Vanessa Turnbull-Roberts has dedicated most of her life to advocating for her people. A staunch activist and organiser of this year’s Sydney’s Invasion Day rally, Turnbull-Roberts wants everyone to join the cause.

On January 26th the proud Bundjalung woman will speak at the rally and march with other attendees on Djarrbarrgalli Country at the Domain in Sydney.   

“In 2020 I felt like it was a year capable of revolution. We saw 40,000 people come together in support of BLM, we saw a resistance,” she told NIT.

“Coming into 2021 I think January 26th brings a lot of anxiety for the community, but my hope is we keep that momentum.

“It’s an exhausting time, but the reality is we need people to show up. Not just First Nations people, because January 26th is our 365, it’s no different for us, but it is an opportunity for our counterparts to reflect on their position in this dialogue.”   

Turnbull-Roberts reinforced the concept that silence is violence, a phrase she repeats often. For the young advocate, the phrase summarises the urgency she and other activists feel to speak up for their communities in the absence of other voices.

“Running off 2020 and the surge of support with the Black Lives Matter movement amid a pandemic and a sort of quiet that it brought, there was almost no choice but for businesses and corporations to speak up and say that they were for Blak lives,” she said.   

“But in all of that, we also noticed who didn’t step up, who was silent in that space.

“It was a bit of an eye-opener to the people who I thought wouldn’t be so complacent.”

Vanessa Turnbull-Roberts is a tireless advocate for her community, often organising and leading rallies across Sydney. Photo via Facebook.

Turnbull-Roberts’ passion is fuelled by her experiences as a child; she was just 11-years-old when she was forcibly removed from her father and placed in out-of-home care. As a child she saw over a dozen homes before leaving the system at 18.   

She completed her social work honours thesis at the University of New South Wales, examining how amendments to the Children and Young Persons (Care and Protection) Act 1998 (NSW) disproportionately impact Aboriginal children in the State.

Turnbull-Roberts is now in the final year of her law degree, a commitment she made with legacy and impact in mind.

“For me, the work I do and the reason I’m now studying law after my social work degree is to not only understand the system but to dedicate my future career toward our people who are disproportionately impacted by the law,” she said.

“My choice in my studies reflects my own experience and my community’s experience with the law system.”

“It’s where my heart sits, as well as the writing, storytelling and activism — it’s where I want to go in the future.”

Turnbull-Roberts’ work in the community is relentless; she led the Black Lives Matter rally in response to Kumanjayi Walker’s death. The officer charged with Walker’s death is set to go to trial later this year.

In 2019, she won the Young People’s Human Rights Medal from the Australian Human Rights Commission, highlighting her advocacy in bringing attention to the prejudice faced by First Nations people in statutory care and the justice system.

Turnbull-Roberts also recently spoke to ministers and politicians at the Family Matters conference in response to the Family Matters report, an updated snapshot of the overrepresentation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children being removed from their families.

Now she’s encouraging people to stand up and show up for Blak lives and voices every day of the year, and to come together to show collective love and support this Invasion Day.

“To our counterparts, show up with intention and love beside us, you’re welcome to stand with us, you will not be threatened by us or our Blakness, show up for us the way we have always shown up for others,” she said.

“To mob, I would say, know that you belong and that your voice matters, you are never alone even when you’re one … because our Ancestors are with us.

“Be kind to yourself. As the conversation gets louder, our hearts get heavier.”

By Darby Ingram