PEOPLE: How Cherie Johnson built her business, lost it overnight during the pandemic, and started again

Five years ago, Cherie Johnson started her business, Speaking in Colour, to enable and improve education around Aboriginal perspectives. After several successful years of business growth, the pandemic led to a significant business downturn, and Cherie had to start again.

In this interview, Cherie shares why she started Speaking in Colour in the first place, and how she has perservered through tough times to ensure the business is still moving forward today.

  • What prompted you to start your own business? 

Speaking in Colour Pty Ltd was established in 2016 with the vision to support educators, and embrace and implement Aboriginal perspectives into the classroom. It is mandatory for all teachers to do so however, there are simply not enough local resources to support the teachers in doing this well.

The business started when I was on leave from teaching with my young children. Project work creating resources at night allowed me the opportunity to stay at home with my young family and still make a difference in education by supporting my colleagues.

  • How did you determine the business model and services for the business? How did you know whether there was a market for what you were offering? 

There are several arms to the business. The first was the professional development and resources for the teachers. This started organically as several of the projects I worked on in the early stages were for galleries, creating pre- and post-exhibition resources for the teachers to support the students visiting. This helped engage the students in their learning, developing a greater understanding of the content while the teachers felt empowered by the approved teaching support material.

Demand drove the supply and diversification of the resources, leading into education kits, cultural programs at schools linked to key learning area (KLA) outcomes and further endorsed professional development.

From this place we had enquires from the business, government and corporate sectors. Over time we refined our offerings, which we continue to diversify and modify to suit geographic location, objectives, and fit for the organisation size including online offerings.

Today our span crosses preschool professional development right up to the corporate space with the aim to support organisations’ and individuals’ cultural education journeys through our training and cultural experiences.

  • What have been your biggest challenges with running your own business? 

Learning how to run a business while balancing the why, that is making sure the impact we want to achieve is in the forefront of our mind. It’s one thing to work in your business, it’s another to work on it well. Understanding billable hours, time and money budgets, working smarter by understanding your demographic and how to make the impact you hope you can.

  • How did the pandemic impact your business? 

Massively, we lost 100% of our business overnight.

So, we took the opportunity to get busy and work on all the research and development we had wanted to do for ages. Fortunately, one of our large contracts advised we could continue with our training contract if we could go online. For a long time I had wanted to create an online option to supplement and support our professional development for teachers and business/government – here was the opportunity. Within three weeks we had over 10 hours of content created and at pilot stage. We continued to create and with a brilliant team we were able to deliver the contract better than we had originally expected.

Post-COVID, if that is where we are, we are back to delivering programs and products we had pre-COVID, however we now also have several other online options we are constantly refining.

  • In your view, how did the events of 2020 impact the way Australians view Aboriginal culture? Has this impacted the way you run your business?

There is a growing awareness of injustices and rightly so. I have found the majority of Australians are surprised when taught the real history of this country and surprised at the level of racism, systematic disadvantage and disparity between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people still evident today despite an individual’s socioeconomic status. The #Blacklivesmatter movement, the Intellectual property and copyright debate over the Aboriginal flag, the #wearitblackwednesdays are all people movements we should be aware of. This is growing.

Generally, we have found people are hungry to understand how can they be part of the solution. Our recommendation is diversifying your viewing, reading and listening. Look to the Aboriginal authors, story tellers and journalists to help challenge and shape your understanding.

At Speaking in Colour, a large part of what we do is support business and individuals do exactly this. We now provide online weaving experiences for anyone to participate in. Via our online shop we have two Creative Kids options, whereby you can use your Creative Kids vouchers to purchase two packs which are posted to you, all inclusive of the voucher value. We provide cultural capacity training for groups and individuals. Our cultural immersion wellness and team building sessions have become a very popular way for teams to learn and connect with each other post-COVID.

We hope to continue to make a difference and are honoured every time we are invited into workplaces, especially when we have been referred by our community to represent our people.

About the expert

Cherie Johnson is a proud Gamilaroi and Weilwun woman from Northern NSW, who resides in Newcastle, and participates as an active member of the Awabakal Community. Daughter of Dawn Conlan, Granddaughter of Rachel Darcy, and great granddaughter of Charlotte Wright.

Cherie is Founder and Owner of Speaking in Colour, an Aboriginal education and training company based in the Hunter region providing: training, cultural experiences and Aboriginal education resources for Corporates, Government and educational sectors.

On leave from her Visual Arts and photography teaching position Johnson is currently a PHd candidate and casual lecture at the University of Newcastle in Aboriginal culture and Education.

Image description: Cherie is wearing a black, long-sleeved shirt and is standing in front of a light brown wall.


ADVICE: Nuturing with a hand up, not a hand out – Anthony Cavanagh, CEO of Ganbina

Ganbina is Australia’s most successful Indigenous school to work transition program, with on average 88% of its Year 12 graduates finishing Year 12, compared to the Indigenous average of 66%.

CEO, Anthony Cavanagh, is leading Ganbina’s vision to achieve true social and economic equality for Indigenous Australians within two generations, with an expansion project that is seeing the model rolled out to Indigenous communities along Australia’s east coast.

  • What do you attribute Ganbina’s successes to?

Ganbina began in the late 1990s when the founders of the charity were tasked to fill government jobs with Aboriginal candidates in the Goulburn Valley in Victoria, where 10% of the population are of Aboriginal descent. However, they soon realised they couldn’t find Aboriginal candidates to fill the jobs available to them – the majority of Aboriginal kids were dropping out of school and were unemployed. This meant they didn’t have the skills to do the jobs reserved for them.  

It was soon very clear, that focusing on work placement rather than work readiness doesn’t work to overcome Aboriginal disadvantage.

Instead Ganbina focuses on the pipeline and captures Aboriginal kids from the age of 6 until they are 25 years old – that’s the entire education, employment and training cycle of a young person’s life. Once the education and employment gap is closed in childhood and adolescence, these kids become work-ready and independent adults who then inspire and create change within their communities.

Our focus is on inspiring Aboriginal kids to stay engaged in mainstream education and employment, we help them discover who they want to be but we don’t tell them what they want to be.

Kids know what they want to do when they grow up from a very young age. My 7-year-old grandson wants to be a police officer like his mum. Now that may change as he grows up – but the spark of curiosity is already there.

That spark exists in every kid – Aboriginal and not, and Ganbina nurtures by giving these kids a hand up, not a hand out.

  • How do you plan to achieve true social and economic equality for Indigenous Australians within two generations?

Ganbina’s pilot program was designed from its inception as a 50 year program, which is two generations. We are almost half-way through and will be turning 25 next year. The program is two generations because the research tells us that’s how long it takes to create meaningful change in disadvantaged communities.

For myself, none of the men in my family could read or write. I was the first man in my family to finish high school. Education was what saved me and I passed this onto my own children. Both of my daughters then went on to finish their own education, find fulfilling careers of their choice and now they are starting their own families and my grandkids will continue the same cycle.

I broke the cycle of disadvantage in my own family because education gave me what I needed to succeed. Without it, I don’t know if I would be where I am today.

When we give Aboriginal kids the skills, knowledge and self-belief they need – they will do the rest and create that long-term change within their own families and communities.

On top of that, we are in the process of expanding our model to a number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities across Victoria, Queensland and New South Wales. We know our program works and we want to roll this model out so many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities can benefit from it.

  • Why is the goal timeframe two generations, not one?

Because that is what the research says we need for long-term generational change to happen. As a country we are working to overcome hundreds of years of Aboriginal disadvantage and that will not change overnight.

Ganbina created a model that is focused on impact, results, early intervention and change. The model focuses on Education, Training and Employment and based on this, we realised we needed 50 years or two generations to go through this model to create the long-term impact we are striving for.

If you think about it, a child is really in some form of education, training and employment from the age of 6 until they are 25 years old – when adolescence ends. That’s the full education life cycle and we need to be with these kids throughout that entire journey so they can unlock their full potential.

  • What are the biggest barriers you’re seeing to Aboriginal children and youth remaining in education, training and employment?

We need to focus on where the gap starts for Aboriginal people, which is as early as 6-years-old when they enter primary school. We know that 4 in 10 Aboriginal children start primary school with some sort of development delay – whether it’s poor motor skills, below average literacy skills or communication skills, that’s almost half. For non-Aboriginal children, that figure is only 2 in 10.

This gap that begins in primary school, continues throughout secondary school, then the workforce and creates the long-term inequalities we see in Aboriginal health today. If you’re an Aboriginal Year 12 student, you have a 66% chance of completing Year 12. If you’re non-Aboriginal, that figure is 89%. However our Ganbina Year 12 participants are 88% likely to finish Year 12 – on par with non-Aboriginal rates.

We need to capture these Aboriginal children from that very young age and fix the gap where it first starts, then continue to give them the skills and knowledge they need to make the most of their individual potential.

Ganbina believes in the hand up – not the hand out approach. We won’t give our secondary school kids an after-school job, but we will work with them so they understand the long-term benefits of that casual job at Kmart or Coles. We’ll help them with their resume and job interview skills – but we won’t apply for the job for them. Once kids are bought in and see the benefits of education, employment and training they just need the right support to unlock what they are already capable of.

  • What role is and should the government be playing in helping to overcome these barriers?

Ganbina has chosen to be independent of government funding, because we knew continuity of this program was so important – and governments change every 3-4 years. However, that doesn’t mean I don’t think government has a role to play in overcoming these barriers.

Yes, government should provide financial support but with some important caveats. Financial support should be given only to Aboriginal-led organisations that can prove their impact.

Yes, Aboriginal-led organisations understand community, but that doesn’t mean their programs are working. A study at the Centre for Independent Studies evaluated more than 1000 Aboriginal programs and less than 10 per cent were being evaluated. This means that more than 90% of programs that are aimed at improving Aboriginal welfare don’t even know if their program is making the impact they are wanting to achieve.

Follow up research found that for the small group of programs that are conducting evaluations, only three had strong and rigorous evaluation methods – I am very pleased to say Ganbina was one of those three programs.  

We prioritise independent evaluation because we need to know if what we are doing is working if we want to achieve what Ganbina aims to do.

About the expert

Anthony Cavanagh is an Aboriginal man and the CEO of registered charity Ganbina, which runs Australia’s most successful Indigenous school to work transition program for Aboriginal children and youth aged 6-25 years old. He has more than 20 years’ experience in recruitment and specialises in ensuring Aboriginal children and youth have the skills and education they need to make a successful and sustainable transition to the workforce. 

Image description: Headshot of Anthony smiling at the camera in a black blazer and white-striped collared shirt. He has grey hair and brown eyes, and is in front of a green and yellow background.

PEOPLE: I felt like if I didn’t succeed at sport, I simply wouldn’t succeed at all – Morgan Coleman

The below is a guest post from Morgan Coleman, CEO and founder of Vets On Call.

It was an easy choice for me, an unlucky number for some but for myself it felt like it was one tiny step closer to my dream, one step closer to becoming like my hero Michael Long. My first ever junior football jersey with the number thirteen emblazoned on the back made me feel like I was inching toward attaining the success of the Indigenous sporting icons I admired so much.

I wanted to be a professional sportsman, I wanted to be like them, most of all I wanted to be successful. The reality was that for an Indigenous male growing up in regional Victoria in the nineties, sport seemed like the only way I’d ever accomplish such success.

I was a teenager when I realised I wasn’t going to play AFL. Decades later that moment is yet to be forgotten. I just found out that other boys my age were already being scouted by AFL clubs and I hadn’t even made a representative side yet, the truth was inescapable but given my lack of success on the football field I’m embarrassed that I didn’t figure it out sooner.

What’s stuck with me all these years isn’t the disappointment, it’s how scared I was. I felt like the one vehicle I had to a better life had just evaporated in the split of a second. It seems crazy to me now given my optimistic outlook on the world but I don’t blame my younger self for feeling like that. It’s not that there weren’t Indigenous Australians doing amazing things, it was that you just didn’t see them and the message sent by so much of our society is that we really don’t expect much for our Indigenous Australians. So, when I tried to think about what I wanted in my life it was impossible for me to imagine obtaining it without the avenue of sport. At the time I felt like if I didn’t succeed at sport, I simply wouldn’t succeed at all.

There is a big difference between knowing what you want and believing you can attain it. One thing that has never wavered throughout my entire life is my desire to succeed, the burning ambition to build a better life for myself and my family and my aspiration to build the kind of influence that would enable me to help improve the lives of those in my community.

After a few years in a large corporate I realised that it, too, would not bring about the kind of disruptive change I needed in my world. I felt disempowered there, I felt like change took too long, that there was too many politics and I felt like I was only ever going to be a passenger on someone else’s ship, not the captain of my own. I wanted rapid change, I wanted to feel empowered and I wanted there to be no ceiling to the things I could accomplish. I knew I had to start my own business.

When I set my goals, I aim high and I wanted to create a business that could scale rapidly, become a household name and ultimately stand as a shining example, a legacy, of what Indigenous Australians are truly capable of. After a chance encounter at a veterinary clinic I created Vets on Call – a technological disruptor to the $4b Australian Veterinary industry. At Vets on Call we’re redefining the way veterinary services are acquired and delivered and, in the process, I hope to help redefine the expectations Australians have for their Indigenous peoples.

These low expectations are not only rife amongst the average Australian, but are deeply imbedded in the institutions that claim to exist to help us achieve. The little capital that is allocated to Indigenous businesses predominantly goes to micro businesses with little scale up potential and the accelerator programs funded to assist Indigenous entrepreneurs to grow their businesses focus on teaching what an ABN is or how to write a mission statement. For those of us at the helm of fast growth, rapidly scaling businesses with huge upside potential the attitude of our collective society simply isn’t ready for it.

Vets on Call has become my life. I live and breathe it. I love this business with every fibre of my being. I love it not only because of how enjoyable I find the challenge of disrupting a $4b industry that has operated the same way for decades, nor because of how exciting I find my vision for its future. I love it because the disruption it is causing goes well and truly beyond the industry, it filters into my personal life and into the psyche of those who witness it shining. It’s disrupting a cycle of struggle and allowing me an avenue to create a better life for my family and I. Better still, it challenges the low expectations Australians place on its Indigenous Australians by publicly demonstrating the capabilities of our First Nations people.

When I reflect on the disappointment and hopelessness I felt as a teenager and at times through my corporate career I realise that it’s easy to allow yourself to believe in the low expectations that our society has for Indigenous Australians. It’s easy and at times comforting to believe you are powerless. However, with business and Vets on Call I’ve never even been tempted to allow myself to be comforted by that. Regardless of how hard it is, the gut-wrenching disappointment you can feel and the weariness that sets in with a prolonged, constant grind, I have never for one moment felt anything but truly empowered.

We’re still young at Vets on Call and we’ve a long way to go to accomplish the lofty goals we have for the business, but it has already changed my life. When I left my job and started my own business I was seeking self-empowerment. Business has given me that. Where once I felt like a passenger going with the flow, business has made me the captain of my own ship. It’s allowed me to determine my destination and to set my course and it reminds me daily that regardless of the obstacles I face, if I am to succeed it is entirely up to me. In my opinion that’s exactly how it should be.

About the expert

Morgan Coleman is a 31 year old Torres Strait Islander who was a finalist in the 7News Young Achiever Award (2020) and the Ernst & Young Indigenous Entrepreneur Achiever Of The Year Award (2019). No stranger to entrepreneurialism and hard work, Morgan was offered a place at Melbourne University but faced significant financial barriers to get there.  An Indigenous scholarship from Trinity College allowed him to afford accomodation to study at university and gave him access to some of the finest business minds in Australia. 

Today Vets On Call is one of the most innovative businesses to disrupt the $4 billion dollar veterinary industry and it’s traditional business model and offer quality veterinary services that are more affordable, convenient and stress free for pets and their owners.

Image description: Morgan is leaning over a table, standing next to a woman. They are both looking at a piece of paper on the table and Morgan is writing something, holding a pen in his right hand.

PEOPLE: How the First Nations Foundation is connecting Indigenous people to $24m in Superannuation

Phil Usher is a Wiradjuri man and CEO of First Nations Foundation, a national not for profit that is aiming to achieve financial prosperity for Indigenous Australians. In this interview, he shares the goals and community engagement approaches of First Nations Foundation, and the opportunities he sees ahead for the organisation.

  • What are the main goals of First Nations Foundation? How do you know when you’ve reached them?

The vision of First Nations Foundation is achieving Financial Prosperity for Indigenous Australians. Education, resources, and outreach are the three primary areas that we focus on to work toward achieving our vision. A big element of this is working with finance companies such as banks and superfunds to help them deliver information and education in a culturally appropriate way.

One example of this is We launched the site in partnership with key super funds to create something that would be able to provide information about super in a culturally friendly space. Each super fund that joined us as a sponsor receives their own dedicated web page. But rather than focusing on fees and performance like most super funds, we showcase what the fund is doing with the Aboriginal community via their own internal initiatives.

  • What are the biggest opportunities for the First Nation Foundation to improve the effectiveness of their community engagement?

Community engagement is something that is critical to success for the Foundation. We want it to be more than just an activity and really embed this into our culture. Community is 1 of our 4 strategic pillars and operates as a guide when working with financial organisations. One challenge is engaging with communities all across Australia. We are a National organisation but do have limited capacity. Whilst we aim to be inclusive of the various communities it can be a challenge getting through consultation with communities in all states.

  • What specifically is unique or important about community engagement for First Nations Foundation?

Over the past 6 years, we have connected Indigenous people to $24m in Superannuation via our outreach program The Big Super Day Out. The success of this program stems from the community partners that we have on board for each event. Not only do these organisations know about the nuances of each community, they also have a strong relationship as well. When we partner with the right organisation, we are able to leverage the relationship and provide the community with the best service based on how and when they like to receive the service.

About the expert

Phil Usher is a Wiradjuri man from Central New South Wales but grew up with the Gamilaroi people in Tamworth, a place he feels a strong culture connection to. He has a personal vision to empower people with world-class financial education. He is the CEO of First Nations Foundation, a national not for profit that is aiming to achieve financial prosperity for Indigenous Australians. Since 2014, the organisation has helped over 1600 Aboriginal people across 21 communities to be reconnected with $24m in superannuation. In 2019, the Foundation launched the world’s first online financial training designed by Aboriginal people, for Aboriginal people.

He is a regular finance commentator on ABC Breakfast TV and has been featured across a number of industry publications including Financial Planner Magazine, the Banking and Finance Magazine and Investor Daily.

Image description: Phil is smiling and sitting at a table. He wears a white collared shirt, and blue blazer.

VIEW: One Day Australia Will Stand up With Understanding

The following is a guest post from Susan Moylan-Coombs, Founding Director, The Gaimaragal Group.

As the world grapples with protests globally, sparked by Mr Floyd’s murder in the United States, First Nations people here rise in solidarity. We understand. 

The shocking footage of a police officer misusing his power and authority, deaf to Mr Floyd’s plea for life, “I can’t breath”, was traumatic to listen to and watch. People know it’s wrong when a system, through all its checks and balances, results in the taking of human life by humans in uniform – those who are employed to protect and service. 

In Australia some like to think of us as the lucky country, the land of the young and free.  So “young” that Australians don’t understand the hypocrisy in their actions. First Nations voices have and continue to plead. It is happening in your own backyard. Raise your voice for us here with understanding of that which seems to have been so easy to dismiss, leaving us in the blind spot and avoiding the unfinished business, leaving it incomplete.  March with us; activate the same internal energy and protest peacefully to right the wrongs in Australia.

We are all connected, you are us and we are you. We are all humans, right? We proudly sing…I am, You Are, We are Australians. That notion is complex and remains traumatising for some when we, as the original people of this land, still experience the racism, the discrimination, trauma and deaths, which keep repeating on a loop like a broken record.

We must stand up with understanding if we are to transform the justice system here in Australia to be more just; otherwise in the words of my grandfather,

Dr H.C. Nugget Coombs, “we are all diminished as a nation”.

The questions that remain are; Is Australia mature enough and does Australia have the will to change our current state of affairs? Will this country own its racist behaviours toward First Nations Peoples, and other culturally diverse communities? Will the Australian Government balance the books and reconcile our shared history through the telling of truth in how the colonisers moved in without permission, stole, killed and created laws over and above the Lore of this land? Would any of this stand up in law in an international court? What is the point of having Declarations of Human Rights and the Rights of Indigenous People?

I want to believe people are intelligent. It should not be incumbent upon the victims to inform those of privilege with what to do. You already know what to do – the death of Mr Floyd proved that. Humans are waking up and technology means the death of one man can ignite a global movement. 

About the expert

Gaimaragal Group is a First Nations organisation established to lead social change, create social impact by bringing together like minds and like spirits. We believe that the philosophies and teachings of First Nations Peoples, the way of life that has sustained us for tens of thousands of years, is worth sharing, and in doing so, create a new story of connection and wellbeing for all Australians.

Susan Moylan-Coombs, Woolwonga Gurindji, NT, was taken at birth from her mother and father, who were also removed as part of a government policy; these children are today known as the Stolen Generations.

Susan uses her expertise working with mainstream organisations, communities in the area of cultural competency, community development, empowerment and social planning. A founding board member PTSD Australia New Zealand (Fearless Outreach) member of many community committees in the Northern Sydney Region and Board member, NSW Indigenous Chamber of Commerce.

Image description: Image of a photo of Susan blended with Indigenous artwork in brown, red, black, white and yellow. Susan has long hair and looks to the side. 

ADVICE: Don’t be scared to initiate the conversations – Renee Thomson

Renee Thomson, a proud Wiradjuri woman and Co-Founder of Western Sydney Aboriginal Youth Leadership Network, believes strongly in the powerful impact effective community engagement can make, particularly in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. In this interview, she outlines what constructive change looks like and how she believes we can get there.

  • What does ‘positive and sustainable’ change for Aboriginal people look like to you?

Positive and Sustainable change for Aboriginal people to me, is the:

  • Acknowledgement and acceptance that Aboriginal people are the original inhabitants of this land;
  • Whole of Australia embracing Aboriginal people;
  • True history of Aboriginal Australia prior to colonisation is acknowledged and accepted;

Australia’s acceptance of Aboriginal customs and cultural practices that sustained our people, land, water, plants and wildlife prior to colonisation needs to be embraced to fix our country and help in creating a culturally rich, harmonious country for us all to thrive in.

Change is Aboriginal people having a voice.

Positive and sustainable change for Aboriginal people is my people not leading the statistics for incarceration, health complications, decreased life expectancies, disproportionate child protection cases, suicide deaths, homelessness and unemployment in this country. In fact, it is my people having the ultimate power to determine their own destinies, lives and aspirations for themselves, their children and their grand-children.

It will be a time where we, as First Peoples aren’t continuously facing the ongoing inter-generational traumas, racism, prejudices and socioeconomic disadvantages across the country.

Once we get there, we as a country will create a culturally rich, unified, harmonious country for all to thrive in.

Ultimately, positive and sustainable change is Aboriginal people not having to justify our existence, and having the ability to excel like everyone else in this country with our culture and history being celebrated, not hidden or overseen.

  • What can Australian government organisations, corporates, business leaders, and individuals do to contribute to this change?

As human beings, we all have the power to contribute to positive and sustainable change. Regardless of whether you work within government, a corporate institution, you’re a business leader or an individual within this country.

We all have the power to work together to initiate change to the life of Aboriginal Australia.

I invite and encourage all individuals to conduct their own research into the history of this country. This will give individuals the opportunity to understand the impacts of colonisation and the everlasting inter-generational traumas which continue to effect Aboriginal people across the country of all ages, genders and socio-economic status.

By gaining your own clarity and a further understanding of Aboriginal culture, you will be open to shifting paradigms and challenging the current status quo surrounding the First Peoples of this country.

There are great resources online which are currently available to assist in furthering your knowledge and understanding of Aboriginal culture and history, also many individuals and organisations who will yarn with you to provide further insight.

Reach out to your Local Aboriginal Land Council and local Aboriginal organisations for guidance – just don’t be scared to initiate the conversations.

  • What makes you passionate about driving this change?

I am passionate about driving this change because I want all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to know that they belong, they are valued, they are loved and they play a pivotal role in our society.

We are the oldest, living, surviving culture in the world with over 60,000 years of resilience, strength and perseverance pumping through our veins and this is something we must never forget.

We are standing on the shoulders of giants, warriors, trailblazers and leaders who walked this earth long before our time, who fought for the opportunities we are presented with today, and I believe that we must continue their work.

I want my people to flourish in all aspects of their lives and know that they are capable of anything they put their mind too, especially our youth.

Our youth need to heal, feel loved and know they belong. By instilling self-belief, confidence and self-determination within our people, that is when the collective change will come.

We must not forget that it was only 50 years ago that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people (My Mother, Aunties, Uncles, Grandparents and Great-grand parents) were considered flora and fauna (plants and animals).

They were not considered human beings and not counted in the Australian census, until the 1967 Referendum.

For far too long the systemic regimes which this country operate on have been failing and dehumanising Aboriginal people and continue to disempower us, on all levels. We as individuals must hold the power we possess within our hearts, minds and souls and continue to strive towards systemic, effective change.

One of my key motives and why I drive for this and many more changes, is because I long for the day when I drive down Luxford Rd (Mt Druitt), and I will not see an Aboriginal person being harassed/strip-searched and racially vilified by the Police, just for being Aboriginal. This is a daily occurrence in Western Sydney and across the country.

Regardless of the individual’s age, whether they’re holding their babies in their arms or their children are walking beside them, the Police will continue harass them.

It has to stop!

People don’t realise the ongoing impacts this behaviour and mentality has on the progression and self-determination within Aboriginal people at all stages of life. Whether this happens to us directly, or an Aboriginal person we may not know – it has the same effect on us mentally and spiritually.

Ultimately, I am passionate about driving change as I believe it is time for our people to take back our power and create long lasting, effective change now and for future generations.

  • What is the role of community engagement in enabling constructive societal change?

Community engagement is pivotal.

It is vital that communities are involved in all stages of any projects that may impact their Community – the planning, the implementation and the evaluation stages.

The role of community engagement in enabling constructive societal change is key. It will determine the success or failure of any community project.

When communities are not involved from the inception of a project, it is less likely to be adopted by the community. This happens at an increasing and alarming rate within Aboriginal communities, as institutions make assumptions, generalisations and judgements on a community, without understanding the history, values and current circumstances.

Through meaningful community engagement, institutions, companies and government agencies will gain a better understanding of the communities’ concerns, aspirations and values, which in return lead to the effective delivery of programs, legislations and policies achieving better outcomes for that community.

By upholding trust, transparency and honesty within communities through effective community engagement, it enhances the community’s approval, resulting in an improved uptake of services as they are more tailored to the unique aspirations of each community.

Community engagement can help shape and envision a community’s future, bringing wider societal change and global impacts through implementing services that benefit individuals and families in future endeavours and prospects.

  • What have been your biggest learnings from your career and experiences so far when it comes to community engagement?

The biggest learnings from my career and experiences within Community Engagement is understanding the importance of meaningful community engagement and the impact community engagement has on the success or failure of a service or program.

It has become increasingly evident that a service will either prosper or deteriorate depending on the amount of time and resources put into the effort of community engagement. Positive, effective relations between an organisation and individuals will usually lead to a successful process.

I’ve learnt to never set unrealistic expectations for any individuals or community members when delivering a service. I was once told, to avoid disappointing community you must always under promise and over deliver.

I learnt really quickly that community members are more likely to gain your trust through what you do not what you say. Many individuals have been let down by services who fail to show up when they said they would or haven’t provided the ongoing support their service is funded to provide.

Community engagement isn’t just the oral communication between an organisation, an individual or community. It is about being present, empowering individuals to make informed decisions and believing in the individuals/community you are working with.

When working in a community setting, especially within marginalised communities, you must be prepared to work longer than what is stated within your contract or your standard 9-5 hours.

I’ve learnt that if people aren’t willing to go above and beyond for community, do not apply to work within a community.

  • For those considering a career in community engagement with indigenous communities, what is your advice?

My advice through my lived experiences for those considering a career in Community Engagement within Aboriginal communities is quite different for those who are Aboriginal and those who are Non-Aboriginal.

Obviously those who are Aboriginal and are connected to their family and community will have a deep, thorough understanding of how to work with mob through their lived experiences. It is essentially working with family and upholding our values of kinship, respect and inclusion in all aspects when working with mob.

For Non-Aboriginal people whose roles may require them to work with Aboriginal communities through community engagement, my advice for you is to:

  • Speak to an Aboriginal person you know to have an open, robust conversation about your understanding of Aboriginal culture;
  • Request to participate in meaningful Aboriginal cultural awareness training prior to commencing your role to give you some context of our culture (note – this does not make you culturally aware or an expert in Aboriginal culture, rather just gives you a glimpse into the oldest, living culture in the world);
  • Respect Elders and leaders within in the community and involve them in important decision-making processes;
  • If it is possible, many community members would prefer men to speak to men and for women to speak to women, especially in circumstances where you are not known by the person or community;
  • Conduct your own research on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, so you are aware of the inter-generational traumas and ongoing societal impacts which continue to effect Aboriginal people of all ages, genders and socio-economic status’s;
  • Never assume, always ask (even if you may think it is a silly question, this technique will assist you more than you think);
  • Connect with your Local Aboriginal Land Council (LALC), local Aboriginal community organisations and Aboriginal elders groups to create meaningful, effective relationships;
  • Embrace your privilege and always be open to learning and shaking your unconscious biases;
  • Don’t be scared, worried or anxious when working with mob because we are the most welcoming, respectful, warm-hearted people you will ever meet.

I’m always happy to further discuss this topic and assist in any way possible, or be that person who you may want to reach out to.  

  • Why did you decide to create the Western Sydney Aboriginal Youth Leadership Network? What are the key goals for this organisation?

The Western Sydney Aboriginal Youth Leadership Network was created to be a culturally safe, inclusive space for the Aboriginal youth of Western Sydney and aspire to have a voice within government processes, strengthen partnerships between organisations and stakeholders and ultimately create social change.

William Trewlynn and myself (Co-Founders) noticed the lack of participation of young people in Aboriginal Organisations or the decision making on policies which affect us.

With that voice, young Aboriginal people can provide a youth perspective in helping create age appropriate change within their communities and throughout the world, if provided with optimal guidance, support and opportunities.

We believe that well-designed engagement with young Aboriginal people can lead to enhanced community involvement, increased self-empowerment and confidence, increased cultural connection and reduced contact with the justice system.

Prior to COVID-19 we were meeting once a month (the first Thursday of each month) at Kimberwalli in Mt Druitt, which unfortunately we’ve had to cease until further advised.

Together, at our meetings we discuss the current societal issues, policies and regulations that impact us as Aboriginal people and our ability to create prosperity for future generations. During our meetings we also strategise how we can overcome these issues collaboratively.

We have established a social media presence on Facebook, which is a public group open to any Aboriginal person under the age of 35 from Western Sydney. We share all meeting notifications, employment opportunities and community announcements through our page.

The goal is to ensure that the voices of our young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are at the table on conversations that impact them. We want to ensure that young voices are captured, articulated and heard on subjects which impact us.

We want to be spoken with, not spoken for.

  • What are you most excited about for 2020?

I’m most excited for the Youth Leadership Network to establish ourselves as an incorporated body of young people who are driving the change for our community and future generations.

I know that there is change on the horizon, and I am so excited to watch it unfold in 2020.

About the expert

Renee Thomson is a proud Wiradjuri woman with cultural and ancestral ties to Erambie, Cowra, Central Western NSW. She was born and raised in Mt Druitt, Western Sydney where she continues to work and live within her community.

She is devoted to increasing the economic prosperity and independence of Aboriginal communities and families across health, education, policy and reform and justice sectors.
Renee’s life experiences and ongoing involvement with community, has led her work in grass-roots and peak body initiatives and institutions across local, state and international platforms.

As the Sydney-Newcastle Youth Representative of the NSW Aboriginal Land Council Youth Council, Renee was selected to represent First Nations people at the United Nations, Expert Mechanisms on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in Geneva, 2019.

Renee firmly believes that the secret to success is to listen and work with community, to create tangible and positive change for all. With those goals in mind she developed the Western Sydney Aboriginal Youth Leadership Network.

VIEW: Diversity is not just about how one looks

Madison Page is a proud Wiradjuri woman, currently working in the construction industry as a Diversity & Inclusion (D&I) Advisor, while also modelling with WINK models. In this interview, Madison outlines her broad-ranging career, from studying marine biology to working with Aboriginal business leaders, as well as her views on diversity – or lack thereof – in the modelling industry.

  • As a Diversity & Inclusion (D&I) advisor, what does your day-to-day look like?

Each day is really different which is why I love it so much. I spend a lot of my time working on tenders and projects coming up with different engagement strategies to ensure we are providing equal opportunity to minority groups. The main minority focus group is Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people not only because I, myself, am an Aboriginal woman but because we are mandated by a policy called the ‘Aboriginal Participation in Construction Policy’. I also work a lot with keeping relationships with Aboriginal businesses and Social Enterprises to ensure they are given the opportunity to work on our projects. 

  • What initially drove you to pursue a career in D&I, and how has your interest in this field evolved over time?

Funny story actually! I had studied Marine Biology at university and when applying for an Environmental role at my company I was given the opportunity to work in the D&I space given my previous work experience. I jumped at the idea as any opportunity not taken is wasted. I fell in love with making a difference in people’s lives and encouraging an inclusive workplace. There’s a lot of work that needs doing in the D&I space to break various stigmas and shift ancient mindsets, so it’s a challenge. For now I’m super passionate about what I can do to make things business as usual in the space and encourage change. 

  • You also have a modelling career – what have been your experiences as a Wiradjuri woman in the modelling industry and how do you think the industry currently responds to or embraces diversity?

Since I am white-passing and have been told a lot I look Asian, I have been cast in Asian roles. I understand the industry is very based on looks however, I am not an accurate portrayal of an Asian girl. I think this is where the industry misses the mark.

Diversity is not just about how one looks. When people from different cultural backgrounds come together you get a ‘diversity of thought’. Understandably, the modelling industry does not really require one to ‘think’ per se but it should have accurate representation and equal opportunity for cultures. I have felt terrible for taking opportunities for work from girls who are Asian and have felt very out place when on those jobs. 

  • If you could change one thing about the modelling industry, what would it be? Why?

It would be how biased it is. But every industry has a bias. It’s whether you know someone, how many Instagram followers you have, your height, your shape, your measurements, your look. Granted each client has different requirements but it can be so hard to get your foot in the door when subconscious bias is a thing. 

  • Who are your greatest role models, and what influence have they had on your life?

Growing up I loved Jessica Mauboy because she was an Aboriginal woman who made a name for herself and at the time I wanted to be a professional singer, so it seemed to fit. More so now, it’s my mum. She managed to juggle being a single mum and raising two kids. She’s showed me how to be independent and to work for what you want. 

About the expert

Madii is 23 years old and a Wiradjuri woman who has grown up in Sydney, Australia. She is currently working as the Diversity and Inclusion Advisor for NSW/ACT at a construction company and has worked in the modelling industry. She loves spending my time in the ocean and with friends, and is passionate about making a difference to people and to the planet. 

VIEW: First Nations cultures around the world have some of the greatest solutions to current First World problems – Shantelle Thompson

Shantelle is a warrior, but not the way you might think. She believes being a warrior is about protecting and helping others, and should have nothing to do with fighting or taking someone’s life.

As well as being a healer, leader, storyteller, keynote speaker and health and wellbeing ambassador on the topic of ‘Warrior Within’, Shantelle is also a three-times Jiu-Jitsu world champion and is now preparing to qualify for a spot on the Australian wrestling team for the 2022 Edinburgh Commonwealth Games.

  • You’re passionate about the concept of the ‘Warrior Within’ – what does this mean to you?

As a Barkindji woman, culture is a journey that needs to be walked in the 21st century. Trying to find a way to balance opportunities to learn my culture and gain back what I missed out on growing up; to be able to become a knowledge holder and teacher for my own children; balancing western life, my own values, dreams; raising my families and making a living is very challenging and at times feels almost impossible.

But one thing I have come to understand about life is that we make time for what is important to us, no matter how difficult. My Songlines (cultural heritage) and knowing their lyrics and passing them onto my kids means more to me than air at times.

Uncle Mark Rose a community Elder I met during a leadership course in 2019 speaks about living your “Ancestral Mandate”. In a western concept this might be finding your purpose or your ‘why’.

In Uncle Mark’s words, “As Blackfellas, we are connected to a lineage that is 60,000 years old and our ancestors are always with us. Through this connection we have an inherited responsibility to find our way, our purpose, our role in this life, to do our best and become our best in honour of our ancestors and culture. And in service of this life and for the generations to come. It is not just life as we want it to be, but also about ‘how’ life happens to us. The gift of the moment is the lesson we are meant to learn and through this learning we find ourselves and our path. Our experience and what we learn becomes the wisdom to navigate the path ahead… But it is only when we make space for stillness that we can begin to connect and hear the whispers of the ancestors if we have the courage to listen.”

As Steve Jobs said, “It is only upon looking back that we can connect the dots.” Over the last few years, I have been asking myself, “Why am I this person? How did I get here and become this person?”

Because I feel that what I have achieved so far is only scratching the surface of the potential I have as a person in this lifetime. Everything I have done up to this point has been on autopilot, responding to life in the moment and almost following on an unconscious level. I now want to know what a life by conscious heartfelt design looks like. And it is through asking these questions that guided me to Uncle Mark and his concept of the Ancestral Mandate and having the courage to ask the questions and sit still long enough for the ancestors to guide me to answer. What is my Ancestral Mandate?

It is through this process and of mindful reflection on my life journey to date, and what fires my heart and spirit now that the answer of who I am and how I can serve the world has come through. I have always had the Warrior Spirit and been guided from within on an unconscious level and now I bring that from the shadows into the light and live by conscious design and ancestral guidance. My purpose is to bring the ‘Warrior Within’ into this world and help others to find theirs in service of the world.

  • Why is ‘Warrior Within’ relevant today and how should people be approaching this?

For me the Warrior has always been activated by serving others, protecting the vulnerable, taking out the evil, breaking down the barriers that stops us from reaching our potential or the next level, helping those who are able and willing to find their potential and using the Warrior within to walk their journey of truth from the heart without apology.

In order to serve others to the best of our capacity we must also serve the self. This is how the Warrior Within was born, in order to be a warrior to serve others and the world. I need to lead by example and be that person for myself first in order to be that for others.

It is about doing the best you can, with what you have, from were you are and who you are. If each of us strives to do our best each day and be our best in the space and the world as it is, rather than how we want it to be, whilst also working towards the world/life we envision in our hearts, we create ripples effects of this for others and slowly the world changes.

Being a Warrior does not mean killing people or fighting in a war in the way people might imagine. The best definition of what it means to be a modern-day Warrior is the following:

“The Warrior is not someone who fights, for no one has the right to take another life. The warrior, for us, is the one who sacrifices themselves for the good of others. Their task is to take care of the elderly, the defenceless, those who cannot provide for themselves, and above all, the children, the future of humanity” – Sitting Bull, Chief of the Lakota Nation.

For me, being a Warrior means to be in service of others, to be and lead from the heart, live courageously and dare greatly. The ‘Warrior Within’ concept means understanding who you are in your heart of hearts, in your truest self and having the courage to know intimately your shadows and hurt and walk with your light boldly and unapologetically. How we lead ourselves, is how we also lead others. Who we are as individuals has ripple effects to those we are connected with, and the energy we walk with radiates out into the world.

In our current climate, this is more important than ever because so many things are happening that are beyond our control. The only thing we have control of is how we respond and the next steps we can choose to take. I believe people need to take the time that we have been gifted (forced upon us) to reflect on our life before this season.

What opportunities face us now? Are we being in our lives who we want to be and doing our best? What lies in our heart of hearts? What dreams whisper there?

By taking the time to understand yourself, build your self-awareness and we can better connect, nurture and manage the self to manage the shit in our lives and show up in progress in the areas that matter or are a priority right now.

How you can begin this journey:

  • Taking space to ask yourself the questions and making space to answer them, either through journaling or talking to someone you trust
  • Reflecting on your life journey to date
  • Making space to dream
  • We’re at a time in history where so much feels out of our control, and it can be disorienting. What’s your advice to others feeling this way right now?

We are in a time that 80% of Western population of the world has never lived through. Other parts of the world have been through this and humanity has experienced this before. Remember humans created the economy and the current way of life. We will recover and create a new way of being after this season.

For me, it is about accepting things as they are, rather then how we want to them to be. Whilst also still holding a vision for how we want things to be and working towards this vision and accepting the reality for what it is.

It is about stages – the first stage is acknowledgement, second stage is acceptance and looking at what needs to be done third is breathing space and beginning to look at what we want to set up now and what opportunities are available to us, so that once we come through this we are ready for the next chapter.

We are often told to pursue our passions, find what you love and do that etc. There is also what lies in the ego/heart of what people want in life. And then sometimes life smacks you in the face and all of that goes out the window.

The current situation is beyond our control, but we can control the choices we make in the moment about how we respond by asking ourselves, “What is within my control in this moment?”, making space to sit down and identify the ‘non-negotiables’ for you in this moment. What are the things you HAVE to get done to survive this period? Your bottom line.

For me those things include how am I going to manage my wellbeing and health during this time – emotional, spiritual, physical and mental, so I can show up for myself and those I am responsible for and care for. What I need to do to manage financially to keep a roof over my head and food on the table during this season. This is a part of real, deep self care. Deep self-care is more than meditating and doing what feels good, though this is important. It is also about doing what we know we need to do in order to create a space to live our lives from thriving not fear.

Once I have spent time identifying these things and putting them into place, I can then take a deep breath, take some time to identify and feel my emotions. But don’t let me take over, if we repress our emotions eventually they will take over. They need acknowledgment and validation but not control of us. Once we feel them, we can then work out a way to manage our emotions and begin to take steps to manage the shit in our lives whilst still showing up on our terms and making progress. Once our foundation is solid and we once again have some sense of security and safety. We can take a breath and begin to allow ourselves to dream a little about what we would like in our lives alongside the necessary and foundational. Then comes the acceptance of this as the processs whilst we wait for the knowledge of when the next chapter may become available to us.  

  • What tools or advice do you have for people wanting to build resilience for potentially difficult times ahead?

To be resilient alone is not enough. We need more than the ability to be able to bounce back.The difficult times ahead are calling for courage, grit and resilience.

Courage being the ability to accept our fears and take action anyway. Brene Brown defines courage as having the ability to speak the truth in our hearts. And in these unprecedented times, we need to live, love and lead from the heart. Not from fear or ego.

Grit means you have the courage and strength of character to follow through. A person with true grit shows passion and perseverance. Goals are set and followed through – a person who works really hard to follow through on commitments and is able to navigate challenges and has the ability and capacity to be agile and adaptable during moments of change.

I believe these are skills that can be learnt. We can build these skills by;

  • Seeking help from a mentor/coach during these times
  • Reading books about Resilience, Grit, Courage –
    • Brene Brown is an amazing place to start
    • Author Jim Kwik has some amazing resources     
  • Finding online courses in personal development
  • Finding someone to learn from that you connect with and believe has these qualities. For me some of these people are
    • My kids
    • My culture
    • People like Nelson Mandela, Dwayne Johnson, Oprah Winfrey, Maya Angelou
    • Learn and develop a Growth Mindset
  • In your view, what can we learn from First Nations culture about addressing and further preventing some of the first world challenges we are facing today?

I am no expert and can only speak from the heart and the lived experience of my 36 years. I have a lot to learn. Yet these words I write feel like the truth in my heart and experience of the world at the moment. A world polarised and fragmented.

First Nations cultures around the world have some of the greatest solutions to current First World problems. Aboriginal Australian culture is the oldest living culture in the world, yet we are still fighting to protect sacred sites, to have our voices heard, our history and truth told and accepted, and our culture valued, respected and celebrated.  Despite 230+ years of Colonisation – a continuing process – we are still here, our culture is alive and being practiced today.

Our culture is a collective culture not individualistic. I believe this is the greatest lesson and strength our culture has to give to the world. Current issues of sustainability, consumerism, greed, climate change, mental health and more are symptoms of Western Culture driven by rampant greed, rising individualism, short-term focus, fear, ego, consumerism and capitalism.

In our culture we are taught that we are custodians of the land, not owners. Only take what you need and leave the rest. Look after the land and it will look after you. It is the strong and able persons’ responsibility to care for the vulnerable and less able. We each have our role to play.

We value our Elders and seek to learn from their lived experience and wisdom. Not lock them up and throw away the key like they have an expiry date. We did not have mental health illness because we had cultural practices that allowed us to sit with emotions, allowing time for scars to be healed. To learn from the experience, not be defined by it. And we never had wars because we operated from a place of shared respect, a place of enoughness and knowing our place in the world and this life.

I believe there is an untapped potential and richness to First Nations culture, knowledge and ways of being that can deeply serve the world now and into the future. If only people are willing to learn and come together with open hearts and minds for the benefit of the current world and the world our future generations will inherit from us and the choices we make and the actions we take today.

About the expert

Shantelle Thompson is a strong and proud Barkindji/European woman, who is also known as the Barkindji Warrior (or to those close to her Wonder Woman). She is the proud mother of 3 children including twins. Shantelle grew up in Dareton, NSW and is still strongly connected to her country and the community of Sunraysia.

Shantelle’s vision is to inspire and empower people to understand their power to overcome adversity and hardship, to move from surviving in life to being the creator of their own life. Her fight is to challenge the boundaries, smash the stereotypes and change the narrative that surrounds what it means to be Aboriginal, a woman from a diverse and marginalised background and a mother in Australia and the world today.

People: Why Leroy created Dhiira ‘out of necessity’ to humanise HR

Leroy Wilkinson-Maher is on a mission to change the way business leaders think about HR, inclusion and diversity. Having worked in a range of different businesses, he saw first-hand the gap between what was being said and what was being done on the issue of diversity and inclusion.

From these realisations and a drive to act, Leroy started his own business ‘out of necessity’. Here, he shares the journey so far, and why he is so passionate about creating truly inclusive workplaces.

  • What drove you to build Dhiira?

Dhiira was born out of necessity. From my experience working in both corporate and Aboriginal organisations, I saw a stark difference in the intrinsic nature of human resources, what HR represented and how HR was delivered, strategised and executed.

I saw all elements of HR – from advertising and recruitment to policy and performance management – having a completely different ethos. The ‘humanility’ was paramount in Aboriginal Organisations, where they were human first and solutions focused. Meanwhile, HR in corporate organisations were attempting to be human-centric and actually systematically a practising control methodology – ‘How do we place boundaries around our staff as to how they act, be and do whilst representing our organisation?’

This was interesting to me, and being a head of People and Culture, using my experience in both types of businesses I saw an opportunity for HR across organisations to explore the ‘humanility’ once more and question, ‘How do we dismantle the system of control to make it one of true inclusion?’ I come with a First Nations lens but this opens the door and the thought leadership opportunities for other groups of people, be that religious, ethnicity, cultural, LGBTQI+ and much more.

This is the starting point to explore how we value our people as the most integral part of any business. Without your operators you cannot deliver.

Our vision is ‘Humanising HR through Culture’.

  • What have been your biggest challenges in building Dhiira in the last few months, and how do you intend to tackle those challenges?

Dhiira is merely 7 months old. I was fortunate enough to get into the MURRA Indigenous Business Masterclass through Melbourne University and the Melbourne Business School. The prestigious program not only taught me critical business skills delivered in a way that was relevant to me as an Aboriginal man, but also gave me the networks and the collective I became a part of. These people became my brains trust. These people had lived experience in business where I had not.

Without talking on the COVID-19 and global economic impacts of this as this situation is still developing daily, I am not allowing myself to fall into the mindset of fear and anxiety but one of hope and perseverance. My culture is resilient. Survivors and I will survive this.

The main challenge I am facing is forging a new lane for this discussion. This will take time just as it did for Reconciliation Action Plans (RAP) and Cultural Awareness/Capacity Training did for those items now to be regular actions for businesses of all sizes.

There are other organisations out there dabbling in this space. However, collectively we have the challenge of bringing the importance of how HR contributes to ‘cultural safety’ inside businesses and allow businesses to have greater outcomes under their Aboriginal Employment Strategies or targets to make a true social impact whilst reaping the rewards of a happy and culturally diverse workforce.

  • Why are you passionate about Aboriginal engagement and employment? 

I am passionate about Aboriginal Employment firstly as I am a product of Aboriginal Employment Programs. At the age of 15, I was presented with an opportunity by the Aboriginal Employment Strategy (AES).

They came to be when I was in Year 10 and said, ‘Who wants to work at the Commonwealth Bank as a trainee?’

As I was finding ways to spread my wings and gain my independence to alleviate the burden of my financial needs on my family, I asked, ‘Will I make money?’

I also had a goal for myself. As the oldest of a generation I have an obligation to lead by example, to work hard to show my brothers, sisters, cousins, nieces and nephews what they too can achieve. This has always been my goal in life and in my career to be a leader, to show what is possible, what can be achieved through perseverance and a dream.

I see Employment as one of the main interjection points on deciding where my life is going and how I am going to spend my time. Employment provides purpose (in most cases), how I am contributing to an overall goal, vision or how am I on the journey with my employer. This comes with the other rewards – the skills you learn, the money you make, the people you meet and the satisfaction you find in self when you accomplish.

Aboriginal Employment is one measure to not only contribute to our communities in hopes to right wrongs that have affected our people over generations but also starts the conversation for how we work together to a brighter future. This will take time. However if you get the opportunity to work next to someone who is profoundly different to you, be that cultural, religious etc. you have an opportunity to learn, to disrupt your own experiential learning to learn about people, about humans.

This is why I LOVE this space; I get to see people being exposed to NEW.

  • In your view, what are businesses most commonly getting right and wrong about Aboriginal engagement? 

If I was to drill down on one fundamental thing I see all the time it is this: The right intention cannot produce real change without the right components.

You can write a strategy, be on a mission for social change however you CANNOT execute without engaging Aboriginal People in your narrative, your strategic development or your execution. Stop undervaluing the cost of engagement, the importance of having the people at your table who can inform you from their perspective, rather than taking your assumptive view of what this may look like.

We need to take one thought in this: ‘We need to do WITH not TO’.

Without being an Aboriginal Person, without the genuine experiences, learnings and ways of being, you will not produce innovation and legacy linked outcomes under your strategies. You need to invest in the right resources to make this work.

  • Looking at the year ahead, what’s your advice to business leaders on effective HR practices?

Now more than ever my advice is simple, in these times we are seeing the emergence of the humanility in all of us being brought to the forefront. Whilst we are facing one of the most challenging times in recent history I have seen both great and terrible human behaviour, however remember to be human, in the way you think, in the way you interact, in the way you lead.

When we return to normality, and it will happen, we need to carry the lessons of the past with us, what we saw, how we felt, and your employees will be looking for human leadership.

Join us on the movement to humanise human resources through a first nations lens and capitalise on the potential of your people through a workplace that shines all different colours.

About the expert

Leroy is a Worimi and Ngarrindjeri man born in Taree, regional New South Wales, and having spent the majority of his life in Newcastle, New South Wales, Leroy is a young Aboriginal leader that has a passion for innovation and positive change.

Leroy has had a successful Executive Leadership career in the Aboriginal Not-For-Profit Employment sector with a background in Banking and Finance.

Leroy is the Founder and Managing Director of Dhiira Pty Ltd, an Aboriginal Consultancy Business focussing on bringing true inclusion into the HR realm through ‘Aboriginal HR’, Humanising business through Culture. With Leroy’s lens on the world being one of opportunity not challenge or obstacle he is forging a new lane.

Leroy is an innovator, a creative, a fresh thinker, non-conventional, far too energetic, does not have an ‘inside voice’ and is on a mission to change the game and flip the script.

PEOPLE: Why Jaynaya trains others to “take my role in the future”

While indigenous people make up 2.8 per cent of the Australian population, more than a third are experiencing discrimination or harassment in the workplace. In schools, while 5 per cent of students are indigenous, only 1 per cent of teachers identify as indigenous, leading to a lack of role models and indigenous mentors for the next generation.

Jaynaya Winmar founded Blakbone Sistahood in 2019 to support, empower and lead indigenous women. In this interview, she shares the story and drive behind Blakbone Sistahood, what she hopes to achieve with the business and community, and the importance of community engagement.

  • What is Blakbone Sistahood?

Blakbone Sistahood is a specialised consultation business. We facilitate engagement opportunities for Indigenous Business with an emphasis on professional women within business. This can be through a number of different avenues such as facilitated networking events, brokered one on one consultations, specialised event management services and business engagement workshops.

  • Why is this important?

I started the company as a result of not having the time or opportunities to network or attend workshops that were accessible or tailored to professional Indigenous women. I saw the need to give space to other women finding the same issues as myself with accessibility and servicing these specific needs in a comfortable and safe environment.

  • What are your key goals and objectives?

Blakbone Sistahood has been set up to create a space where Indigenous women in business are given a voice, but more importantly they are given valuable support to grow their business. This can be through introductions to other like-minded women within similar industries or facilitated events to assist with navigating the social procurement policy framework.

  • Why is community engagement important?

I specifically selected the name Blakbone Sistahood because strong women have been the backbone of my personal and professional development. I have been raised by a strong Indigenous woman and supported by a strong Indigenous grandmother who helped to raise me. I was educated from an early age to respect others and to behave with integrity in whatever I have done. In social and business circles I have a close network of female friends and family that make my backbone straighten with strength and conviction. It is with this support I was able to have the courage to start my own business and feel supported every step of the way.

  • What specifically is unique or important about indigenous community engagement?

This network of women and men that support and engage with my business do so because they are able to see and engage with other Indigenous businesses. We can see success in many different formats within the business sector. We are now confidently sitting in boardrooms, engaging and contributing to the growth of the Australian economic trade growth both nationally and internationally.

  • What passions drive you with managing Blakbone Sistahood?

Having a natural passion for people and an ability to make connections to people and business give me a sense of pride. Seeing businesses that can develop a strong mutually beneficial partnership excites me. This means that Indigenous women can see other women succeeding in male dominated environments and not getting stuck at the glass ceiling.

  • What is your advice to indigenous and non-indigenous people about engagement with indigenous communities?

Like all business this needs to be done with respect and a mutually beneficial arrangement. If you are engaging with Indigenous communities, they need to be valued.

  • What are corporate, governments, and Australians overall getting right and wrong about indigenous community engagement?

This is a great space to be in right now and I am loving linking with other amazing businesses in this space and people that are like minded assisting with this process. We are far from getting it fully right with the supported Indigenous Economic growth sector. But we are supporting the conversation of how this can be part of the everyday process of procurement engagements and other such engagements. We need to be including all of the community on this journey and not just one business constantly or a famous name for promotional purposes. We have a large cross section of Indigenous businesses and leaders now who are now being heard and supported. I lead by training those that work with me or for me with the thought in mind that I am training them to take my role in the future. We need to be creating a strong workforce that are able to confidently not just follow our paths, but to see the way and make their own path of personal and professional growth.

About the expert

Proud Noongar/Balladong woman from Quairading in the wheatbelt region of Western Australia.

Jaynaya has a strong background across the Employment and Recruitment sectors through partnerships throughout the Education and Employment across regional and remote areas within Western Australia and Victoria. Having previously worked within the recruitment industry specialising in disadvantaged cohorts across wider Australia under the employment services framework Jaynaya has been able to assist in identifying the gaps in engagement deliveries and having the ability to effectively articulate throughout the partnerships on how to actively develop these.

With this extensive experience Jaynaya has been consulting on Reconciliation Action Plan development and implementation across corporate national and international companies or sporting clubs and peak bodies within the sporting industry through all plan levels for Reflect through to Elevate status. As an extension on this Jaynaya also has consulted with the development of strategic Indigenous Procurement Policies and Indigenous Engagement Plans. This consul Jaynaya has been utilising these skills and natural abilities to strengthen and share this knowledge of the business bonds between Indigenous Businesses and the wider business landscape.

This has been key in being able to assist with the engagement of State and Federal government Social Procurement Frameworks and the National Procurement Strategies and having the ability to translate the transferable skills of each stakeholder.

Recently Jaynaya has started her own business and is operating on the model of being able to network effectively with key stakeholders and connecting them with each other in a respectful and beneficial way for all parties.

PEOPLE: Why Kirsten is banking on 65,000 years of indigenous astronomy

Kirsten Banks fell in love with the night sky from an early age and has been investigating everything there is to know about it ever since – including how Aboriginal Australians viewed and used what they saw when they ‘looked up’.

We spoke to Kirsten about her passions, why Aboriginal astronomy is valuable, and how we’re leveraging it in Australia.

  • What is Aboriginal Astronomy? How does it differ to other types of astronomy?

The night sky plays an integral role in the lives of Aboriginal people. Our astronomy teaches us many things about the world around us. While Aboriginal Astronomy is unique in its own way it is similar to other cultural forms of astronomy where the stars and planets are studied and utilised in star stories.

  • Why is Aboriginal Astronomy important to study, understand and use?

Huge amounts of Aboriginal culture has been lost and silenced in the course of developing modern Australia, so it is incredibly important to recover this knowledge, a lot of which is written in the stars.

  • What makes you passionate about it?

I am incredibly passionate about Aboriginal Astronomy because I love the sky and Universe as an astrophysicist, but it is my Wiradjuri heritage that ties me to the skies.

  • What are the benefits of Aboriginal Astronomy?

In my line of work as an astrophysicist and science communicator, it is easy to see that almost everyone is inspired or intrigued by the stars. Respectfully sharing the great astronomical knowledge of Aboriginal people allows for a more culturally accepting society – at least that’s what I aim to do!

  • In your opinion, are the benefits leveraged effectively in Australia?

At the moment I think that these benefits are being leveraged. The Australian curriculum has been improved to include Aboriginal Sciences which I think is a fantastic start!

About the expert

Kirsten Banks is an Australian astrophysicist and science communicator of Wiradjuri ancestry, known for her work in promoting mainstream and Aboriginal astronomy. She earned a Bachelor of Science in Physics from the University of New South Wales in 2018, and worked at the Sydney Observatory.