“Be curious and willing to make mistakes”, Indigenous actor Miranda Tapsell parted sage advice this morning at The Remarkable Woman’s fourth annual International Women’s Day Breakfast, where she was joined onstage by the organisation’s founder Shivani Gopal in an intimate Q&A about what they hope to challenge in 2021.
The Larrakia actress spoke to a crowd of over 350 people about her career highlights, starring in Australian classics including ‘The Sapphires’, ‘Love Child’, ‘Top End Wedding’ and more recently, ‘The Dry’.
“You have so much power within your own orbit,” Gopal said of Tapsell. “Through the art of film, you’ve created something to be celebrated.”
Tapsell explained the importance of writing her own story in ‘Top End Wedding’, and her compulsion to narrate her own life.
“I had so many stories to tell,” she said. “I wanted it to be on my terms. That’s why I wrote Top End Wedding. I knew that I had a story to tell. I became a storyteller because a lot of people put context around me. They just make their mind up before they even get to knew me. There have been lots of limitations put on me. They ask me, ‘when are you going to grow?’ ‘Get taller’? I was always raised to mind my manners.”
After the release of her film, tourism in the Tiwi Islands increased by 14 percent. Tapsell saw it as giving back to her own town.
“I wanted to actually show Australia what goes on. I wanted to show what makes my community so great. See what I love about it so much.”
“I was able to take the film to New York and people said they felt homesick. It was nice for people to not just see Crocodile Dundee. I offered a different perspective of Australia which is nice. There was a richness to the landscape and the Indigenous knowledge that is so inherent in the film.”
When asked what she’d like to see changed in Australia, Tapsell appealed to the country to normalise the representation of Indigenous Australians in the public sphere.
“Indigenous women haven’t been invited to many IWD events,” she said.
“This is emotional for me. I’m a woman too. We need people looking in different places for our voices. There are so many Indigenous writers, academics out there. Many of us have a profile. My perspective is just one in the community, there are so many different perspectives, it is so multifaceted. You need to look further, cast the net wider. Going to the library and reading Alison Whittaker, Evelyn Araluen. Hayley McGuire.”
When asked what she’s looking to challenge this year, Tapsell said it was the fear of speaking out.
“The fear or the guilt…I feel like it’s really taken me a long time to find my voice. I’m always scared of speaking out in fear of my own safety. What does it mean? It’s not about losing a job; what’s the person in power going to do?Are they going to humiliate me?”
“I’m choosing to challenge that clap-back. To not be scared. To actually say what you want to say — knowing all of things that could happen to you.”
Tapsell shared the stage with OZHarvest founder Ronni Kahn and former foreign minister Julie Bishop, who likewise spoke about their stories of career adversity and resilience.
Like Tapsell, Kahn has had to actively challenge fear in order to overcome it. Last year, during the pandemic, the 68-year old former businesswoman penned her debut memoir ‘A Repurposed Life’, in which she opens up about her journey from South Africa to Israel and eventually to Australia.
“One year ago today, we were on the cusp of launching a major event that would bring us 3 million dollars,” Kahn began.
“That’s a lot for an NGO that’s philanthropically funded. But then COVID hit and it began to be apparent it would be impossible to hold an event of 2000 people.”
Her organisation was committed to not letting anyone go during the pandemic, and this year, even hired an additional 70 staff. She rallied together a range of charities and received 250 million in government funding allocated to their sector.
Former Minister for Foreign Affairs and former deputy leader of the Liberal Party Julie Bishop also shared some thoughts about the challenges faced by Australians in the last 12 months. She believes that the aftershocks of COVID-19 will continue for years to come.
“We are seeing change as a result of the pandemic that we can’t have imagined,” she explained. “The financial markets are volatile, there’s an increase in robotics and AI and we are seeing even more disruption and change. Short term solutions aren’t good enough.”
“The world is calling out for more leadership.”
Bishop spent 15 years as a commercial litigator in Perth before entering politics. She believes the key to success is to “surround yourself with smart people who can run the show.”
“I was brought up to believe that entering public office is the highest calling. It was an opportunity I had to take. It was such a privilege to represent Australia on the world stage. People wanted to hear our view of the world. I felt so respected and so welcomed. It was a truly exciting five years.”
Meeting with some of the most iconic politicians of our time, Bishop noticed a clear difference between the way men and women leaders led.
“I met a lot of leaders around the world and I saw the different styles and characteristics of each of them. Something I really noticed was the different leadership styles between men and women. Women tend to be more transformational. They focus on the individuals of the team. They’re more empathetic. They looked at the personal development as they make up the team. Men are more transactional. They will put a team together and make the team accountable. They were much more adversarial in style.”
Bishop said that a better future is one where there’s a combination of views.
“We should have a combination of styles in all board rooms. We need diversity of styles. Diversity more broadly in terms of these different styles, experiences, views around the table. Then you have better discussions and better outcomes.”
Bishop is optimistic that the future will be brighter as long as we continue to encourage women to run for office.
“What we need is more women in political leadership,” she said.
“We need more women as contenders. More women in parliament. Numbers don’t necessarily change attitudes but it will make it a much more appealing place for women to work. We need to encourage more women to go into public office. It’s a long process but it can be done.”