Good Humans: Sam Thies

Images by Harrison Mark, Lachlan Sumer, and Sam Thies

Welcome to the Good Human Series, a space where we celebrate the good in humanity by sharing the stories of impact focused individuals making a positive change in the world through their work.

For the first instalment of Good Humans, we started close to home, visiting Queensland-based filmmaker and photographer, Sam Thies in his Brookfield home where we spoke about his recent project BUSH and the lessons we can learn from regional life.

Exploring 2020 through the eyes of the Australian outback, BUSH is a rich photographic study of those who maintain a strong sense of community connection, mutual respect and shared purpose in challenging times.

Q. Coming from Brisbane what sparked the passion to explore communities in the outback, Queensland.

I've always been drawn to the bush - I'm not sure what it is. I grew up in suburban Brisbane, so there's no family tie, but I think, generally speaking, most people can find a spiritual connection with outback Australia. So much of our history is embedded in the bush.

Early last year, I started a course in anthropology. I was looking for something to keep me occupied. I also have close friends Out Back and who were already impacted by bushfires and droughts. So, when COVID hit, it sparked a desire to see if there were any social or cultural impacts these events were having on outback communities.

Initially, the project started off as a bit of a check-in to see how everyone out there was coping and it quickly turned into a study on how city communities could learn from the the attitudes, the stoicism, and resilience of our bush cousins to better equip us in times of adversity.

Q. As a father, what lessons do you think the next generation can learn from spending time in rural communities?

Where do I start? For my two boys, I really want them to just be grateful for what they have and to contribute to their community in a positive way - to understand the cost of the energy and hard work that goes into things like the meals they eat. I think that's really important for them to wrap their heads around. Rural communities understand these sorts of things, which is what makes them so humble. Most of these communities have a really deep connection to the environment, too.

If I can expose my kids to the benefits of balance and the benefits of sustainability as much as possible, hopefully it'll play a part in their own choices moving forward. There's a noticeable change in their behaviour, when we spend more time in the bush. We talk more, they observe more. The agitations and anxieties of city life seem to just wash off them when we're out there.

Q. In capturing the BUSH project, you documented and captured countless Outback characters. Can you tell us about one that really stood out to you and why that was?

Look, there were so many great people we met throughout the project, all unique in their own way. But also most of them shared quite common values around community, and stoicism and resilience which seem to be central to survival in the bush. However, there was definitely one person that stood out.

"It was suggested that I get in touch with a lady called Cheryl Thompson, who's an indigenous lady running cultural tours in a coffee shop in Barcaldine. Initially, I was drawn to her work maintaining traditional culture in her hometown and surrounding areas. However, Cheryl had a new project to share that wasn't revealed until we met her in person..."

"It was suggested that I get in touch with a lady called Cheryl Thompson, who's an indigenous lady running cultural tours in a coffee shop in Barcaldine. Initially, I was drawn to her work maintaining traditional culture in her hometown and surrounding areas. However, Cheryl had a new project to share that wasn't revealed until we met her in person..."

So, we met at a coffee shop and, quite excitedly, she asked us to follow her a couple of blocks away. We pulled up at the Silver Linings School, which is an all indigenous school that she'd set up earlier that year, in 2020. There we were met by a couple of very confident young indigenous kids, who then proudly showed us around their campus.

There are open-plan classrooms with kids of varying ages working away. And some of them, you know, playing with Lego for the first time, others diving into the latest software on laptops, or creating music and art. And, you know, it was just really cool to see them all interacting, and in being educated so, so sort of happily, something a lot of us just take for granted.

Then Cheryl explains that they've all come from troubled backgrounds, where attendance rates at their local school was less than 20%. You can start to see the enormity of her impact on the young kids. We arrived there in September. And at that point, the attendance rate from when they opened the doors earlier that year was at 100%. So, you know, a really good indication that whatever she was doing, it was, was having a very positive effect.

We originally were just looking at staying in Barcaldine for lunch to catch up with Cheryl for an hour and ask a few questions. But that quickly turned into five hours. And at the end of the day, you know, myself and the crew were just so taken by her and the program - it had a really lasting impact on us. And because of that we've decided for every BUSH Project book that I sell, $25 will go to the school, which is really exciting.

Q. During the BUSH project you were exposed to many different farms and agricultural practices, could you see a movement in sustainable practices being applied in the farming industry.

There were a lot of conversations being had around sustainability and innovation by most of the primary producers we met. Many are letting go of European methods that were introduced through colonialism. People weren't just doing this to meet consumer demand for greener operations, but to future proof their businesses by working closer with the land.

A lot of people were practicing regenerative farming. Pastoralists were improving the landscape by creating a greater level of biodiversity, which provides them with a more productive pasture, a more eco friendly operation, and in turn, a more sustainable business.

Restoring that ecological balance with more trees, more foliage, and varieties of grasses has seen a huge improvement in things like water retention, native animal numbers, and even carbon capture.

Q. What gives you hope and what's on the horizon for 2021 and beyond?

I've learned that there are great people in these regions that are smart and in tune with providing a sustainable and healthy future for our country. There's also a wave of young change-makers, relocating to rural areas, bringing with them new ideas, more energy, and plenty of positivity.

And, if Cheryl Thompson has her way, there'll be a generation of keen, young, indigenous kids all trained up as cultural tour guides and eager to share their traditional customs with the rest of the world. There's plenty to look forward to.

At the end of this year, I'm beginning work on another project in line with BUSH -it's almost the next chapter. It's not in the bush this time, but a different Australian region, it's looking like it's gonna be a much bigger project, which is a bit scary, but it's following a very similar kind socio-cultural study on post COVID life in these regional communities. Hopefully, hopefully, it's just as rewarding as BUSH has been.

Follow Sam’s story and dive into his work, or purchase a copy of BUSH for yourself ​​https://samthies.com.

For more stories of humans doing good things we invite you to explore more of the Outland Freedom Journal.

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