WATCH > Acceptance Speech by Sophie Blackall, Advance Australian Global Icon Award Winner 2020

Thank you, Ita Buttrose and Advance for this incredible — more than a little difficult to believe — honour.

If I was in Sydney, I would like to acknowledge the traditional owners of the land, the Gadigal People of the Era Nation.

But as I am in Brooklyn, New York, I would like to recognize the Canarsee Tribe of Lenape of Delaware Nation.

I can’t stop asking myself what on Earth a girl from Willunga, South Australia is doing before you all, a girl who spent her childhood up a gum tree with a book, or drawing pictures on the beach with a stick in the sand. A girl whose biggest dream was to tell stories.

The only thing I can come up with is this: We Australians are imbued with humility — a product perhaps of our history, the size of our population, and our geographical location in the world.

And with that humility comes a certain fearlessness. It’s almost as though we don’t expect the rest of the world to take much notice, so we have nothing to lose! We can get away with stuff.

We can be bold! and experimental! and creative! As we’ve seen in all the finalists of this year’s Advance Awards.

As someone who makes books for children, I have found myself in some quite extraordinary situations. I have no idea, for instance, how I, this bumbling, gum tree-residing girl found myself at the Center for Disease Control in front of hundreds of the world’s most esteemed epidemiologists. 

Or how I ended up at a dinner in Berlin at the G7 summit, seated between President Kikwete of Tanzania and President Keïta of Mali and across from Bill Gates and Angela Merkel.

Or how I found myself in a board room at the United Nations just days before Covid-19 shut down New York City.

I only know what I did in those moments. I told stories.

And I asked people to tell me their stories in return.

Because telling stories is how we survive, and stories are what we leave behind.

It’s through stories that we connect and understand one another.

Now, more than ever, people the world over are sharing their stories and their experiences, on podcast and in tweets.

In the throes of the epidemic of the 1300s, Boccaccio wrote The Decameron, a hundred stories told by a pod of people in lockdown.

In the Odyssey, Homer makes the case that the Gods devised the devastation of the Trojan War, “to make a song for those in times to come.”

And for First Nations People, creation stories of Spirit in Country exist in the Past, the Present and the Future.

The preservation of these oral traditions, the sharing of these stories is the key to knowledge and understanding which leads to empathy and engagement. If we listen to someone’s story, we can no longer ignore their humanity. Their stories become our stories.

When we learn details of another’s experiences, we can more fully appreciate the need for social justice and equality.

And if we ever become consumed with our own stories, we can step back and think of our planet rotating and revolving in space, our planet that holds everyone we know and everyone we’ve never met and all our food and all our water and all the art and books and music and every ant and every sneeze and every comma and every atom of every living and non-living thing.

And what will we leave behind after our brief time here?

Ou stories.

Thank you, Advance, for encouraging and gathering Australian stories, and for giving me the opportunity to tell mine.