This year Telstra marks 26 years of support for the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Awards (NATSIAA) and it was my honour to be in Darwin when the winners were announced on the weekend.

Telstra’s connection with NATSIAA has grown over the years to the point where they are now a source of enormous organisational pride for us and we feel very connected to a very special story.

Telstra CEO Andrew Penn, with winners of the 2017 Telstra Art Award, Unrupa Rhonda Dick, Anwar Young and Frank Young.

Stories are what Indigenous art is all about and the NATSIAA – open to both contemporary and traditional works – is a platform where these stories can be told and heard.

The stories told at NATSIAA are of country, ceremony, dreaming and a determination to pass on (often sacred) things seen and remembered. Oftentimes there is also commentary on the ongoing struggle with dispossession, despair and identity and this year’s overall winner was no exception.

Wati Kulunypa Tjukurpa (Many Spears – Young Fella Story) by Anwar Young, Unrupa Thonda Dick and Frank Young combined a large digital print and spears arranged as cell bars to comment on the many young Indigenous men who end up in detention. It is a stunningly beautiful and powerful work and also one that I am sure will prompt some serious soul searching in many who see it.

A universal positive

The paradox of the many challenges faced by Indigenous Australians is that it has brought forward so many extraordinary artists.

For indigenous communities, where there are many issues, art is a universal positive and the incredible power of the work comes from the fact that it is one way, one medium, where communities and generations can stay connected to each other.

It provides a sense of purpose, both for those directly involved and for those of us seeking to better understand Indigenous culture and history. It also brings some much needed economic benefit to communities.

Beyond the Awards

Beyond the NATSIAA Telstra’s relationship with indigenous Australians continues to grow and it is our determination to make it stronger.

Just how strong is spelled out in our Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP) which includes programs as diverse installing new mobile base stations and broadband in remote communities to funding research to better understand the nature of cyber bullying in an Aboriginal context; from programs to build digital literacy to promoting Telstra as an employer of choice for Indigenous people.

Our RAP says reconciliation requires more than just words; it says we are accountable, it says we want to achieve something meaningful, it says we are in this heart and soul.

This determination to connect meaningfully also extends to our involvement in the NATSIAA.

Pulse and power

The Telstra NATSIAA now have enormous momentum and global significance. The Awards are part of an extraordinary Indigenous artistic eco-system that stretches right across the land, deep back into the past and energetically toward the future. All of the works displayed carry their own unique pulse and power and contribute to a deeper-thinking Australian society through the fearless sharing of art, and stories.

We are all richer for it, and Telstra is extremely proud to be involved. We are part of this story.