What does it mean to have your voice heard – truly heard? Why is it important that our communities are the heart of decision-making and leadership for outcomes that will affect us? This October 2023, Australians will be asked a simple question: should we recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in our national constitution? As we head to the polls and the campaign heats up, we wanted to ask both Indigenous and non-Indigenous people why they will be voting Yes. In this collection, diverse storytellers came together to share their personal and real-life experiences that is motivating their support for the proposed Voice to Parliament. No matter what happens at this referendum, whether a majority of Australians vote yes or no – their voices continue to be a call for change. A call for a better, more just future… For an Australia that celebrates and recognises Indigenous sovereignty.
This story was shared by Wardandi Bibbulmun artist and singer Jarred Wall, otherwise known as “Boox Kid”. Jarred’s story is about his growing unease with the youth justice system and his discovery of strength and unity in Nyungar language and song.
This story was recorded at Edmund Rice Centre Mirrabooka in October 2023.
More about the storyteller…. Jarred Wall is a Wardandi Bibbulmun cross genre artist engaging in various art forms, primarily as a Singer/Songwriter and Producer under the name of ‘Boox Kid’. He is also a general manager in Aboriginal services at Anglicare WA and has a background working in social services and youth justice.
Hear Our Voice was made possible with funding from the Australia Communities Foundation.
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Copyright © 2023 Jarred Wall
Photo by Duncan Wright.
This story and corresponding images have been licensed to the Centre for Stories by the Storyteller. For reproduction and distribution of this story/image please contact the Centre for Stories.
View Story Transcript
JW: By acknowledging that this referendum is actually pretty taxing and exhausting, and particularly for a mob. So to be sharing stories hits some pretty personal ones as well. It’s commendable that, you know, my mob do want to do this and I say mob and I mean that collectively. Everyone here today, but particularly for Aboriginal people. And that’s it’s a sad thing, I guess, because the referendum didn’t actually need to be that way, didn’t need to be exhausting. But it has turned out like that.
So, my name is Jarred Wall but my family name is Hill. That’s the Aboriginal side of my family and we’re from the Wardandi Bibbulmun area of the Southwest of WA which is like Bunbury, Busselton. Mum was born down in Collie, I was born up in Whadjuk country and I live in Walyalup in Freo.
But yeah, like my brother said, I’ve kind of I’ve worked in different fields. I spent 15 years working for Youth Justice, now work for Anglicare WA, but I’ve also throughout that whole time being a performer, I’ve been an artist and been singing, playing in different realms in my own original music, and then with WA opera as well. And my dad gave me my first guitar when I was eight years old, and that’s kind of where I got my love of music.
And I had an older brother who used to play in an acappella R&B group back in the nineties. And if anyone’s from Queensland, they were called Aim For More, it was literally AIM. 4. MORE… but they were pretty big. They had the moves and all. So that’s kind of where I had my love for music and, and Mum.
Yeah, I guess I come from a family that’s we’ve always wanted to achieve things through adversity and I mention that because it will come more important later in my story. But my mum has worked here with numerous years lecturing in universities. She has a degree in, what she tells me is psychology… She told me the other day, I can’t remember the whole name now. I said, yeah sure. She’ll kill me for that. And then, and then my brother’s an associate professor at Curtin University, my sister curates the Aboriginal Arts Collection at the WA Gallery.
But yeah, so this story probably starts back though before I was born. It starts back prior to 1967, and if anyone knows why, that’s an important time. I think you all do. And the reason is because that’s when Aboriginal people were actually started to be counted. My story starts before that, so that’s, my mum was born in 1953, so Mum was born in Collie, and when they were about five, she and her siblings, they all lived up at Point Sampson near Roebourne. And my pop Herbert Hill, he was conscripted to go to war at a time when he couldn’t actually be counted.
So when he came back from fighting, he couldn’t share a drink with his comrades, couldn’t get to bars. He didn’t have the same rights. But probably one of the saddest things that happened and this is not an uncommon story for mob, but he came home and the kids were gone, have been stolen. They were taken by welfare, by police to Roebourne lock up and down to Perth to the receiving home in Mount Lawley.
If anyone knows, it was called the depot on the corner of Walcott Street in Mt Lawley. It exists now as a youth justice centre, believe it or not. And you think to yourself, how therapeutic is that? But she then went to Sister. Kate’s. And she stayed there for a number of years. Sister Kate’s is the home that was in Queens Park. It’s still there, and they stayed there for a number of years.
Mum went to one family, the sisters to another family, and the brother stayed there until he was a teenager and there was lots of abuse and different things that went on. But throughout that time, throughout that they always taught us values and we always wanted to know. Mum always had a desire for us to achieve and she didn’t want to see those things happen to us.
So then we kind of grew up. We went to Queensland when I was I was born here but went to Queensland and spent about ten years living over there because my dad, was going into the Army. And I want to give you one particular memory moment from my time over there because it’s kind of a defining moment within a little suburb called Silk Stone, which is in Ipswich in the nineties, and I was this little black fella that had walk up to the local shops in my feet and, and I’d wonder up there and I’d go up to the shop, the shop attendant, there was a fish and chip shop there.
So I go to this little fish and chip shop walk up. I’d say I just went to dolls with chips and I had the money and I’d give the money to the attendant and then they’d give me the change back, but the attendant would never give it to me in my hand. She never, never hand it to me. It was always slapped down on the bench, take two steps back because you couldn’t touch me. So that person, they had red hair. You might know them. Her name was Pauline Hanson. So this is just prior to when Pauline was going into politics. And here I am, this little, I don’t know, eight year old young fella who had just experienced his first little outright bit of racism.
I was like, what the hell am I doing? I was buying chips, but I bring that up because it wasn’t the first experience wasn’t the only experience for rather and it isn’t uncommon for Aboriginal people, but it was defining because it did show me that there’s a lot of injustice for not a lot of reasons. And what kind of happened, I guess from there on is I always watched Mum working hard in her professions of wanting to achieve for mob. She worked for Queensland Police back when we were over there in a time when it wasn’t very nice to work for the police and she then worked in mental health, she’s taught in universities and all sorts of things.
And then one day I was working in bars. I think I was about like 21 and I was I’ve always done music and different things, but I also wanted to other things and studied music. I went to uni and did sports science for a year. I have no idea, what did I think? I thought: I am good sport. That makes sense. I’ll do that. But then mum kind of pushed me into this, but I was very agreeable back then. She made me do the public service test. So I give it a go and then I gave it a go and I got my first placement working for the Department of Justice for a place called Clara Youth Support Services.
And I worked as a clerical and then I worked up in admin and then I went on to do roles as youth justice officer where and supervise young kids on court orders. And then I’d go on to work in statutory settings, diversionary settings. I worked in Banksia Hill [prison], which I’m sure you all have heard of, and I spent 15 years working in the department and largely I really enjoyed those is because I loved the kids that I worked with.
Like the Uluru Statement says, these are really good kids. We are not innately criminal, and I wanted to achieve the best I could for my mob. And throughout this time I always did music and I always sang, always performed and I always loved doing that and being a role model in this role because it’s where I felt truly happy as well. So I had this balance that was difficult, but and I went through lots of highs and lows. I’d always come from doing shows and I complete high and then come back to a bit of a low because I’d seen some of the despair and injustice from systems that were built. And then it kind of became pretty clear after 15 years when people saying the systems are broken, they’re actually not broken, the systems are not broken. The systems were never built for us to achieve. They were designed that way.
So 15 years went on and the last two years I was working, managing a youth bail centre and a team that worked in the Children’s Court and it was the first time in the last two years my roles within Justice where I felt really, really challenged both morally and by the work that I was doing and if anyone knows legislation and in government, the Bail Act in particular, it’s incredibly archaic document that was written in 1984 has had minimal adjustment since that time. I found myself working a bit of an uphill battle and I felt in the first time in years that I was actually contributing to the problem. And so I felt like I was directly impacting kids going into detention, which for me was heartbreaking because the last thing I wanted to see was more than custody.
So coupled with that is that in the last two years from 2021, I’ve got an amazing opportunity. I’ve always performed, like I said, so when an opportunity came up where I had a chance to apply audition rather for an opera, there was an opera called Kulbardi Wardong, which in Noongar language means the Magpie and the Crow. So, it was an opera written by aunty Gina Williams and Guy Ghouse. And I mention this because what I was experiencing at the time in my conflict and then also going into this audition was incredibly important for this story because I went into this audition thinking, oh yeah, this is another gig, I’ll be right.
But then I auditioned and I got the part of Wardong, which is a crow, and I remember going into rehearsals with aunty Gina, and we had the first couple of hurdles with the WASO Youth Orchestra. And if you’ve ever heard an orchestra live right in front of you, it’s amazing. So here I was about to sing the first take of what was my aria in the opera called Nyunang Kwoort Warra, which means wicked heart.
So I sang this, and in this first rehearsal with aunty Gina, what originally was just another gig I thought became something so much more. I was speaking my language, I was learning my culture all over again. My mom used to teach me course when I was young and I used to do dances when I was young. Back in Queensland, I got to learn how to make soap again, but I’d done that kind of stuff in a long time.
So to come back full circle and to engage in something so enriching was the most amazing experience like you’ve had I’ve had ever. And that was my turning point, I guess. I think I realize how important culture is and how more languages and what I was doing and how important it was for my people, but also for non-Aboriginal people too. So when we did the opera, we did five shows at His Majesty’s Theater and then we also did regional touring around the state for the next two years. And each place that we played at each town there was a banner which was called the Children’s Choir, and we had a children’s choir which consisted of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal kids, mostly non-Aboriginal kids.
So it was an amazing experience for myself, learning language. I also got to see all these young coming as these children learning language as well, non-Aboriginal kids, which to me is pretty damn important and pretty amazing because I think of things like the curriculum these days.
Yeah, I think of how the Voice can potentially be a mechanism for change. I think about legislation and how it can change, and I think about, okay, the Voice is something that can make a real difference because I think about how great would it be for in schools and part of the curriculum is, okay, we’re going to be going into new language sessions now, how reaching that would be.
So for me, I made a conscious decision December last year. I resigned from Department of Justice and I started working with Anglicare, where we’re now four days a week in a role where I’m not just focusing on offending, I mean focusing on all the hope and aspirations of my people and true self-determination, and they really foster me and what I do as a musician as well is I know how important it is, I know how important the culture is and the music is to me.
So for me, that was my turning point. And it was just it was great to be able to share language. So when I want to give to you guys is a message of hope because I truly see the Voice as something that is hopeful. I think about language and how inspiring it can be. And I want to share with you a song because I truly feel that Aboriginal people deserve their rightful place in this country. And if you’ve read the Uluru Statement, our culture is a gift to this country and we are the strength of this country.