The Traditional Owners of this land are those who identify as
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples.

Sovereignty was never ceded.

ANTAR pays respect to Elders past, present, and emerging through our dedicated advocacy for First Nations Peoples’ justice and rights.

ANTAR acknowledges the responsibility of committing to a truth-telling process that promotes an honest and respectful path forward for future generations to build upon.

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Blog Leaning into the uncomfortable
6 minutes

Leaning into the uncomfortable

Blake Cansdale
Last edited: March 13, 2024

I sit staring intently at my laptop for several minutes, nothing but a blank page and a blinking cursor. As it turns out, I am struggling to find the words to properly introduce myself as the new National Director of ANTAR.

This may be, at least in part, because I do not like talking about myself… some of those nearest and dearest to me might challenge the veracity of this self-reflection. In this instance however, my writer’s block is likely being driven by my appreciation of the sheer enormity of the task ahead of me. Only two days in and despite coming to ANTAR with a great deal of relevant prior lived and professional experience – it is clear to me that I have much to learn… much to do.

Certainly, I must begin by introducing myself as a proud Anaiwan man – my Great Grandmother, Millicent (Bubs) McCourt nee Parsons from Walcha (northern regional NSW), my Pop, Alexander McCourt from Armidale (northern Regional NSW) and my Mother, Donna Cansdale nee McCourt from Sydney – Bubs having relocated with her Irish husband and my Pop to Redfern chasing work in the late 1800s. I myself was born on Dharawal Country (South-Western Sydney) and am privileged to call the beautiful lands and waters of Darkinyung Country on the Central Coast of NSW my home. In the same breath, I must also highlight the fact that I am an intensely proud – though often exhausted – Father of two beautiful young children, Teddy and Gigi, and husband to my beautiful wife of six years. There are of course many other layers to my identity, however, I needn’t bore you with the details.

Moving from the personal to the professional, I began my career managing volunteer youth programs in remote Aboriginal communities throughout the Northern Territory. At the same time, I was working with the Aboriginal Legal Service NSW/ACT at Redfern and completing a Bachelor of Law and Bachelor of Science (major psychology) at the University of New South Wales. Following my admission as a Lawyer of the Supreme Court of NSW, I started practice as a Criminal Solicitor with the Children’s Legal Service at Legal Aid NSW. On completing a Master of Public Policy and Management at Monash University, I then worked briefly as a Policy Lawyer with the Law Council of Australia, before moving to child protection and statutory out-of-home care policy with the former NSW Department of Family and Community Services (now the NSW Department of Communities and Justice). In more recent years, I have worked in Senior Executive roles within the Aboriginal Community Controlled Sector, namely as Chief Operating Officer at Tranby National Indigenous Adult Education & Training, and most recently as Chief Operating Officer at Darkinjung Local Aboriginal Land Council. I am also currently an Alternate Member of the Sydney District and Regional Planning Panels (a Ministerially appointed position).

In terms of what I bring to the table as National Director of ANTAR, I would hope many great things… certainly a multidisciplinary professional background and an unwavering dedication to improving outcomes for First Nations communities. Importantly, many of my professional pursuits have afforded me insight into the unique cultural, socio-economic and political circumstances of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples. Whilst acknowledging that most of my lived experience and professional activities have been based in NSW, I am certainly aware of the great variability that comes with advocating on First Nations rights and interests at a national level. In particular, I respect the careful consideration that must be given to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander nationhood, and to Indigenous Peoples’ continuing right to self-determination, including autonomy or self-government in matters relating to our internal and local affairs.

(Gladly) moving away from discussion of myself, I might close by sharing a few personal reflections on the business of ANTAR – “striving for a just Australia in which Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ rights as First Peoples are recognised, respected and enjoyed”. You might think now might be a good time for me to share my views on the events of 14 October 2023. Unfortunately, I’m not yet able to do so. Like many within our communities, I am yet to fully interrogate my feelings about the devastating outcome of the failed Referendum – what was a modest proposal to recognise the special place of our people in Australia’s history, and to give our communities a say over policy and legal decisions that impact their lives (seems like a no-brainer to me). Part of me is ashamed that I am yet to rip open the sutures of this wound (the band aid analogy isn’t nearly sufficient in the circumstances), yet the other part of me knows that the wound is still fresh and that painful realisations are the guaranteed result of this reflective exercise. Having said all of this, I realise that it is probably time for me to face the uncomfortable truths that await me. And if I’m being honest, there’s a good chance these ‘truths’ may not be too dissimilar to that which I was already all too aware of prior to 14 October, namely that we have a LONG way to go as a nation in our respect for and treatment of our First Nations Peoples.

As National Director of ANTAR, I have no choice but to lean into various uncomfortable spaces, even charging into them at times. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous about this. However, outweighing my nerves is a feeling of honour. Honour that I have been entrusted with the leadership of an organisation with 27 years of unwavering support and advocacy for my people under its belt, and honour that I have the opportunity to walk alongside my First Nations Brothers and Sisters, making sure the next time our People stand up and speak with a unified voice, that the nation hears us. What the message will be exactly, I do not know, nor is it ANTAR’s place to say… this narrative must be guided by our First Nations communities. However, irrespective of the next steps, I am ready to continue standing with First Nations peoples and Allies in fighting for justice and empowerment of our First Nations children, families and communities. Keep the Fire Burning! Blak, Loud and Proud (deadly NAIDOC 2024 theme).

Blake Cansdale
ANTAR National Director

Blake is a proud Anaiwan man and the National Director of ANTAR. Dedicated to empowering First Nations communities, Blake has a background in legal practice with experience in public policy, lecturing, Aboriginal affairs, business management, Aboriginal land planning and development, land acquisition and land management.

He holds a Master of Public Policy & Management from Monash University and a Bachelor of Laws (LLB) / Bachelor Science (major psychology) from UNSW.

Prior to joining the team at ANTAR, Blake held Senior Executive roles within the Aboriginal Community Controlled Sector, namely as Chief Operating Officer at Tranby National Indigenous Adult Education & Training, and most recently as Chief Operating Officer at Darkinjung Local Aboriginal Land Council.