Welcome to our special series celebrating Diversity and Inclusion in MercyCare’s employees, volunteers and service users. Our stories are accompanied by Steve Wise’s remarkable photographs, that show how these ordinary, yet extraordinary, people are individually effecting change for themselves and the people around them. We hope you enjoy their personal stories.
Phil Bartlett – MercyCare Aboriginal Consultant
Standing in front of class as the new kid was old news for Phil Bartlett. He attended 13 different schools growing up, from Perth out to Kalgoorlie and up to Derby.
“I had to learn to communicate with new people and while that has been a big learning curve for me, it taught me to be a good communicator with people of all kinds of different backgrounds,” Phil said.
Born on Whadjuk land as Noongar, Phil’s early years weren’t clouded by racism.
“I didn’t see a friend who was non-Aboriginal – I didn’t see him as ‘he is white, I am black’ – I didn’t see that. It was just my mate, my brother, then later when you learn things, you learn things that you shouldn’t have to as a human being.”
While Phil was mastering communication, his education suffered as move-after-move set him back. After fathering his first son at 15, followed quickly by another, he had to grow-up, and fast.
“I had to make better decisions, play the game of life chess, so I learnt to be smart. I had a late start but from there my education just went bang and I got diplomas in counselling and music.”
Music runs through Phil’s veins.
“As a young fella I was like music this, music that, and then before I knew it I was burning myself out trying to become this famous musician and I wasn’t enjoying it anymore.
“Over the past three or four years, and with my brother passing in 2017, I realised I was doing it
all wrong. Now I play, I write, I don’t do pub gigs, I do it because I enjoy doing it.
“Music gives me peace and a sense of building and crossing a bridge to another person.”
Professionally, Phil has harnessed his music and communication skills, building bridges for MercyCare as its Aboriginal Consultant.
Power is in Phil’s music, from his voice that cuts to the soul at MercyCare events, to playing didgeridoo at Early Learning Centres, imparting those first positive memories for the next generation.
“When I walk around and talk to people, that is my way of showing people that there are a lot of good Aboriginal people who are intelligent, who are talented, and great to talk to.
“There’s an attitude out there, perpetuated by the media, that all Aboriginal people are the same. Aboriginal people are as diverse as any other group and I try to demonstrate through my actions and the example I set when I walk around talking to people is that there plenty of us out there who are intelligent, talented and up for a great yarn. We have to understand each other’s stories to move forward.
“I can change somebody’s whole point of view. They may have grown up seeing racism and it might just be normal to them to put certain people down but then they see after a while ‘oh, Phil’s a good person, he’s this and he’s that. I did one of his cultural lessons, maybe I’ve been wrong’.
“This gives me a reason to wake up every morning, to try and change people’s perspective and to bring Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people together.
“Did I experience racism growing up? Yep, plenty, and still do. Usually every day.”
But it’s not the overt racism that can get to Phil. It’s the casual, the underhand, the unconscious bias.
“That’s the worst kind of racism and that happens all the time.”
Phil sees beauty in difference.
“I believe God created all the animals differently, different trees, different days – each day is different – the next day might be that you get the same sunshine but not as much wind – and the good thing about people is that we are all different and that is what makes life interesting.
“Who would want to grow-up and just be around the same thing every day?”