Heywire 2017

Photo via Flickr
I’ve been to the Heywire Regional Youth Summit four times now. Every year I think I know what to expect. In the lead up, I spend weeks looking at the program. I write run sheets and logistics plans. I know the names of every person who’ll be coming, their dietary requirements and room allocations. It’s my job to know what the Summit will be.
And then you get there. And there’s no way you can prepare for it, not really. There’s no way to prepare for the force of being in a room with 57 passionate young people. Every year I forget what it’s like to listen to their ideas and know that they will change the world, just a little bit. There’s nothing to prepare you for watching them grow. Because in that week every one of them changes. For many of the young people who come to the Summit, it’s the furthest they’ve been from home or their first time on a plane. It’s the first time people have asked, really honestly asked, for their opinions and valued their answers. Some of them become a little more confident, some more proud of their culture or their region. There’s something quite magical about taking this group of complete strangers and smashing them together. That environment is intoxicating. When everyone is outside their comfort zone, there’s suddenly not a lot to gain by pretending to be someone that you’re not. For some it is the chance to be themselves, truly themselves, for the first time in their life.
Heywire isn’t a leadership program in the traditional sense. We don’t choose people based on their CV. We choose them for their stories. They are ordinary and diverse. You come as you are. The power of Heywire lies in taking these ordinary, incredible people and showing them that they have a voice and that voice has power. 
They go from being nervous and unsure to standing up in Parliament House and pitching ideas to improve regional Australia. Watching them stand up and say “this is what I care about” is earth shattering. At the end of the presentation this year, exhausted and overwhelmed, I stood to one side of the theatre and I sobbed. I cried messy, happy tears because I was so proud of them. And because I am so lucky that helping them is my job.
I used to be a shy awkward kid, living in regional Australia. Before I was a staff member, I came to the Summit as a young person. I stepped outside my comfort zone. I talked to people from all over the country. I stood up at an earlier prototype of that presentation and talked about education. I was 19, just. I was experimenting with lipstick and brightly coloured clothes. Back then I spent a lot of time trying to work out who I was. I spent a lot of time pretending that I knew.
At the culmination of the Summit week – after the speeches and the presentations and the official business – there is dancing. You need the dancing; the closure and catharsis of it. This year, for the first time since I started working at Heywire, I danced. I nudged shy kids onto the dance floor, smiled at them and told them not to worry too much.  “You just pretend,” I shouted at one over the music. “You just pretend you know what you’re doing.”
In that moment I realised that I was just dancing. Without really noticing, I’d stopped pretending because I didn’t need to anymore. Dancing has always felt like a distillation of confidence. You have to be so sure of yourself and your own body and so comfortable in your surroundings to be able to dance with ease. It occurred to me, laughing comfortably on the dance floor at a work function, that I know who I am, after years and years of just pretending to. I am comfortable in myself. I don’t have to pretend that I know how to dance. And that realisation changed my life, just like that.
Once you’ve done a couple, you think you know what the Summit is going to be. You start to think it’s lost the capacity to change you. Because it can’t possibly change you every year. There’s just no way. When you write the spreadsheets you start to think you’re immune to the reality of it. But nothing can really prepare you for the power it has. The power in seeing who these young people are going to be, before they can see it for themselves. 

You can find all the stories from this year’s Winners and learn more about Heywire here. 
You can watch a video about the Summit here.

Views my own.

Further reading

December – home

I spent the first minutes of 2018 on the beach. I’ve never actually spent New Year