Nat Heath on Ironman Triathlons and Indigenous Identity

ANDREW LEIGH, HOST: I first got to know Nat through my involvement with the indigenous marathon project. He's just the most relaxed bloke, somebody who is incredibly comfortable with his extraordinary athletic ability, and Nat has knocked off no fewer than six Iron Men run multiple marathons and can run a marathon in less than three hours. He is the manager for the Aboriginal services team at the New South Wales Department of Education, and has completed a Bachelor of Science, social science Majoring in Aboriginal studies, sociology and social policy. He’s somebody who's deeply steeped in the worlds of athletics, indigenous education, and somebody who at this particular moment in history, I thought could offer us some really fresh and thoughtful insights. Now, thanks so much for joining us in the good life podcast today.

NAT HEATH, FOUNDER AND CO-PRESIDENT OF TRIMOB AND INDIGENOUS MARATHON FOUNDATION BOARD DIRECTOR: Thanks for having me. Andrew. Just want to acknowledge that on meeting on Bidgigal country here in Sydney, currently based over in Maroubra, beautiful little suburb here in Sydney. And yeah, Big thanks for obviously giving up your time and having the interest to I guess, share my story and have a yarn with you.

LEIGH: I should acknowledge too I’m speaking from the traditional lands of the Ngunnawal people and pay my respects to their elders. And now I wanted to start with your family's story. Your great grandmother, I understand was a domestic servant for the dreaded AO Nevile in Western Australia. Tell me about her and him.

HEATH: Well, I mean, my story with her is only I guess I never had the opportunity to meet my great grandmother. Her name was originally Lilian Wongawal. But when she was removed, they changed her name to a more English name to book it.

And she passed away at quite a young age. So I never had the opportunity to meet her. But I've, I guess learn more about her experiences, from particularly my auntie who was my grandfather's sister. And so she was she was born in a little town called Willona, which is in the western desert in Western Australia. And she was removed under the Aboriginal Protections Act in Western Australia. I'm not sure what year but she was removed as a two year old and with her two sisters. And she was taken to more river native settlement, which is the one I guess kind of made famous by movie rabbit proof fence.

And her two sisters were a bit older and they two escaped the I guess the mission or reserve there. And she was left behind because she was only two and so she was trained up to be a domestic servant. And just to Scott Morrison - that's essentially slavery. Just to kind of amplify his poor judgement in what he said the other day.

But yeah, so she became AO Neville’s domestic servant. And this was before he became the chief protector of Aboriginal people. And I guess what's interesting about her story is so like in those times him is I guess, the conduit to her. Her whole life is controlled by the venchi protective Aboriginal people, as well as Aboriginal people in that state at the time and in every other state and territory prior to 1967

And, you know, any requests that she wanted. So if she wanted a new pair of shoes or new clothes, she would have to write a letter. Or she would have to ask AO nevile to request that and he never would put in his recommendations as, I guess kind of his her master to the chief protective, but the recommendations were generally not to afford her those luxuries. And anyway, there's a there's documentation between AO Neville and the chief protector of the time, stating that, you know, Lillian, my great grandmother had met a bloke by the name of Philip Health, who’s my great grandfather.

Now, during that era, most of us are now aware that Luckily, Shea was founded on their water strike policy, and they were trying to make this beautiful, white, pristine, I guess country and culture and Aboriginal people were seen as a problem to that, so that the idea was that full blood people would die out. And they had to get rid of this mixed race of Aboriginal people. And the idea was to have Aboriginal people integrate with non indigenous people, marry non Indigenous people have children, eventually, this aboriginality we'd be bred out.

And so my great grandmother told AO Neville, at the time that Phillip Heath was an Englishman. And so there's documentation of him writing that to the chief protector. And as the sort of weeks and months progressed, eventually, there's a letter written to the chief protective for AO Neville saying, turns out the Phillip Health is actually an Aboriginal man. And Lillian has, I guess, taken off with him.

And AO Neville tried to prevent that relationship from happening. But my great grandfather, Philip pace, kind of told him to stick it and that he wasn't going to be able to stop them.

LEIGH: Wow, one for Lillian and Phillips score zero for AO Neville, that's a great story.

HEATH: And I love it in that he then becomes the chief protector of Aboriginal people, but yet he could not control his own domestic servant.

And I just think it shows the strength and resilience of, I guess, my family, but I think that captures kind of the strength and resilience my family and of our people in general. We are the oldest living remaining culture in the world. And we've had a lot of challenges over the last 150 200 years, and yet we still stand and what's amazing is we we still forgive and we still bring people such as yourself and non indigenous people into our communities with nothing but love.

LEIGH: Let's jump forward a couple of generations. You're not raised by your by your biological parents, you're raised by your grandfather, and  tell us about how that came to pass.

HEATH: Yeah, so I’ll try to give context. So my dad who raised me, and who I call my dad, he was essentially my Nana's husband/ partner - that they never formally married, but they were together. So my grandfather, who was Aboriginal, he moved over to Sydney as a merchant seaman. And he married my grandmother, who I call my nana, And they had three children.

And the eldest child being my father, whose name was Desmond Heath, and he unfortunately so he grew up in the actual suburb of Bronte, which you would know it today. It's quite a wealthy community or area. During the period of the 70s, there was a huge heroin issue within that community, which stemmed from the surf club, and unfortunately for my father, and also my uncle, middle child, he, they both fell victim to heroin.

And during that period, my father actually met my mother in a drug rehabilitation clinic. I think they are in kangaroo Valley and I was created. My mother had myself and I've got an older sister, who's a couple of years older than us. And unfortunately, she was also a heroin addict and she being an addict, needed to go get a fix. And she left my sister and I, I guess with no guardian or no one looking after us, she was picked up by the place and the police end up contacting my dad's mom and also my sisters, my grandparents too, but I didn't have much to do with a contacted as well and so they took my sister my mother's side and my dad's side took me.

Not long after that my father passed away in a car accident. He was living up at sort of a Southwest rocks and he was buried at Foster. And we we, I guess moved up there when I was just about one year just before I turned one, I think so not long after he was buried.

And, you know, I was I was really fortunate in my, my dad who raised me, treated me as if I was his own child, he gave me everything all the love possible, taught me to, I don't know how many different sporting activities, I played to every single sport that was possible. And he he would just wouldn't bat an eye and just make it happen.

And I distinctly remember him as a when I was young. And when my nanna was still alive, he was working two jobs. So he moved up there. He was a pest controller during the day and at night, he would clean in the local what's called the Pacific palms, rec clubs. So he came home early morning, have a quick nap and is back out working. So unbelievable human.

And my nanna end up passing away when I was seven. And then it was just me my dad. So he we lived together until I was 18. Going through Pacific parts primary school and foster high and and then when I was 18, he said, you know, you can't stick around here and you head off to uni and end up at Newcastle uni.

LEIGH: That incredible work ethic to be working two jobs but also to make time to take your kid to sport is something very special. Tell us about your experience at school when first Pacific palms and then Foster how conscious were you of your indigenous heritage? And how did other kids respond?

HEAT: Yeah, it's interesting. I guess being raised by two non indigenous people and and predominantly, obviously my dad who is non indigenous, he didn’t really understand and understand what that meant, which is no fault of his own.

And it wasn't really an issue for quite a long period of time. So going to palms primary, everyone was just kids, but I was the only Aboriginal kid. There was a couple other kids who were dark as well. So they were their at dad was Balinese.

But it kinda got to a period might have been around you for it started and you five it kind of became a big issue. Kids started kind of asking, or so what's your dad? Is he your dad? And you'd have to explain that, that he's not my biological father.

And they're like, well, how come you're dark? And I'm like, Oh, I'm Aboriginal. So I always knew as Aboriginal, I just probably didn't really know what that actually meant. And so it wasn't didn't seem like that big of an issue. But then the next sort of day, and then the weeks and then the years leading up after that, I was made quite aware that that was from some people's perspective, not a good thing.

And so came the racial or racist remarks such as protect mainly ‘Abo’, ‘coon’, ‘monkey’, ‘ape’ all those sorts of things.

LEIGH: What year is this? Now? When are we when are we talking about?

HEATH: So yeah, you look at 95/96/ 97

LEIGH: it is remarkable that kids? Yeah, I mean, you'd hope that kids wouldn't ever consider that acceptable on the playground today. But it's, it's remarkable that, you know, we're just talking about 2324 years ago, and and people are using words that belong in the 19th century if they belong anywhere at all.

HEATH: Yeah. And they knew it was wrong, because they would run as soon as they’d say it

LEIGH: So they’re racist and gutless.

HEATH: yeah, so And when you're one out, because I was felt like I was an idiot, like the one person they're like, you kind of you want to fight. I wasn't a fighter, but you kind of wanted to fight people, but no one was prepared to do that, which might have been lucky for me.

Yeah, like they knew what they're doing. And they knew they were getting a reaction. And the difficult thing probably for me as a kid is I didn't really have anyone to go to around that because, my dad, I never told my dad about it. I didn't tell him until I was probably late 20s that that happens.

So it became quite a big issue because what ended up happening is, there was a couple of kids so this was by the time I was in Year 6. There's a few younger kids who are my mates today, like they've learned they've grown up, you know, times of change. But I naturally wanted to fight a couple of these kids and they went home and told  the parents. so the parents started ringing a school saying that I was like trying to find their kids.

So when the principal came, we got to the bottom of it, then it all flipped and the school was to be on us really good. Like they really didn't say me, the issue that I saw those children is the issue. And we're like, well, we're quite happy for you to come in. But your your kids have actually been saying racist things. So my dad was never contacted. I didn't want him to be involved. I didn't ask him to be involved. I felt like it was something that I kind of needed to deal with.

LEIGH: It's a big thing as a primary schooler to take that on your shoulders.

HEATH: Well, yeah, but I don’t know how dad was gonna be, like he wouldn't, it'd be hard for him to relay. I will say one thing at it at an older stage show when I was in high school, which I guess we'll move into that the the narrative pf my life changed that all of a sudden, I went from being the only Aboriginal kid to you got to foster. So foster has got quite a large Aboriginal community, and they got a mission. So big Aboriginal community, and then you've also got a lot of more Aboriginal people living off the mission. So you go from being the only kid to all of a sudden, there's like 70 or 80 kids.

And that was amazing. I think when I first started your seven, I was like, 30, Koori, kids, in our year. And all of a sudden, you kind of, I just naturally just hung out with Koori fellas. And I just felt connected and engaged. And there's like, I've kind of found my people. I've still had groups of friends who are non Indigenous, but there was just a natural thing around that, which I can't really explain.

But the one thing that did happen in high school, when there was no Aboriginal people around, they felt like they had the ability to be racist, or to make racist jokes. And one of the nicknames that I and I never liked it that ended up being created, was actually ‘n***** Nat’. And it's the only time I think my dad really became aware of issues that might have been happening with us. And one of the mates actually rang up and said is  n***** Nat that there. And he never made that mistake again, because my dad gave him a fairly decent spray

Yeah. And my dad's always been good, I guess in regards to you know, saying what's right and what's wrong. But that was probably the only time that I think he had heard it himself. And I think that kid thought it was okay to do like he didn't see it as an issue. And I have highlighted to one that I wasn't really happy with that name. And that's kind of I don't know, if you follow that.

My name that then progressed from that actually became ‘Native Nat’. And that's kind of stuck with us. And I don't actually mind that. But it originated from quite a racist name prior to that.

LEIGH: And how much was sport playing a role in terms of your identity at this stage? You've always been pretty sporty, right?

HEATH: Yeah, yeah. So that's all I was interested in. So if you look through pretty much the majority of my school reports, it said if Nat was cared half as much about school as he does sport he would do really well academically.

And sport is still but it's all I really love to do it smart, biggest passion, biggest interest. Like if I could have played sport, like from nine to three o'clock at school, I would have. And I essentially did like I would get the school. One of the one of our in high school, our buses, the first one to arrive. We used to get there about eight o'clock, I would play sport for an hour in the morning, we would do class for a couple hours, we'd have recess, I would play sport, lunchtime, we played sport, and then our bus was the last leg. So we'd have another hour where I would play sport again. And then once I got home, then I'd go to training. So I was playing sport.

And I think that for all kids, when you start your age, I guess puberty, you are trying to work out who you are. And then if you chalk on the fact that you're a black fella too and during those times, we didn't learn heaps about Aboriginality and culture, definitely not through school.

And whilst we all talked about and were proud to be black fellows at high school, I don't feel like we really learned too much about our culture. So you're trying to understand who you are within your Aboriginal identity too.

And whilst we all talked about and we're proud to be black fellows at high school, I don't feel like we really learned too much about our culture. So you're trying to understand who you are within your Aboriginal identity too. And for me, I I wasn't from that country.

Growing up in foster, I knew I was from WA but I didn't really understand where and what that meant. And wasn't sure really, when I was older, I got a better understanding of who my people are and, you know, some of the achievements and things that I've done. But going back to the sport, yeah, the sport was I kind of, I guess, a platform for success. Like, I represented this in high school, senior basketball, senior athletics, I didn't go the cross country, but I qualified for cross country. Represented cricket, I think I represented for in the school rugby league teams. So I played by every single sport that was possible for that school.

And it was just for me, it was a way of getting out of school, out a class, but also just where I felt like I could have the greatest success and what made me happiest as well.

LEIGH: It was in your 20s that you contracted Guillain Barre syndrome, which sounds like a nightmare experience for any serious athlete. What was that like to be just one moment running around and the next moment knockedflat on your back?

HEATH: Yeah, so that was, that's probably one of the scariest moments, I guess, of my life for quite a

period of time. So that was in 2010. So 10 years ago, the issue I had Guillain Barre syndrome, and for those that don't know what Guillain Barre syndrome is, it’s essentially when your, your immune system attacks your nervous system, and what it does is it causes a paralysis through your body, which starts at your extremities.

So for me, I was playing rugby union by this stage, I was in Newcastle as playing first grade. And anyway, we had a I just came back from Northeast and and when I was up at the gamma festival, and this was in August, and I remember warming up for one of the games I was playing. And I kept having pins and needles in my feet. And I kept thinking my feet were cold. So I'd take off my boots and was trying to warm up a fee. And as the week sort of progressed, so we played that game over the next week, I was going to training and this sensation of pins and needles was slowly saying to, I guess go at most like arms and legs. So more up to the main parts of your body. And on the Tuesday we had a training session, and I can feel it getting worse, but it was okay I was making do Thursday, I went all of a sudden, within quite a quick period will training or playing touch with you just a warm up, go through a gap.

And then all of a sudden got caught by someone who was like, Oh, that's unusual, I should have called me. And then as a training sort of progress will join these drills. And I couldn't keep up with the forwards that I couldn't catch the ball. I couldn't kick the ball I just became really uncoordinated.

So I went to the doctor's a few times in that way to try to work out what's going on. By Sunday, I was meant to be playing footy. And I rang up the coach and said, I don't think I'm going to be able to play and I'd woke up and I had essentially Bell's palsy. So half my face wasn’t working. And my dad came down and I was still going to go to the football game and watching he said you've got to go to hospital and took us to john hunter hospital.

And the thing with Guillain Barre a syndrome, it's not like you can just have a blood test and go, Oh, you have Guillain Barre a syndrome, they have to essentially rule at every single disease, cancer, HIV, they've got to go through a whole heap of testing to try to work out if it's possibly the cell that so for that wait period, it took about a week to diagnose.

And I kept progressively getting worse and no one sort of come to us and said, Oh, it's potentially Guillain Barre a syndrome, this is what it may look like. So I'm standing, I guess, potentially ready myself that the fact that this could be it. And it was, so it's kind of funny in that, because I was a kind of rare case, you'd have all the student doctors coming in. So they'd be willing in these groups of doctors to come and see me about three different groups a day. So I was like, obviously, whatever, I've got weird, because they've got a lot of people coming and seeing me.

And I guess the scary thing about that was always particularly worried for my father, because that would have been really, really difficult for him. And that was my biggest concern was him.

But anyway, fast forward, we, after about a week we get the diagnosis of what it is, and the doctors say, you know, the likelihood is you won't have the same strength, the same endurance and the same speed. And that really became for me, I've always been if you tell me I can't do something. Then I tried to defy that.

Like if People tell me to do something, I won't do it. But if you tell me not to do it now do it. So, bit of reverse psychology. But so I just kind of took that as a challenge and you know, I lost the ability to walk I was essentially in a wheelchair for a period of time. And when you lose the ability to walk the one thing well for me was running, I just wanted to be out run again. And I was like if I ever can, like that's the one thing I just want to have the freedom of being out run.

So I set myself a couple of goals while I was in hospital. One was to firstly walk again. The second was to play first grade footy again, because I saw that as a test of strength and speed. And the third one, which was the endurance aspect was wanted to do a triathlon because where I grew up in Foster was where, you know, sort of was the home of Iron Man triathlon in Australia, and it was something that I always thought I would do. And it kind of just planted a seed for me after that to test myself doing a triathlon. And from there, I end up signing up doing my first triathlon.

About six, seven months later in Newcastle, came nearly last but it kind of seed was planted to keep doing more of it.

LEIGH: So most of the people listening to our podcast won't have done a triathlon themselves. Tell us what you what you love about triathlons.

HEATH: Um, well, it's a combination of three sports. So that's, that's always a good start. So it's swimming, cycling and running. So it tests you across three different sports. So you can be terrible at or three or you can be good at all three, depending on the amount of work you do, but I've always played team sports and I do dearly miss team sports, I do love to go back and play team sports when I can.

But the thing about triathlon is, you're accountable to yourself, same as running. If you do not do the work, you don't get the results and the less you do, the worse your day is gonna be. And I've always been a competitive person. And when I started triathlon, I was terrible at it. And I was like, this is like really the only sport I've been terrible at and I can't have that.

And it just sort of like, I kind of got addicted in a sport. It is a really addictive sport. And that's probably something I did pick up from my parents in them being addicted to drugs, I became my addiction, sport, and triathlon. If you've got an addictive personality you can do quite well in it because you can you become addicted to the training. And I just love the fact that it's the challenge the algae to and also there's a there is a really good social aspect about it like you can make a lot of great people through the sport.

And for me, the big thing that I ended up I got hooked on triathlon, I started YouTubing like the Hawaiian I'm and I then all of a sudden, my goal became I need to do the Hawaiian Ironmen and, you know, work really hard. And essentially, I was fortunate enough that I had the the ability, but also the work ethic to qualify for the Hawaiin in 2015.

LEIGH: so let's come to Hawaii in a moment. I want to take us through though the experience the indigenous marathon project in 2012. You were part of the third intake of Rob Degas, Indigenous marathon project, what got you into it? And what how did it change you?

HEATH: Yeah, so there's a bit of luck in a it. So I'd actually put my name forward in 2010. When they did the first ever cohort. My uncle actually sent me an email about it. And I put an application in and didn't think much else about it.

And anyway, in 2012, I was obviously starting to getting to triathlons and running and Aboriginal fella I think he was working in Newcastle at the time, Nigel Well, he came into Newcastle unit at the Aboriginal unit there, and said, You should try it for the indigenous marathon project that they're holding trials in Sydney, and I was ah Yeah. Not sure about that.

And around the same time that documentary called running to America, I think it might have been like a week later, which showcased the four fellows who would be the first every group through the indigenous marathon project who went and ran the New York Marathon.

So those those Charlie Ma, Kyle Apart, who were both from Alice Springs, Juan Darwin Maningrida and Joseph Davies from Kununurra and, you know, that was pretty captivating story that was, I guess showcased through that documentary.

In particular, Charlie just had this kind of aura about him. And as like, that would be pretty cool. Yeah, so what those guys had done and to kind of emulate, particularly what Charlie had done in the way he carried himself. And all I mean, Charlie, complete opposites. He's, he's introverted. And I'm like, completely extroverted. But there's so many great qualities that you can learn from that man.

And anyway, so I ended up putting me nine down for the tryout. And fortunately, I was selected, I went down to the tryout in Sydney, and I was fortunately selected to be a part of the 2012 group. And for those that might remember, sadly that the New York Marathon is being cancelled. Hopefully, they're still able to get up and running this year because of Hurricane Sandy. But guess what the indigenous marathon project did to me is for me, I learned how to run, firstly, and how to train them what effective training is, but also learn to love running.

I think a lot of people, you know, try to get into running but they're like, Oh, it's too hard, and they end up disliking it more than they're like it. But I kind of during that period, I got to learn to really love it. And I am what I also learned is, you know, what it takes to be, I guess, do really well in endurance sports, like when I say really well, I mean, I guess decent for, you know, your average punter.

Because when I got selected one of the first things, a mate of mine who was kind of sort of coaching me, Ben Higginbottom, in triathlon, he said, we've got to do a marathon like, if you've got to be fair dinkum, your target should be to run under three hours. So that kind of triggered me to like set a goal of running three hours and what then helped me the fact thing of how they do just marathon project is went on shop, the training, and I do pretty much all my training by myself, Newcastle, whilst as 1000s of runners up there now kind of daily just started the running boom out there.

And I'll go and do these training sessions and always felt like I had to do my best because I was representing one myself. But the biggest feature was, I was representing my family, I was representing, you know, the Aboriginal community, I was representing the Newcastle community. But I also felt like, for me, I never played for Australia, I never played in state in any sport. I felt like this was kind of my Representative mowbot on that biggest scale, and represent my people to the best of my ability, and that I'd done everything I can to do my best and to represent them Well.

I think that's something that, you know, IMP, definitely told us about the way you carry yourself, but the way you do represent your people, and the way that you then advocate for them when you do have the platform and opportunity. And yeah, I think IP just gave me a lot of belief and understanding of what I can do. And if I want to do something, what I need to do to make that happen, because a lot of things that you might want are going to be necessarily given to you you have to go and earn them. And that experience in IMP definitely taught me that.

LEIGH: And you're now one of the best known IMP ambassadors, in part because you then went on to to do not just triathlons but Ironman triathlons, again, just for the one or two listeners who won't have done one. Just remind us again, what are the distances and the three legs of an Iron Man?

HEATH: Yeah, so it's 3.8 kilometre swim 180 kilometre ride and then a 42 kilometre run. So marathon 42.2 so they're all back to back to back.

LEIGH: How was it the first one?

HEATH: The first one  was actually wasn't too bad. What was cool about so I went over and did it with it was in 2013. So because new york got cancelled. I end up doing the Tokyo marathon the following year with IMP so that was in February 2013. Tokyo such progress. Yeah, so good. And the Japanese they love if there's a culture of loving running. They have that down pat in Japan, there's they just they appreciate the running culture and running community and the work that everyone's got and the pain that everyone's going through. Yeah, but I kind of kept from after doing Tokyo I was like, Well, my next goal was to do Iron Man. So I went over with a few mates in December 2013.

And did the Busselton Ironman in WA. So it's about two, three hours south of Perth. So it's Noognar country, which is my great grandfather's country. He's from the Menang people, which is further south down towards Esperance. But I felt like I was kind of back on, in a way in that nomadic country. And it was kind of nice to go back into an Ironman for my first one.

And I was I did quite well, I did nine hours. 41, which is a very respectable time. But it was a it's a really flat and fast call.

LEIGH: So I would have won Hawaii in the first couple of years, wouldn't it?

HEATH: Yeah, definitely not now. But yeah, back in those first days, there's a guy by the name of Dave Scott, who come through in the 80s, who really, most people who use when the Hawaiin first started, they were just their goal was the finish. And he kind of changed the sport to where all of a sudden you race it. And I think he's first time was nine hours 30 when he wanted, and then he eventually got down into the eight hour 30 mark.

So but yeah, that was such a great experience to do. And then really after do that first time in that goal continued to be a need to qualify and make Hawaii. So I did another I'm in the following year and Port Macquarie in 2014, and I came forth in my age group.

But what I found that I did a three out of 10 marathon, so it was actually my PB for the marathon at the time. Yeah, so I had a really good run, but I had a terrible bike. So you know, again, kind of gone back to the drawing board, I realised that I have a weakness in cycling, so I need to improve and work really hard.

And the following year, in 2015, I end up winning my age group. I took like, nearly 2530 minutes off my bike time, and I was fortunate qualify for the line, my man and got to go and experience you know, somebody that people for their whole life are trying to train to get that opportunity to go and do so.

LEIGH: So what's different than the way I've done a bunch of tries, but never on them and never never been to Hawaii. So what is it about that race that's so special?

HEAtHWell, it's where triathlon really started. So the Hawaiian island was one of the first ever triathlons. But it's a world championship, which obviously gives it some credit, but and the best athletes to ever do the sport have gone over there and won.

But the thing that's hard about is it's quite a hilly course, it gets super windy in bike bar, and it's really hot. So the year that I did, it was 39 degrees. And the road surface was 49. So I had tan marks or sunburned marks for over a year after I raced. my forearms peeled.

I made so many Cardinal sins in their race because being Aboriginal I'm like, I'm a very rarely rarely wear sunblock. And I did that race didn't wear sunblock and at 18 kilometres on run along going This isn't too bad. Like how good this is, this as hard as it gets. A bit of an older guy just gave me in a said are few wise words, you guys don't, don't get too far ahead of yourself.

And literally 3k later I was on the side of the road going, I don't think I can finish it. It's incredible. It's the only rice have ever thought I may not be able to finish just due to being so physically exhausted. But I also made mistakes on the run where I just didn't take in nutrition. And by the time I realised I was depleted, I could no longer take the nutrition and I just started vomiting and having to go to the toilet a few times. So it's just it's just a in the end it became like a death march and it's your only goal is to get across the finish line.

But it was a special moment i a I've kind of got a tradition of carrying Aboriginal flag cross the line when I finish and from when I was standing up, I only know three other Aboriginal people to do the Hawaiian I've answered to kind of, you know, be one of those first people to do it and carry the Aboriginal flag was such a, I guess a proud moment and again, I was just another time I felt like I could represent our people at a stage where our culture isn't necessarily showcased or even known.

LEIGH: You've just recently set up a group called try mob. Tell us about that. Yeah, so dry mobs. Essentially what we've reformed is a Aboriginal triathlon club with the idea of getting more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the sport.

So just to backpedal for a number of years, I've been thinking it'd be great to have, I guess, a team or a club or when you do triathlon to be able to showcase or represent the Aboriginal community. And a lot of people get, you know, cool design kits. And for me, I'd always just kind of carried flying across the finish line. And one of me made for brother boy who just got into triathlon at the end of last year and he was part of the indigenous marathon project himself, Tyrone Bain, he, me and him started talking about when he did his first triathlon, like we should get a time we should get an Aboriginal triathlon team. So we get our own kit.

And we can represent our people when we're out racing, because triathlons a very Anglo sport. It's a quite a, I guess, a sport for, I guess, more wealthy people, which you would know in economics, Aboriginal people tend to be at the lower end of the socio economic status. And I guess for us while we wanted to do is, for all the Aboriginal people that are now doing triathlon, let's have a team, a club that we can then represent and that we can then showcase people in our culture, to the triathlon community that probably hasn't had much exposure or much experience working or relating to Aboriginal people.

And then we figured by having a team that might help also break down barriers and fee to get more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and people into the sport as well. And it was really interesting just from starting up a Instagram page and saying, you know, we were setting up Trimob, I was going to be an Aboriginal triathlon group, all of a sudden, we got a heap of interest of people going, I've always wanted to do it, but you know, I was a bit scared, didn't know what to do. So you're starting to see that there's people interested in it. But yeah, for a long time, like, it's not a sport that, you know, our communities did, like, you don't say, like when I was growing, you don't see any Aboriginal people doing triathlon, who are adults.

So I guess we want to try to create a culture where it's okay to give triathlon a go and make it sort of break down the barriers where there's less fee and anxiety around the sport and where possible, you know, help people encourage people just to give it a go.

And the third aspect of is the club's I've been a will be active for non indigenous people too. So it provides an opportunity for non indigenous people to engage in our community. Like I said, because it triathlon is predominantly, it's an Anglo board provides an opportunity for people who maybe you always wanted to, but never knew where to go. As far as engaging with Aboriginal people didn't have access, we can provide access for that community. And you know, the thing with triathlon is it's all around Australia, and there's opportunity to go around the world.

So we can always showcase our people in our culture and really show a positive narrative about our people because, you know, mainstream media, people watch that, that sometimes they'll get a negative perception of our people. And we want to show that, you know, a lot of that's false. And there's a lot of good things that are people joining our community does.

LEIGH: Yeah, I've often thought that Kathy Freeman's win and the 400 and sit in the Sydney Olympics was worth 100 worthy speeches from from folks like me. And there's something about that kind of celebration of indigenous culture and indigenous success that so so unifying.

HEATH: So a Cathy Freeman, for me was an idol and hero on I still distinctly remember where I was when she won that 400 metres. And when I watched it, I still get like, emotional watching it.

But when we went to New York to do the marathon, Cathy Freeman came over with our squad. And, you know, I was sitting at dinner and I've got her daughter, Ruby on my lap, and she's right next to us eating and just having a conversation. I'm like, this is my idol. And that was such you know, without one of the great things that IMP does is it does provide you opportunities to meet people such as yourself, people like Kathy frame and people like Kurt Fearnley, but also people like I don't know if you know Dave Robbo from Newcastle. Yeah, he’s one of the biggest legends on earth.

And, you know, he like meeting someone like him probably would never have happened if it wasn't for IP. So you know, those sort of things in like what you're saying we can frame and like, the fact that what she did and also the challenges she had along the way I remember when she won, I think in 94 Commonwealth gold and she wore the Aboriginal flag and after town stores. Very, very disappointed in her and defended. He was like, well, this is these are my people, and I'm representing them as well as the rest of Australia.

That at that time was so big for our people and like as a kid, you don't really understand that. But you're like, Oh, that's, that's, you can see, because I knew I was average on this is going back to my primary school days. So that Oh, like that's who we are. That's I can see me and her.

LEIGH: And, you know, we haven't even mentioned Nick Winmar and Adam Goodes and many of the other Australian legends, but on the other side of celebrate free reconciliation, there's also the acknowledgement of the wrongs that were done. And we're speaking in the context of Black Lives Matter protests running right across the world, including significant protests in Australia. What's your feeling as to how this process is unfolding? And how we can get the most out of this moment where people are suddenly focused on indigenous disadvantage and reconciliation?

HEATH: Yeah, it's an interesting one in that, and it's not unusual, because, you know, the indigenous rights movement from the 60s and the 70s kind of followed the civil rights movement in America. And in some ways, the the civil rights issues and the Black Lives Matter. Protests, which I guess captured the world's imagination in America is really highlighted again, in a our own issues.

And so in many respects, it's kind of history repeating ourselves where I think it's terrible, obviously, what's happening to our indigenous communities, and also what's happening to other Indigenous people, people of colour or African American communities and First Nations communities across the world.

But it has provided an opportunity to capture more people who were unaware in Australia of the issues around, you know, Aboriginal testing custody, Aboriginal incarceration rates, and other issues such as the disadvantage within, you know, Aboriginal education, constitutional reform. And the thing that I guess for us as First Nations people is, and you would be where? Well, it's like my partner, Taylor Ray, has been one of the biggest advocates around the Uluru statement and what this opportunity, I think, for us to capture a new audience is to start making bigger structural reform to Australia, which stops indigenous people being powerlessness.

And at the moment,we understand all the stats of where Aboriginal people falling behind, we have to close that gap, well, then you close that gap refresh coming out. But the issue with the close the gap refreshes, it continuously looks at indigenous people as the issue. When a Aboriginal kids need to finish year 12 Aboriginal peoples life expectancy needs to be lowered. But it's not looking inward at Australia as an issues. Because if we put in a target around having less Aboriginal people incarcerated, we just look at Aboriginal peoples the issue we haven't solved the systematic problem, which is Aboriginal people are systematically targeted by police.

And that's been proven in the place targeting system in New South Wales, where 50% of the people and their target system are Aboriginal and yet we only make up 3% of the population. So I think that what this the Black Lives Matter movement has done is it's providing a really great opportunity to platform for First Nations people in this country to push and advocate and educate the rest of Australia on the reforms that we need. And I know yourself being I don't know if you support it, but I know Labor has has backed that if they were elected, they would Enshrine the Uluru statement of the heart.

LEIGH: Absolutely.

HEATH: Because we can't keep making the same mistake if we're gonna have a closer gap report. And we're gonna have targets here we have non indigenous people who then make the policies around Aboriginal education or incarceration. We're just we're going down the same same line that we've previously keep failing and, you know, Aboriginal people want to have a voice at the table on what these policies look like.

We're not asking to have a term or use that, you know, every single policy impacts Aboriginal people, but we're not About that, and he knows that we were talking about issues that are targeting Aboriginal people that we have a say on how those policies work, how those initiatives will be implemented. And to make sure that every dollar that does get spent by the government and so much is currently wasted, because of, you know, goes through management and whatnot, never actually hits the ground, that we can make sure that every dollar spent is actually well spent, and actually is coming from a place of expertise and not a place of, you know, government bureaucrats making decisions and rash decisions, because they need to please a particular minister of the time.

So, you know, hopefully this opportunity isn’t lost. And I don't think it, I think it there, there is a huge opportunity. Now, I think the next generation people are much better informed, they're much more interested. And I think what this will do is that - you're always going to have the people I guess, to the far right, who are never going to be interested in this space, and live in a world of denial, and that for that sort of middle ground people where they're like, Oh, really have an opinion, it doesn't impact on me, I don't really care. They now see, it's right in their face. And they are the group that is becoming engaged. And I think, hopefully, from this, this movement, and this opportunity, were able to really get huge structural reform that can make a difference.

LEIGH: You spoke before Nat about the importance of education, your partner Taylor read set up a blackfella club. Is there a particular book that you're reading or that you think is is important for our listeners to read?

HEATH: That’s a good a question. I'm not the greatest reader, to be honest. I think one book and it has been highlighted a lot over the last year, rightfully so is Bruce Pascoe’s Dark Emu. Yeah, because what it does is highlight the fact that, you know, we weren't just a group of people wandering around hopelessly and living this nomadic or semi nomadic life that we did have a structured system of horticulture, agriculture and agriculture, that, you know, was really glossed over by Australians for a long time it.

And I can understand why the praise, they would did it, because it made it easier for Australia to continually say, well, Aboriginal people will just live in hopelessly not using the land, so we had to come and help them. But what that book really does is tell the truth of the fact that Aboriginal people, you know, we're engaging systems of agriculture, that there was huge weight belts all across the country, and the way that how dramatically this environment has changed since particularly, I guess Western farming, agriculture came in here, and where you had animals with quite hard hooves, how that completely change the, the soil surface and the effects of that.

And that can obviously be saying, you know, with the great sort of droughts that we have, that when we do have rain, it turns into floods, it doesn't capture because there's actually nothing on the top surface. And, you know, what's then the way that the river systems are particularly in with the Murray Darling, like, the way that that's been manipulated for cotton farming, has obviously then dried out a river system that's been, you know, flourishing for 1000s of years. And, you know, the impact that that then has on those Aboriginal and non Aboriginal communities on on those riverbanks is so detrimental.

And obviously, big at the beginning and the end of last year with the, the huge fires on the south coast, like that sort of stuff that, you know, our old people used to manage through our environment is meant to be burned through fire stick farming. And that's been kind of lost. And, you know, though, this book kind of captures the need for us to go back and start working with the environment the way it's meant to be, and not trying to manipulate the environment to work to us.

LEIGH: You posted on social media a few days ago that you'd written a poem, in the, in response to, to the current events, what led you to write the poem and I wonder whether you'd be willing to share it with us?

HEATH: Yeah, so I'll definitely share it. So the power is called ‘Do you know me’, but we

so we're for the Department of Education. Everyone's essentially working from home at the moment and we actually One of the times the comms team organised I guess a story day morning tea, which was really the first time our department within the Early Childhood Education Directorate at something substantial was driven without our team having to drive it, which was really nice, because it's funny when it comes to reconciliation week, like a lot of times, like getting the Aboriginal team get that organised. And I'm always like, well, who are we reconciling with ourselves or?

So that what ended up happening is we, you know, a couple of the, my team members were on a panel along with a couple of non indigenous people who work in the directorate. And that was really good. And we also then showcased a so there's a website called the stolen generations testimonials, and

I've used old Unc a few times, he uncle settled down, and he's, he's passed away now. And he he talks about his experience at Bomaderry, children's home and Kinchela boy's home, which is where Aboriginal children were removed. So Aboriginal boys, when they got to a certain age would go to Kinchela boys, which is up near kempsey and Bombaderry.

They both the boys and girls were taken there until they're a certain age.

And we watched just him, I guess, re living over recapturing retelling his story. And it's, it's just so hard to watch. And it's, you can see how difficult it is for him to, to talk about. Yeah, so watch that. And then also, there's another documentary that's just coming out, we just watched the trailer, which is called through my blood it runs, which is, I think, just kind of showcasing a young Aboriginal fellow and his family. And I don't know, I just got this sudden urge of like, I just had to put something down on paper.

And I guess it's kind of about sometimes I feel like, you know, even working education site, people are trying to give us the answer rather than listening. And I guess kind of what my poem was about was trying to say, like to people, do you actually know me? Or, you know, I kind of tried to create what you want me to be in a way, so I'll read it to you anyway. The poem like I said is called ‘Do you know me?’

‘So do you know me? Or do you know what you want me to be? Do you respect me? Or do you really respect what we do a lot what you would like me to be?

Do you trust me? Or do you trust what others say about me? Will you walk with me? Or will you only walk the path that you lead me to see?

 Will you talk to me, or you only talk to me with the language that you want me to speak? Will you sing with me? Or will you only sing a song that you write to me?

Where you cry with me? Or, will you try to find a cure for me?

Will you fight with me? Or will you only fight for what you think I should be?

Will you let me be free? Or do you think you know what's best for me? Do you see me? Or do you only see what you want to see? Do you love me? Or do you only love what you want me to be?’

And then it goes on:

‘To all my people. I see. I hear you. I feel you. I love you. I'll walk with you. And I'm proud to be you.

To Australians. See us hear us love us. Walk with us. Empower us and be proud of us.

Yindyamarra.

Nat Heat.’

So Yindyamarra means respect in Wiradjrui, that’s Taylor’s people. And it means respect.

LEIGH: Thank you Nat. That's pretty powerful statements at this at this moment in history. I really appreciate you taking, sharing sharing the wisdom but also the vulnerability that comes from from reading out your own poetry.

HEATH: Yeah, I mean, it was interesting. Like I said, I was, I've never really written I've, I've actually not. Taylor’s trying to encourage me to, to write stories because I always we kind of helped raise my niece and nephew. Whenever they stay, particularly when they're young, I used to tell them a lot of stories to when they went to sleep and a few other stories I kind of just created and she's been trying to encourage me to write them.

 It was just an interesting thing I was literally we had that moment with work and all of a sudden, within 15 minutes I was written and I was just suddenly felt like I had to get down on paper.

LEIGH: Now as we wrap up, let me ask you a few questions ask each of my interviewees What advice would you give to your teenage self?

HEATH: Yeah, so that's an interesting one, I two answers, I wouldn't give any advice. Because I think you need to think a part of growing is learning as you go, and learning from steaks as well.

The one thing, if I could do differently or tell myself is relating back to sport is, you know, foster is and if you're the best in Forster doesn't mean you're the best. And if I could have, if I understood what actual training was, and you know, what the best actually look like, I would have liked to have given myself a better opportunity to do better. And I was pretty decent at soccer. And I felt like I could have gone further. But I don't think I gave my best self the best opportunity that.

LEIGH: What’s something you used to believe, but no longer do.

HEATH: You used to believe, um, this change, actually, probably when I was 17, I had a chip on my shoulder a little bit, probably around what had happened, you know, during high school and losing my dad, or not ever knowing my dad, and kind of used to just think the world was crap. But then I realised if I changed my attitude, and you know, made the best of what I had, that, you know, life could be pretty good. So, yeah, I think just trying to be positive, as much as possible, as opposed to negative.

LEIGH: When are you most happy?

HEATH: Probably, when I so you know, with Taylor, and also my niece and nephew. And it's also probably when I'm most frustrated as well, when I'm with my niece and nephew. Yeah, yeah. And particularly, probably when I'm really most happiest when I'm up at home, where I grew up.There's nothing quite like being at home.

LEIGH: What’s the most important thing you do in your life to stay mentally and physically healthy.

HEATH: Definitely sport, running.

And I think also letting go of things. When relating it to sport, I used to get myself pretty anxious and worked out if I hadn't done a certain session. So as you would know, when you you know, you have a goal in mind and you want to achieve something, sometimes life just may get in the way of you doing what you think's needed.

LEIGH: And I think the thing I'm learning to do is just to let go of things that are out of control. And you've got a big event coming up on the 12th of July for NAIDOC Week, right. Do you want to give us a plug for that one?

HEATH: Yeah, yeah, so the indigenous marathon Foundation, which I'm now board director, which is great. Myself and Bianca grey were the first indigenous directors of the IMF organisation and for the issue for naidoc week so in collaboration with the National NATO committee they're putting together what's called a virtual running event which is the run sweat and spire festival so if you wanted to, so essentially, what a virtual running festival is, is you can do a running event of your your own distance so that their options are two kilometres five kilometres 10 kilometres and marathon and you add half marathon, I should say. And you do the event, wherever you're based, or wherever you would like to do it. So because a lot of the running events currently not happening, what hadn't been happening, My understanding is that may slowly change.

Yeah, the IMF and put on this virtual running festival also falls in NAIDOC week. So it because it's

the IMS 10th year, I thought what better way to participate in the virtual running festival, raise money for IMF also promote showcase and celebrate naidoc week I would run 10 columns for every year that imp has been in existence, which works out to be 100 years because this is 100 kilometres because it's its 10th year.

So I'm going back up to Newcastle on July 12 to run 100 kilometre run ultra marathon you can call it, and essentially I'm enjoying it in 210 kilometre loops. One loop will be flat one loop will be hilly and the idea is that I'll start at six o'clock, and every 10 kilometres, people can jump in and do a loop with us. They can do one loop, they could do multiple loops if they want. There's a couple people who are looking at doing 100 kilometres with us.

But yeah, what a part of it is to raise money for IMF but also to give us you know, a big challenge and just showcase our strength and resilience as Aboriginal people.

LEIGH: Sounds like a fantastic day. I wish you all the best for it.

HEATH: Head you're gonna come up and do the 100 I've just I've just been robbed of running 90 K's at comrades in South Africa. So

LEIGH: yeah, right. That's one of the great events I'd like to do. Yeah, well, maybe maybe next year it's the centenary next year so we'll see how it goes

HEATH: Yeah, you're more than welcome to come up if you have the time and anybody else who happens to be listening if you're interested there's a Facebook page. Yeah The more the merrier

LEIGH: you have any Guilty Pleasures?

HEATH: Chocolate. I wouldn't even say it's a guilty pleasure I just like yeah to actually you know what my guilty pleasure would be KFC. I went right off KFC but the three piece speed chicken thighs gravy and chips that just doing a few trips on the road. whenever I'd go to Dubbo I'd always stop and get KFC and it's just suck me right back in. It's making me want it right now just talking about

LEIGH: Finally, Nat which personal which experiences most shaped your view of living an ethical life?

Definitely my dad. My dad raised me like I said working two jobs. He was always like, you know, very proud like even just simple things like around if you don't need help, then don't ask, which can be a problem, obviously particularly around mental health for men but more just in regards to financial it kind of just you got to carry yourself and but he was always the person who would he would take people to sport it always help out.

And I actually had a mate of mine who went to primary school, nonindigenous fellow. And he just happened to write me around a message which I completely forgot about. Three weeks ago, he goes, Hey, am I can you just let your old man know, I appreciate everything he did. For me, as far as picking me up and taking us the sport. I tried to do that. Now for any of the kids who can't make their way to any sport because their parents might not have car or I just saw.

You know, you kind of forget those things that what my dad did, and I just need the fact that he was like, anyone in the community, if you mentioned his name, and finally got good things to say about him. So and he was always big on you always took like, always talk to people. So you know, growing up in a community if anyone had a conversation he always talked, I think that's worn on me that you know, you always give people time because, you know, people don't really remember what you do or what you've done there. Remember the way you make them feel. And I think that's something that I definitely got off him.

LEIGH: Nat Heath, thank you so much for taking the time to share your wisdom on so many interesting issues and the good life podcast today.

HEATH: Now, it's been my pleasure, I really appreciate it.

LEIGH: Thanks for listening to this week's episode of the good life. Andrew Leigh in conversation. If you enjoyed this discussion, I reckon you'll love past interviews with Linda Burney, Pat Dodson, and Louise Taylor.

We appreciate getting feedback, so please leave us a rating or a comment on Spotify or Apple podcasts. It really helps others find the show. Next week, we'll be back with another inspiring guest to discuss living a happier, healthier and more ethical life.


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Cnr Gungahlin Pl and Efkarpidis Street, Gungahlin ACT 2912 | 02 6247 4396 | [email protected] | Authorised by A. Leigh MP, Australian Labor Party (ACT Branch), Canberra.