A passion for Reconciliation
Jawun’ means ‘friend’ or ‘family’ in the Kuku Yalanji language of Mossman Gorge, Queensland.
I have just come back from a six week secondment to Kununurra in the East Kimberley region as part of a well-established partnership between KPMG and Jawun. (Jawun is a not-for-profit organisation which channels corporate, philanthropic and government resources into building the capacity and capabilities of Indigenous communities.)
My motivation was to increase my understanding of Indigenous affairs in the Kimberley region and Australia overall, as well as explore further opportunities to assist with the delivery of KPMG’s Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP) commitments. Little did I know, I was about to embark on one of the most eye-opening experiences of my life, both professionally and personally.
I was seconded to Gelganyem Limited, an organisation set up to manage the distribution of funds and assets under the Argyle Participation Agreement between the land’s Traditional Owners and Rio Tinto who operates the Argyle Diamond Mine, 185 km from Kununurra. My brief was to assist the Senior Program Officer, Rebecca, in implementing the frameworks and systems to align the organisation’s strategy with the delivery of its various funding programs. These include scholarships for pre-primary programs, students in high school, TAFE and universities.
Consultation with the Traditional Owners affected by the operation of the mine was important to gain an understanding of the challenges facing their communities. This took me to several remote communities outside of Kununurra, including Halls Creek, Turkey Creek, and Wyndham. I was also fortunate to be invited to the tenth anniversary of the signing of the Argyle Participation Agreement, where I learnt about the frustration and complexity of negotiating an agreement that works for all involved parties.
From formal discussion to being welcomed to country with smoke and water (Mantha) and cultural dance performances, this was a truly immersive cultural experience. My daily interactions with Rebecca who I was working with at Gelganyem also allowed me to gain a deeper appreciation for the ways Indigenous culture influences their living and working behaviours.
For me, witnessing in person the challenges facing Indigenous communities was the most enlightening part about the experience. There is still a very high level of welfare dependency in the communities coupled with the apparent effects of poor health, substance abuse, mental illness, homelessness, incarceration, Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder and suicide. Life expectancy for Aboriginal people in the East Kimberley is 20 years less than the non-Indigenous population. The Gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians, in all its measures of engagement and well-being, is not closed and poor outcomes have been normalised by low expectations.
One thing is for sure: The Gap will not be closed quickly – there is no ‘quick fix’ but we can all contribute to help bridge it quicker.
It is hard to put in words what this secondment has meant to me, both in raising my awareness of Indigenous affairs as well as stretching my professional skills in audit and the unfamiliar territory of strategic and operational consulting. This experience has helped me establish many professional and personal relationships that I will cherish and grow in the future, one of which is the bond that I have forged with Rebecca.
Here is a quote from Rebecca’s farewell note to me on Facebook, which I will always cherish:
“My friend Minh. I was meant to keep you at arm’s length. But you made my barriers fall. I could not imagine our friendship could be so strong. Working with you has been an honour and I really deeply appreciate everything you have done. Goodbye and safe travels mate.”KPMG Australia has just been announced joint winner of the Human Rights Business Award presented at the annual Australian Human Rights Commission awards ceremony on 10 December – recognising our commitments to Indigenous Australia.
Feature Image © Paul Rossi