top of page
Issue #12

25 March 2023

"Truth burns": a First Nations leader calls out misinformation and why I keep thinking about it


What is it to be gracious when seriously ungracious and disrespectful behaviour is directed to the very heart of your life, to your personal or professional identity? I’m not sure, but I’m trying to work it out. Generosity and kindness, accompanied by grit and courage and a willingness to stand up for oneself – these are values I try to live by.


I’ve submitted my health professional education courses to the relevant Colleges in Australia this week, and they are now approved by the RACGP – the Masterclasses in Neuroprotective Developmental Care (the Breastfeeding one and the series on Unsettled Infants/Perinatal Mental Health), and also NDC Accreditation, all commencing 5 July 2023. I also plan to commence a Maintenance of NDC Accreditation on that date. If you would like to find out more while my website build is underway (being steadily created by my talented niece and her IT team), please email Tom at


I founded a charity as a platform for my work in 2013 because it seemed to me that at a time of life when parents often don’t know who to trust, a health promotion charity would position my research and my work as something of integrity. I intended my work to stand above the push and pull of market forces, which frequently distort the narratives and motivations of those desperately wanting or needing businesses to thrive. Commercial drivers permeate every aspect of the care that parents with babies receive in the community and the effects on truth-telling remain largely unregulated.


I have also been profoundly committed to gathering teams together and empowering others, supporting health professionals to go out into the world and make a difference in the care of women with babies, parents with babies, supporting parents to come together and care for each other.


As Nic Frances discusses in his book The end of charity (I hope I’m representing his work accurately here – take a look for yourself) there are many ways in which a charity can be painfully and even accidentally co-opted by the personal needs of volunteers or those paid to be in positions of power, because they don’t have enough time to give despite good intentions or they lack knowledge in the field or lack governance experience or join to meet certain personal needs or are derailed by a particular kind of personality who wreaks havoc. It is possible that those in power are so removed from the capacity to understand the gritty and granular needs of the charity’s day-to-day operations that much of it remains invisible and incomprehensible to them. In the end, a charity may even threaten committed folks’ capacity to work hard and make a meaningful contribution because the needs of those who hold power, paid or unpaid, dominate.


Professor Marcia Langton, a prominent First Nations leader, gave a moving speech yesterday about misinformation, white hair flowing over her shoulders. She was addressing suggestions put forward by critics of the proposed Voice to Parliament that previous First Nations advisory bodies had not been effective. She said there is no evidence to support that assertion, and that in fact there were ways in which those bodies have been very effective. Professor Langton then mentioned another First Nations leader Galarrwuy Yunupingu.


“He taught me many years ago [that] you know when you’re being told the truth because the truth burns,” she said.


I was struck by the strength of her words. Truth burns. Does it?


She went on to say that “truth is very much an Aboriginal value and the Torres Strait Islander value, across the country.” I understand what she means, because I learnt in the late 1980s when I worked as a GP in indigenous health that First Nations peoples – the hundreds of nations that comprise Australian First Peoples – are the oldest continuous culture on this earth, sustained by values which directly oppose the values of market forces dominant in our society today.


Truth burns. I think Professor Langton was talking about truth as an antidote to a long intergenerational silencing of the bloody, violent history upon which our nation is founded.


But her words also made me think of the controlled smoothness of narratives driven by corporate values (whether in a charity or a small business or multinational corporation), which aim to manipulate the members or the public. The narrative is smooth because it is shaped and polished to tell whatever will secure people’s loyalty and therefore commercial success, regardless of facts (thereby securing comfortable salaries, let’s say).


I believe that generations younger than mine are passionately committed to finding ways to tell the truth, even if it burns. In my lifetime I’ve watched the Australian electorate learn to speak the shocking science-based truths of environmental and climate catastrophe, for example. I am confident that we will vote for a First Nations Voice to parliament. But still those in power in any context, big or small, tend to believe that it's necessary to take control of the narrative by silencing dissent as quickly as possible, and then promoting alternative stories with a calm authority about the one who disappeared from view.


I am tremendously grateful to live in a tolerably functional democracy where this kind of silencing only occurs on a small and psychological scale to people like me, privileged as I am because of my accidental place in history. It may damage incomes and reputations and capacity to contribute professionally, nasty all the same – but trivial, nothing at all when you think about the devastating impact colonisation and the silencing of history continue to have on First People’s lives today, or when you think about the murderous silencing of dissent which occurs in other countries all around the planet even as I write.


I’ll continue on in this new phase of my professional life as best I can, holding to my values, trusting in life. So much is unpredictable and unknown in life anyway, and I’ve learnt to trust in strange turn of events. I’ve learnt to trust in my capacity to respond to whatever it is that life asks of me … more or less …. some days more than others … and I am profoundly grateful to all those who have reached out in support, because it really helps. A meaningful life will always bring waves of pain and darkness, alongside lashings of joy and fulfilment. For me, it might mean standing alone professionally after a decade spent loving a charity into life. For you, it might mean standing by your own parenting values even when others suggest that you are doing it wrong.


Holding to our values, drawing the line when they are violated, speaking out from integrity because of our belief in our own work or our respect for First Peoples or our love of a child. Even if, when we speak it, our truth burns.

bottom of page