2018 NAIDOC Week focuses on recognising inspirational Indigenous women- we sat down with Shauntai Batzke, Wiradjuri opera singer and empowering mentor.
This year’s NAIDOC Week theme ‘Because of her, we can!’ celebrates the invaluable contributions Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women have made in our nation.
For Shauntai Batzke, an Academic Services Officer at RMIT, this year’s theme also means remembering the sacrifices the women in her life and her community have made.
“I have been incredibly blessed to have been surrounded by such strong women in my life, from my mother, my grandmothers, my aunties, my sisters, my nieces, my friends and my mentors.” Batzke said.
“Because of the lives they have lived, the battles they have faced, the victories they have won, the losses they have faced and the opportunities I have been given- I can, and for that I am forever grateful.”
Earlier this year, Batzke was invited to participate in Palm Island’s Deadly Futures, an event organised as part of the community’s centennial celebrations, exploring the future of their youth.
As part of the event, she mentored children between the ages of 13–18, encouraging and supporting them through the art of singing and song writing.
“I feel a great responsibility to let them know they can be and can achieve anything they dream of,” Batzke said.
“My favourite part of being a mentor is seeing how my influence can inspire, encourage and create dreams in other individual’s lives.”
Her passion for mentoring comes from her experience as a mentee, constantly empowered by influential women throughout her life.
Batzke is currently being mentored by another pillar of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island community, N’arweet Carolyn Briggs, who is also an elder in residence at the Ngarara Willim Centre.
Together they are collaborating to create new welcome to country collaborative works, through new compositions in Boonwurrung Language of the Kulin Nation and singing workshops for young mentees in Hobsons Bay.
Batzke always knew she wanted to be a singer, inspired by Whitney Houston from a young age.
“She made a huge impact on my life as a singer. It was her story telling, stage presence and oh that voice!"
"Although I didn't have the pleasure of meeting her in person, she was a mentor to me through the beautiful language of music,” Batzke said.
She was later mentored by Deborah Cheetham AO – international renowned Yorta Yorta soprano– who invited her to participate in a Spring Intensive on Classical Voice and Music at the Victorian College of the Arts.
Since then, Batzke made her Sydney Opera House debut with Short Black Opera, and has travelled to New York twice to study with artists from the New York Metropolitan Opera at the Belle Arti Centre of the Arts.
“Deborah continues to inspire me to follow in her footpath,” Batzke said, feeling grateful to have the opportunity to be mentored by her.
NAIDOC Week, held 8–15 July 2018, celebrates the history, culture and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
But the celebrations stem from protests for a Day of Mourning.
Mourning for the loss, the trauma, the heartache and resilience Indigenous people have had to face since white settlement.
“NAIDOC to me means belonging, identity, resilience, beauty, richness, strength and knowing,” Batzke said.
“Everything that is Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander has been and is who we are now – the longest living continuous culture in the world.”
After many years of community engagement, Batzke and her husband, Torres Strait Islander Poet Robbie Batzke, are currently in the process of establishing Soul4GIVE, an initiative advocating for the advancement of Indigenous wellbeing.
Story: Peta Short