Cormach and Coco don’t describe themselves as activists. I got the feeling that fighting for what they believe in is a way of life for them, as essential and automatic as breathing air. Cormach, a Yorta Yorta man, and Coco, a non-Aboriginal woman are passionate nurturers of Aboriginal excellence.
They’re parents to Waari (2.5) and Winnie (six months), who was born at the beginning of the pandemic. They’re happy and very, very tired. Waves of tender exhaustion ripple through my screen during our Zoom call.
Cormach founded Strong Brother, Strong Sister, and he and Coco co-founded Ngarrimili. Coco is also the label manager at Bad Apples Music. To say they’re unafraid of a challenge is an understatement. When Coco was six months pregnant with Waari, Cormach embarked on a 200km open ocean paddle to raise money for Indigenous men’s health. Things didn’t exactly go to plan. He dislocated his shoulder and was unable to finish. The feeling of failure almost broke him, but he doesn’t see it that way now. Money was raised, connections were made and organisations that could help people flourished.
I love that story. It seems very them. Taking on impossible oceans, falling apart and helping to put each other back together.
This is an edited version of our chat.
How would you describe 2020 in three words or less?
Cormach: Optimistic, loving, heartfelt
Coco: Fortunate, home, babies
And you guys are doing it with a toddler and a newborn! How is the transition going from one kid to two?
Coco: It is trickier than I thought. I hadn’t fully grasped that two is so much more complex than one, although COVID has meant there has been little reason to leave our house, it is hard. We took our oldest, Waari, with us everywhere – a sold out show at Canberra Theatre at six weeks old, Barunga Festival in the NT at 6 months, and he had his first birthday on tour with Birdz between Argentina and Brazil. Little Winnie has been to Jan Juc beach, Jan Juc park, and Torquay shops. I’ve taken the year off running Bad Apples, which has been a weird transition for me, but being at home with both of them has been really special, and I’m glad I made the decision.
Cormach: It’s truly been an incredibly beautiful journey, but I’ve noticed there are taboo areas of parenting, which I’ve found extremely strange. At times, it’s been difficult to manage general life – work, exercise, self-care, friends, family and just managing family time, all on very little sleep. It’s rare to hear people talk about the challenges and hurdles of parenting, which is something that needs to change to ensure people know that it’s normal to find times tough. It’s ok not to be ok.
Totally. I wish I’d asked for help when I was having a hard time parenting.
Coco: And for there be no shame around it. Cormach is a significant presence within his community, so for us to say it’s hard, is hard. People think of us as being strong and capable, so we shouldn’t be having a hard time. I think that’s where it becomes a bit taboo. You feel like you can’t talk to anyone about it.
Cormach: Words cannot explain how incredibly lucky I am to have Coco as a partner, Coco has been the Matriarch of the family always providing deep support, love, compassion and incredible guidance through this whole journey not only for me but our kids too. She puts all her energy into ensuring Waari, Winnie and I are full of wonderful energy and pure happiness. Coco is an incredible mother, when I find myself lost she’s got the answers, she’s got the strength.
Where does that strength come from, Coco?
Probably my Mum…
(Her voice broke here and she and Cormach smiled at each other. She cried a little through the next bit. Cormach took Winnie out of her arms and rubbed her back with his free hand. It was a very tender moment, which they’ve given me permission to share).
I think I derive a lot of my energy from her. She brought up four kids. She’s incredible. The word ‘workhorse’ isn’t right. She’s a fighter who stands up for the underdog. She’s logical about things, and she’s instilled that in us kids, even when I haven’t slept and things feel out of control, I can find that logical mind. We can both fall to pieces at different times, and somehow I’ll find the answer. I just tap into mum, the Mary in me.
How did you guys meet?
Coco: At a small music festival in Grovedale, I was managing the rappers A.B. Original who were headlining, and Cormach was fundraising for his paddle. He came backstage and I took a photo of him with Briggs and Trials. Then I asked Briggs to take one of me and Cormach. I think I stuttered when I asked him… mortifying! But well worth it.
Cormach:As Coco mentioned I was at a music festival, and got invited backstage to meet the boys. Coco was there and I went all shy when she asked for a photo, I thought Coco was incredibly beautiful and just had this instant attraction.
Do you still have the photo?
Coco: It’s on the fridge!
What sealed the deal?
Coco: I admire Cormach – his passion and optimism, he’s a babe and an incredibly good father, friend and partner. My deal was sealed from the get-go. Technically, a cheeky kiss at Meredith Music Festival was the deal sealer!
Cormach: Coco has an energy that is contagious, from that first interaction to now, every day she brings me pure joy, energy, love and so much more. For me, the first “date” in Melbourne I think I tried to steal a kiss a few times but couldn’t build the courage to. Meredith Music Festival was where it really kicked off.
What led you to work in activism?
Cormach: I don’t see myself as an activist, I see myself as a proud Yorta Yorta man. I don’t think I have to be an activist just because I’m Aboriginal. Standing up for what I believe in shouldn’t make me an activist.
Coco: I think you’re an advocate – you advocate for the young people in your community and for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander business owners and founders. You’re staunch about it too – if you see injustice or kids not getting the best opportunities, you fight for them.
Cormach: It’s a huge responsibility to be an activist and to actually identify as an activist. I can’t speak on behalf of all Aboriginal people. I’m one man with a passion to ensure voices are heard and respected, which we do with Strong Brother Strong Sister and Ngarrimili. We drive community voices to be heard rather than driving our own agenda. There are hundreds of different Aboriginal countries and languages across Australia. If I was to say I was an activist, it would be insensitive and disrespectful. I don’t want to position myself as somebody who can act on everybody’s behalf. Aboriginal experiences are so varied. There are different journeys and different traumas as well. It’s definitely worth mentioning the work of people like Aunty Carolyn Briggs, Uncle Archie Roach and Uncle Paul Briggs have done, to allow me to stand on their shoulders, proud and tall.
People want to put you in a box, I imagine, like how I just did. But that’s a good reminder. You’re doing something you believe in, and maybe other people can too.
Cormach: Or just, don’t be a dickhead, which is the simpler version. There are plenty of them out there, unfortunately. My job is to protect our kids and community from dickheads, and to shield them enough so they can find their voice.
What story do you hope your kids will tell about being Aboriginal?
Cormach: All I hope for is that they won’t have to worry about racism and discrimination. Waari was exposed to racism for the first time at 12 months old, which just blew me away, but also thinking about the anger I felt from that moment. I want to ensure that never happens again.
They have their own journeys to explore and grow from and we will support them in any decision they make.
What breaks your heart?
Coco: Lies. Systemic racism and injustice. The active silencing of the oldest, living, continuous cultures in the world. The Stolen Generation. The incarceration of children, the increase of domestic violence during COVID lockdowns, homelessness, this country’s immigration policies.
Cormach: Seeing people hurting, seeing kids and community members facing racism and discrimination still today, seeing injustice for our people. A key example is the fact that there have been 438 Aboriginal deaths in custody since the Royal Commission back in 1991 and no charges have ever been made, no accountability, seeing Aboriginal people die 10-20 years younger than non-Aboriginal people, children being removed from their mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, their families, communities and their culture. The impact COVID is having on people’s emotional health and wellbeing.
What truly breaks my heart is that Australia talks about how it’s so rich in multiculturalism, yet it can’t even acknowledge nor respect the First People of this land.
What mends your heart?
Coco: Compassion, family and music
Cormach: What mends it for me personally is family, culture, music, surfing and work. How we can mend it as a collective is to stop, listen, hear what’s being said, and step back.
Cormach: Sundays are usually a sleep in for one of us while the other gets the kids up and ready for the day. We live on the coast so the weather sets out the plan for the day. Coffee is always first (of course) from our favourite two places; Swell Café (Jan Juc) or the Salty Dog Café (Torquay). Waari has this intense and beautiful obsession at the moment for puddles, water and mud so we usually go check the surf and Waari jumps in puddles until they’re completely dry. Followed by a walk and bike ride to the park, where Waari shreds on the BMX track making sure he goes over every… single… jump. If the surf’s good I’ll go surfing, there’s a few naps for the kids and take away from Pholklore or Roku Den for dinner.
Coco: Depends on my mood, but on high rotation is: ‘Ok Now What’ by Go Get Mum.
Cormach: ‘Charcoal Lane’ – Archie Roach, ‘Place of Dreams’ and ‘Train of Thought’ – Birdz , ‘Aviary Tales’ – Dan Sultan and ‘The Positions’ – Gang of Youths.
Cormach: Surf or snow – depending on the season (and COVID).
Date night in?
Coco: Cormach cooking, TV off and dinner ’round the table with the little ones.
Me time activity?
Cormach: Surfing, culture, drawing.
Coco: Breastfeeding… jokes… gardening.
Follow the links to find out more about Cormach and Coco’s projects which are helping Aboriginal young people and First Nations-owned businesses thrive – Strong Brother, Strong Sister, and Ngarrimili.