Creative connections

Jack Manning Bancroft and his mother, Dr Bronwyn Bancroft, are united by their belief in the power of imagination and their determination to stamp out inequity.
Jack Manning Bancroft and Dr Bronwyn Bancroft sitting together smiling at each other

Jack Manning Bancroft and his mother, Dr Bronwyn Bancroft

Sydney alumnus Jack Manning Bancroft founded the award-winning global network, Australian Indigenous Mentoring Experience (AIME), which has helped more than 25,000 students finish school and go to university. He's also a children's author and artist.

His mother, Dr Bronwyn Bancroft, is a proud Bundjalung artist and storyteller who has made a significant contribution to children's literature, publishing 46 books. A passionate advocate for artists' rights, she's also a board member of AIME.

Recently, the pair worked together on a new book.

Jack Manning Bancroft

Mentoring motivation

I was at university when I founded AIME. I could see that university students had all this time, whether we were sitting at Manning Bar or out at night. So I thought maybe we could tap into that time gap and help kids in school. And we did that by linking 25 University of Sydney student mentors with 25 Aboriginal children and ran workshops at a nearby high school.

Because I was given a leadership scholarship to the University, I wanted to make sure that I could give back. Guilt was really what motivated me to think about all the Aboriginal people and others who didn’t have an opportunity like mine. I wanted to make sure that I did something big with it. I think university provides a space – a ‘playground’ – for dissent, and that’s critical. It’s a safe space to push, to challenge, to not be shut down, for ideas to grow. For me, it was a big enough playground that I could see the edge of the rules and see how far I could push. That’s the essence of what AIME came out of.

Tackling global inequity

To solve a bunch of challenges, we needed to have a red-hot crack at inequity and shifting our ideas, values, behaviour and economies for the next century and beyond. So we started working with organisations, governments, schools, universities and citizens around the world to change systems and ways of thinking. And we use mentoring and imagination to unlock the potential of Indigenous students. I think that imagination is everything. If you don’t engage your imagination, you’re just following patterns, you’re not coming up with ideas.

AIME is now 20 years into building a global network – working in over 52 countries. AIME students are achieving higher school completion and university progression rates than non-participants. Over 25,000 students have achieved educational parity, transitioning to post-secondary pathways – and we now have 10,000 university mentors who support them. We have fused it all into a plan for the next decade by creating a digital space, called IMAGI-NATION, which is a research and development lab for humanity. I want to unlock the AIME Imagination Curriculum for every school in the world and train teachers to be mentors so we can achieve educational equity for all kids across the world.

Inspiring influence

To have a mother who never imposes limits on your imagination is the greatest gift that we kids had – and it didn’t stop when we were five years old. I’ve had courage – and that’s from what I’ve seen mum do. She has always had all these stories pouring out of her when she wakes up in the middle of the night. That energy, that precious energy, is everything. The coolest thing with Mum is there’s no limit to what is possible. She encouraged us to nurture ideas, and to be aware of the danger of shutting down the mind.

I also just reckon Mum and I like showing off to each other and outdoing each other. I think that’s part of it – it’s like, ‘Look what I can do!’

Bronwyn Bancroft

Advocating for art

I love painting, but I also love book illustrating, and my artistic practice has developed a lot since I started out. I have also volunteered for 14 years to save Boomalli Aboriginal Artists Co-operative to give other artists opportunities. I think it’s an exciting time for Aboriginal art, but there are also many voices that aren’t being heard because they don’t speak loudly.

I’m really interested in supporting a multitude of different voices. There’s a real gap between elite artists and the rest of the artists trying to get a slice of the pie – to be able to sell their art and even work towards an income. You can’t have a structure where you have one percent of people doing really well and the rest not doing so great. They’re the people I work for. I’ll continue to dedicate my time to this.

Changing times

I went to art school in Canberra in 1976, and it was very different to uni these days. You had people walking around in the middle of winter in bare feet, and living in cars. Then when I went to the University of Sydney in the 2000s to do a double master’s degree and a PhD after years as an artist, it was a different experience, as I was still raising kids and trying to make an income.

The PhD took eight years, but I’m pretty pleased, as I wanted that PhD a lot. I wanted it so that I could recognise what an opportunity it was, and to remind myself that my father was denied an education for being black in this country and designated a non-citizen. He served in World War II and provided for seven children. I did it for him.

Imagining the future

When you have children, I think it empowers you to be the warrior that you really are. I’ve faced up to important moments in my life – not only for myself but for my children too. I think having this connection with other people and coming together under a more collective understanding is one of the most essential things for our society. That’s why I just love what AIME’s trying to do across the globe, because it’s obvious that our government infrastructure and frameworks don’t really deliver what we need on the ground.

I have immense pride in what Jack’s managed to activate for so many people. It was a job that had to be done, because there was inequity – and there’s a lot more to be done. I’ve always encouraged him to use his imagination. Some people are scared of being smart, but the most important thing is the activation of intelligence. It’ll make your life better if you maximise your capacity in life – and enjoy the ride! You may as well be out there on a rollercoaster with your intelligence, tenacity and bravery, rather than taking a paid wage every week and just being a sedentary human being. I think that people need to revolutionise the world and be proactive about changing everything, in their local community and globally.

Written with Jack Manning Bancroft and Dr Bronwyn Bancoft for Sydney Alumni Magazine. Photography by Fiona Wolf.

15 May 2024

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