walks of life.” 

How do we better support each other, human to human? 

[Yvonne:] If people understand a little bit about my people's journey and struggles, it's not something of the past, it's still present day. 

Some people say, racism, it's so overused. And actually, it's not. It's not what's addressed, because people get uncomfortable talking about it. But it shouldn't be uncomfortable for the very people that are not subjected to it. 

And it shouldn't be comfortable for someone like myself, or my children, or my family members to accept it. Because it's not acceptable. And yet, we don't want to address some of these difficult issues. But if we don't address them, we never overcome them. 

One of the key questions I ask in everything that I do is, ‘are we making life easier for each other? Or are we making it harder?’ And that includes our planet and all our surrounds and our workplaces. Are we making the positive difference that we claim we get up every day to do? 

We all owe it to each other to make sure that we are inclusive and we are accepting to others. And if we're not doing that, then how is that going to be for you into the future? 

What’s a big question you’re thinking about right now? 

[Yvonne:] Are we making a difference? Am I truly making a difference? Are the decisions that have being made today going to be a positive or a negative in the future? 

Are we repeating cycles? Or are we changing them? And if we truly are changing them, hand on heart, is it about ego? Is it about self? Or is it about others? I want to leave the world a better place. I need to.  

There’s more to this episode! To hear all of Yvonne’s insights, listen to the full episode on Spotify or Apple Podcasts.

Explore Sprouta’s Activation Pack full of free tools and resources to help you drive impact.

Start The Conversation