Walking in two worlds: a reality for Indigenous Australians
As an Indigenous man and a HR Practitioner I often feel that I walk in two worlds. The reason I use this analogy is that is sums up the feeling of being pulled in different directions by my culture and my professional career.
For most Indigenous people operating in two worlds is something that we have grown accustomed to doing. We understand that both worlds overlap, however, both worlds are never truly aligned. We often feel that we are in a constant battle going back and forwards in order to feel that we fit in.
Recently I headed back home to attend my Uncle’s funeral. This was the first time in a number of months that I had been back on Country. Although this was a sad time, it was still great to be back connecting with my family. It is this connection to my family and my culture that gives me strength and provides me with the added motivation when times are tough.
Part of the reason for me to pursue Tertiary Education was to get ahead in life so I could provide for my family. But this also came with sacrifice, as I can’t always attend important family events due to study or work commitments. I also understood that I could have pursued a different degree such as Health, Education or Law and perhaps given back to my community through these professions. But instead I wanted to go out on a limb and carve out my path in Human Resources.
During my classes I often felt lonely and isolated as I was often the only Aboriginal person in a sea of white and Asian faces. It’s a strange feeling looking around a room, knowing and feeling you’re the odd one out. It’s the same feeling I had when I first began my professional career.
Over time I got used to being the only Indigenous person working in the business. This was tough when I first started out. I often felt I couldn’t talk to fellow colleagues about how I missed my family. I felt isolated and that I didn’t belong. It wasn’t because I didn’t want to talk, it was the feeling that they wouldn’t understand.
At times I often felt like walking away from things; that people were waiting or expecting me to do that. So out of stubbornness I kept going just so I couldn’t have them say “I told you so”. Society often depicts Indigenous people in a particularly negative way but as a society do we also have a stereotype for Indigenous Professionals?
Walking away was always the easiest way out but I knew if I wanted to set an example for other Indigenous people I had to see things out.
My family have been a large part in helping me get to where I am today. They have been my support network outside work. My friends are also there for me and it’s this sense of family and community that keeps me strong.
At the best of times my family may not understand what my different jobs have entailed. They do however understand the importance of setting a positive example for others. This is what keeps me getting out of bed day in and day out.
Walking in two worlds is challenging, the fear or loneliness and isolation is a real thing and something I often experience. There is also the added pressure of having to prove yourself to others, to prove you have earned the right to be there.
The work I do with Indigenous candidates at KPMG is very rewarding but also very challenging. Asking people to see the world through my eyes is tough.
The success of my people and Indigenous business matters to Australia’s productivity. In 2012-2013 the combined income of the top 500 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander corporations was almost $1.71 billion, which increased by 6.2 percent from the previous year*.
Working with both Indigenous people and Indigenous businesses can create a virtuous cycle that can foster further economic development and wealth creation.
In 1857, Afro American freedom fighter Frederick Douglass, said “if there is no struggle, there Is no progress”. He was right and so I continue to believe that mine and other Indigenous peoples struggle will, in the end, bring the two worlds together.
*Enabling Prosperity: Success Factors for Indigenous Economic Development
Andrew is a proud Dunghutti and Anaiwan man from the Northern Tablelands of New South Wales. His ancestry is also a mix of Singaporean, German and Native American.