“It’s always been there but I’d never really focused on the heritage side of my culture. I’ve always stuck with the social side of it; the justice side of it; the education side of it; the employment side of it”.
On the surface, Phil Sullivan is an Aboriginal Heritage Officer working with National Parks and Wildlife Service and the Office of Environment and Heritage. He’s charged with repatriating Aboriginal remains back to country, and conservation work, which includes restoring burial sites, protecting rock art, reporting scar trees, and preserving indigenous artefacts. Moreover, he plays a part in the legalities of Aboriginal place names and matters relating to cultural heritage. Phil has held the position for twenty two years.
“It’s the best thing that ever happened to me because it fulfils my identity. Then I just knew that I was Ngempa/Murawarri, that I was Aboriginal, and now I know a lot more”.
Phil’s job, however, is only the spearhead of the role he plays in Bourke. His restoration work extends beyond tangible historical sites, to the restoration of indigenous voices in the community.
“What’s really missing, is the voice from the Aboriginal people when the issue is about them. Their voice is missing. So I try and encourage that voice”
With roots on both sides of the Darling River, Murawarri on the northern side, and Ngempa from the ‘Bourke’ side, Phil has grown up acutely aware of heritage. However, it was only when he started working as an Aboriginal Heritage Officer that the social direction of his people become a focus for him. By extension, he’d like to see it become a topic of importance for young people, too. Today, he regularly speaks at schools in Bourke, and is a notable character in the community on the front of indigenous issues.
“I make sure that my voice, when I speak, resonates with the rest of the mob”.
Phil holds high hopes for Bourke’s future, and implores conversation between indigenous and non-indigenous members of the community. At the forefront of these discussions, he wants to see honesty and truthfulness, and young people having the confidence to speak up.