For Dr Paul Collis, a Barkindji man, and one of the University of Canberra’s first Aboriginal doctoral recipients, peace isn’t just an ideal he tries to strive towards, but his way of life.
Dr Collis was presented with The Peace Run Torch-Bearer Award in February, an honour which seeks to recognise remarkable people who have inspired their communities through their deeds.
And while Dr Collis said he was honoured and surprised to be recognised at the event, there’s a far more personal reason the award means so much to him.
“I’m an advocate for peace. I made a decision back in 2004 that I wouldn’t use my hands to hit anyone again,” he told UnCover.
“I wouldn’t use that kind of physical violence, and mostly I have been able to do that. I’ve been attacked a couple of times since then, and even though I have been practising peace, the reactionary stuff is there at times.
“It’s a constant choice and being conscious all the time in my every moment trying to be peaceful.”
Despite making the conscious effort towards peace every day, Dr Collis added it is past experiences that have helped him find new ways to live a life of peace.
“I don’t involve myself in violent activities, I try not engage in violent talk. There is a difference between violent talk and violent acts – they’re both violence in individual ways, and I always try and take time to be in nature,” he added.
“If I approach situations where there is danger, violence or anger directed at me, I try and be calm. I consciously keep my hands in my pockets and where in the past I would panic, I deliberately try not to.
“Having that violent background from fear, it takes a long time to try and deal with it. So when I feel like that, or stressed out, I try and stay away from people, and conscious of where I am.”
As an Elder, Dr Collis also spends his time sharing his own experiences with younger Aboriginal men and woman in group sessions and showing them a life of violence doesn’t have a be a path they take.
“I try and hold group sessions – we’ll meet irregularly, but regularly. They’ll generally see me every day.”
With Reconciliation Week coming up at the end of May, Dr Collis wants to share the message of peace with everyone – both Indigenous and non-Indigenous.
“Peace is everybody’s business. The Wiradjuri people have a word called ‘yindymarra’ meaning to go together, not leaving anyone outside.
“Reconciliation Week should be about that – using that wonderful Wiradjuri word yindymarra every day.”
Meanwhile in a blurb from The Peace Run, the organisation says not only does Paul’s work “mirror the philosophy”, but recognises how peace also, and more importantly, comes from within.
“Paul’s life’s work mirrors the philosophy of the Peace Run – that change comes from within, and we each have a unique role to play in fostering a better world,” the organisation said.
“Even Paul’s email address – ‘paulforpeace’ – speaks to the purpose and goal of his aspiration. Paul sees and feels a more noble, truer, purer, wider and more sympathetic humanity.
“With humility and dignity, Paul speaks from the heart and to the heart, inspiring all he meets in person and through his writing and teaching, to be true to ourselves and thus step by step, brings closer our dream of a world united in peace.”
A teacher of creative writing at UC, Paul is a lead researcher on the Story Ground project, which finds ways of bringing together the living practices of Indigenous story and the teaching of creative writing in universities and schools.