In the early months of this year, a Djab Wurrung woman named Sissy Austin found herself in a distressing situation while running through the serene Lal Lal State Forest. An incident involving an unapprehended and unidentified man marked a pivotal moment, setting the stage for a remarkable journey.
As time progressed, Ms. Austin's resilience and determination shone through, leading her to a significant accomplishment. She has been selected to join an exclusive all-Indigenous running team set to participate in the renowned New York Marathon, a testament to her strength and spirit.
A noteworthy event took place on a Sunday, marked by a 5-kilometer run that began at the symbolic Olympic Rings situated on the tranquil Lake Wendouree. The run's trajectory culminated at the Ballarat Multicultural Centre, encapsulating a powerful objective—to empower Indigenous women in the face of challenges and adversity.
Speaking about her participation in the marathon, Ms. Austin emphasized that it is more than a physical feat; it stands as a demonstration of her personal strength and unity with her community. She emphasized the broader significance of the event in the context of violence faced by Indigenous women across the nation. While acknowledging this stark reality, she also aimed to highlight the unyielding strength and resilience that defines their identity.
The Loud Fence Movement, an organization dedicated to raising awareness about clergy abuse, stood as a source of support for Ms. Austin during her run. Notably, runners, including accomplished Commonwealth Games long-distance athlete Steve Moneghetti, paused their journey to tie ribbons in solidarity at Saint Patrick's Cathedral on Ballarat's bustling main street.
In the aftermath of the attack, Ms. Austin firmly expressed her unwavering determination, stating, "No one ever stole my love for running from me after that [attack]." This sentiment echoed her resolve to overcome adversity and use her journey to inspire empowerment and healing.
With sights set on the impending New York Marathon, Ms. Austin diligently devoted herself to training over the past months. Her determination to join the all-Indigenous team at the world's largest marathon in November was evident as she embraced new challenges, including unconventional training methods such as deep water running and gym workouts, which were previously uncharted territory for her.
A poignant conclusion to the five-kilometre run was marked by an insightful panel discussion. This engaging dialogue drew the participation of activists, Indigenous leaders, and notable public speakers, attracting a diverse audience of hundreds from across the state.
Among the panellists were prominent figures, including Gunditjmara and Bundjalung woman Tracey Evans, representing the First Peoples' Assembly of Victoria. Thelma Austin, a visionary Gunditjmara woman and creator of the Blak Queens movement, lent her perspective to the discourse. Feminist writer Clementine Ford further enriched the conversation with her insights.
Senator Lidia Thorpe, a woman of varied Indigenous heritage encompassing Djab Wurrung, Gunnai, and Gunditjmara backgrounds, provided a noteworthy contribution. Senator Thorpe eloquently encapsulated the core theme of the discussion, asserting, "The topic was violence does not define us … and it doesn't."
Amidst this exchange of ideas, Senator Thorpe highlighted the remarkable journey of Sissy Austin, hailing her as a genuine champion. Ms. Austin's story serves as a beacon of inspiration, resonating not only with Djab Wurrung women but also with countless individuals, particularly women and young women, who have encountered and surmounted adversity.
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Photo Courtesy ABC News
Courtesy ABC News