A deep love of country and a determination to teach those around him about culture is at the heart of everything Michael does.
The proud Yidinji man, who hails from Far North Queensland but currently lives in Rockhampton, is using National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) supports to stay connected to his community and inspire others to embrace Indigenous cultures.
Michael, who has had both legs amputated from the knee down, also wants to remind people with disability or those who’ve had an amputation that they “can do anything you put your mind to, just keep looking forward”.
Now in his 50th year, Michael was 16 when he first started travelling the world performing with Indigenous dance troupes, playing the didgeridoo, and teaching others about the oldest continuing living culture in the world.
He’s stopped traffic in Malaysia with his traditional dress and body paint, toured the US with Tourism Queensland and performed in front of 160,000 people at WOMADelaide in South Australia.
One of the highlights of his performing career was meeting the late great boxer Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter – the American-Canadian middleweight boxer wrongfully convicted of murder who spent nearly 20 years behind bars before being released and pronounced innocent.
“We were performing at the Brisbane Entertainment Centre and as soon as he started to walk up on stage I had mixed emotions, I did not know whether to cry or smile, but I never thought I’d get to meet someone like that,” Michael said.
“I couldn’t believe that even though he spent nearly 20 years in jail for a crime he didn’t commit, all he had inside of him was love, not hate. We need more people in the world like him.
“That night we stamped so hard we almost got shin splints, but that didn’t matter because it was such an emotional evening.”
At the end of the night, Michael presented Rubin with a didgeridoo and attempted to teach him how to play it. He couldn’t play it, but he had a big smile on his face.
These days Michael is content being a part of the crowd and helping “young fellas” make a name for themselves and learn about their culture. He also teaches his five grandchildren about the importance of country and is currently teaching one of them how to play the digeridoo.
When he’s not out and about, he’s making artefacts such as spears and pool cues, and recently spent two-and-a-half days hand painting a crocodile on one of his many digeridoos.
With an in-depth knowledge of bushtucker and medicine, taught to him by his elders when he was just 13, Michael says he’s committed to teaching others the ways of his ancestors.
“I’ve still got that in my brain, and I am passing it on to younger generations,” he said.
After his first amputation five years ago, Michael said he was eager to get back on his feet, surprising his physiotherapist with how quickly he started to walk unaided.
“It didn’t take me long to use prosthetics, and when I was in rehab I would kind of help people and say ‘look, you don’t need to learn how to walk, you already know how to walk’,” he said.
“Most of the time it’s about having a positive outlook.”
Following his second amputation, Michael was just as eager to ditch his walking aids, attributing a positive mental outlook to his success. As soon as his stitches were healed, he trained himself to walk on two prosthetics.
“I remember sitting in a wheelchair when I had just one prosthetic and I was wheeling around and pretending I was Robocop to my grandkids, and he was like ‘whoa, are you a Transformer?’,” Michael recalls, with a laugh.
“You mind is a powerful thing, and we must use it to its full ability. I know I just don’t want to be stuck at home 24/7. I’ve got a life to live so that’s what I’m going to do.”
Carers Queensland is helping Michael to stay connected to country and community.
He’s received assistance to apply for and implement his NDIS funding from Carers Queensland’s NDIS Local Area Coordination Partner in the Community Program for the Rockhampton region.
From attending local men’s shed groups and other community events, Michael remains an active and integral part of his local surroundings.
“I’m determined to keep finding ways to keep myself active in the community, help others on similar journeys and show young fellas that there’s a lot of life worth living out there,” Michael said.
“Culture is very important to me, culture is very important for everyone, not just Indigenous, but for non-Indigenous who need to learn more about our culture, more about understanding Aboriginal history.
“I like to put back into the community, it’s very important to me.”
If you have a disability but aren’t using the NDIS, Carers Queensland can support you to find out more about the NDIS, to apply for funding and to help you get started.
For those who aren’t eligible for the NDIS, Carers Queensland can also help you identify and link to support options in your local community.
You can contact Carers Queensland on 1300 999 636 or email email@example.com.