Willing To Test The Status Quo.

Dr Indigo Willing OAM shreds stigma wherever she goes.

Dr Indigo Willing OAM as captured by Andie Dittman.

If you were to type the word “skateboarder” into Google right now, chances are the results would yield an unsurprising result - a series of men, mostly white and predominantly decked out in male-centric brands like Volcom or Dickies. It’s a familiar image driving a narrative that, for decades, has set the precedent for who deserves respect at the skatepark.

It is not unusual to find in any local skate scene, pockets of people whose capacity to respect and support the integration of new groups into the skating community is a trick not yet learned. While conversations around inclusion and recognition are entering the global arena more than ever in recent years, change is slow and normalising it within subcultures; on a local level, remains the key to enacting the change we hope for our future.

Setting the wheels in motion begs for a community of people guided by a thought leader willing to test the status quo. That person? Dr Indigo Willing OAM.

Perched on the half-pipe at Fairfield Skate Park where she learnt to ride at age 41, Dr Indigo Willing; an academic, founder, social activist, avid skater, refugee, mother and author unravels a life brimming with passion, purpose and boundless humanity. There are a number of words that drop into mind when it comes to Indigo. You could say she’s a woman of action. She’s a people person and a curious spirit. There’s a unique capacity within her to see the world through other’s eyes, while making them at home in her company. To meet her, hear her story and learn about her social enterprises; We Skate Queensland, Consent Is Rad and the Adopted Vietnamese International Network, was a privilege.

Indigo guides us to an area of the park where the odds of getting bowled over by an enthusiastic learner are least likely and begins to open up about her life as a “misfit and an outsider”. Her story begins with navigating a new neighbourhood in New South Wales as a refugee adopted during the Vietnam War.

“I grew up as the only Asian girl in a fairly white neighbourhood. I got used to doing things by myself. Though, I’d be friendly with everybody, because I didn’t have a whole lot of people who were just like me.”

As she found her bearings within this new environment, Dr Willing uncovered a profound passion for building accessible and empathetic relationships that would set in motion a number of social enterprises.

In 2000, aged 28, she established the Adopted Vietnamese International Network to offer authentic perspectives, resources and an international community for adopted Vietnamese people. This initiative led to Indigo receiving a Medal in the Order of Australia for her outstanding service to the community - and it was only the beginning!

Ever a curious spirit, Indigo continued on her mission to better understand the world around her, completing a Bachelor’s degree, a Masters and a PhD in Sociology that eventually paved the way to a home in the Sunshine State of Queensland.

At age 41, inspired by the sun and a desire to get outside, she picked up a board for the first time and fell in love with skating.

“Quite a lot of people from marginal [ised] backgrounds are attracted to skateboarding because it’s a very individual sport. It’s not like a team where you have to all wear the same uniform. I love it!”

Determined to encourage accessibility within the Brisbane/Meanjin skate scene, Indigo and her friends; Evie Ryder, Sophia Ross and Tora Waldren set up We Skate Queensland; a collective of womxm who come together monthly to learn from one another and to skate safely.

“If you have someone that welcomes you into a space you’re not familiar with, shows you the ropes, pretty soon you can use that space comfortably.”

A big believer in the power of a single conversation, Indigo co-founded another social enterprise; Consent Is Rad at the Pushing Boarders Conference in Malmo, Sweden last year.

In essence, the Consent Is Rad movement aims to prompt conversations about what consent means and encourages more respectful ways of relating to one another. It’s another layer to her grassroots work within the skate community, this time taking the conversation global.

“We get people from all over the globe to share their faces, words and artwork featuring the line Consent Is Rad. We ask them to have a conversation about consent when they create their image.”

Inspired by the stories of her diverse group of friends, Indigo is pushing for safer subcultures that welcome minorities openly.

“When certain minorities enter spaces like skateparks, it’s not always comfortable. Sometimes it’s not safe and sometimes people just don’t know what they’re saying is offensive or intimidating. There’s been so many years, where bad behaviour has gone unchecked. We’re trying to make things more healthy. “

Indigo urges all those in scenes “on the fringe” to remember to check in on their mates regularly and start conversation about consent and wellbeing. She is someone who absolutely embodies the change she advocates for in the world. It’s in the way she speaks, the way she treats others and ultimately in the way she treats herself. She is unafraid of learning, being challenged and challenging the status quo. It was an honour to share a corner of the skate park with her for an afternoon and hear her story. Indigo Willing is on a mission to break down the stigma around starting these critical conversations and it’s impossible not to get on board.

So, let’s make a safer space for all. Here’s some ways you can start!

Three consent conversation starters:
1. When I meet you, is it ok to high five or hug?
2. I have romantic feelings, do you feel the same way? If not, is it okay for us to stay friends?
3. If we have an intimate relationship, what are your boundaries?