EVEN before we met face-to-face, I knew an in-person chat with Uncle Greg Simms was going to be an interesting one. The bloke represents some of the west’s best qualities, showing up in local news time and time again for his activism in reconciliation, dedication to education and community outreach. This is a man who’s constantly invited to share his words with politicians, business owners and other activists alike.
When people say they know Uncle Greg, they’re quick to point out how genuine the Elder is in his advocacy for aboriginal affairs, and they’re not wrong. When I first gave him a ring to tell him he’d been nominated as a legend, he couldn’t hear me at first because he was at the Sydney Mardi-Gras doing the welcome to country, and was quick to speak to me about his heritage in the area, his “Great Grandmother’s country, Gadigal.” Straight away I knew Uncle Greg is the real deal when it comes to community activism. Our talk over the phone made me even more intrigued when we settled on a time to meet. And truly I was not disappointed – this is a man with a lot of stories to tell.
After two weeks I met Uncle Greg face-to-face at his work, ability options employment.
“Finally,” he said laughing as I finally shook hands with the local legend, “after six years we meet in person.”
Uncle Greg was quick to point me to pictures and stories that relate to his heritage. In the Nepean, he recently became one of the elders at Western Sydney University. He showed me his university’s picture which has his father and many of his uncles in the background.
It’s interesting to hear him speak about his beliefs, a strong one being the belief in two-way communication.
Lecturers, elders and students can all learn from each other he says. And if WSU lecturers can take away a little bit of new information, a new perspective on something from him, then he’s done his job.
And as we sat down and started talking, and Uncle Greg started sharing his stories, we came to agree that all his stories share a common element.
“All I want to do is break down barriers, build bridges and educate people,” he said.
Cultural learning is an important part of Uncle Greg’s work, as well as his daily life.
“A lot of people read to be educated, I educate through the oral book. [Elders] are educated from Mother Earth.”
“I learnt from my elders, I never went to university myself.”
A lot of Uncle Greg’s teaching in the literal sense is correcting misinterpretations and showing his side of cultural and political affairs.
One example is his definition of what makes someone Aboriginal.
“Too white to be black? Wrong attitude,” he said, referring to comments he’s head from a variety of differing people.
“People are people. Aboriginal people come in all shapes and sizes – Dark, Brown, fair, and milky white!”
He was quick to turn to a clever analogy of his own making.
“Think of a coffee. No matter how much milk you put in the coffee, it’s still coffee.”
In essence the man tells stories of his own life about the themes of harmony and education. He mentioned that the Aussie way of life is great and relaxed, and encourages harmony when done right.
“You gotta live the Aussie way!” He said passionately.
“People trying to impose their authority – that’s not what the Aussie way is about. They’re the kind of people who wake up in the middle of the night, check under the bed and see how much sleep they’ve lost.”
He said he loves Australia day, and doing welcome to country when he can.
His belief of inclusivity is what turned him to defending Middle-Eastern and Muslim communities in recent years, whom he firmly believes are being unfairly stereotyped.
He stressed how important he finds standing up for those communities has been to him in recent years, because he says he knows what it is like to be stereotyped, mentioning his efforts multiple times proudly. One of his most recent public speaking events about stereotyping was at the ANZ stadium corporate box.
“A lot of people might be surprised that an Aboriginal elder would speak about Muslim communities, but they deserve to not be stereotyped too.”
In a time of change, cultural education is still an important facet of Australia’s journey.
“It’s important to work together. Sometimes there are, frankly, rude bastards that say horrible things and couldn’t care less.”
“Again, education. I tend to find they don’t have enough education on the matter.”
Uncle Greg has spent much of his life teaching and speaking for Aboriginals and recently other minority groups.
While he is an older man now, his spirit of activism is truly alive and he will keep at it for a long while yet. The passion in his words showed me that.