Celebrate NAIDOC Week 2018 by getting to know, and learning from, some of Australia’s most inspiring Indigenous women.
Each and every year, Australia celebrates the history, culture and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples throughout NAIDOC Week. The theme for this year’s celebration is ‘Because of her, we can’, and focuses on the essential role that women have played, and continue to play, across all aspects of society.
We got in touch with a handful of Indigenous women who inspire us, and who are working tirelessly towards a better Australia, and asked them a few questions about themselves, about what they’ve learned, and about how we – as a country – can do more for our women and Indigenous people.
Meet Jirra Lulla, founder of Kalinya, a communications consultancy that provides a voice for Indigenous Australians across community, government and corporate levels.
Jirra, can you tell us a little about where you’re from, who you are, and what you do?
My name is Jirra Lulla – Jirra means ‘kangaroo’ in the language of the Gunaikurnai people, and Lulla is my grandmother’s name. My nanny, Lulla Morgan, was a Yorta Yorta matriarch from Cummergunja Mission, and my grandfather, Alfred Bamblett, was a Wiradjuri shearer from Narrandera. My dad, Lionel Bamblett, has run the peak Victorian body for Aboriginal education my whole life, and my mum is an English/Irish Australian feminist, and fierce social justice advocate. I was raised around politics, art, and community action.
Today, I run a communications consultancy called Kalinya, which in Yorta Yorta translates to mean good, beautiful and honest. Those words are my guiding business principles.
I established Kalinya five years ago to tell good news stories from the Victorian Koorie community. The role of the business has shifted with the industry and now I work to promote Indigenous knowledge, values and ways of working across community, government and corporate communications.
The theme for this year’s NAIDOC Week is ‘Because of her, we can’. How have the women in your life helped you get to where you are today?
I have loved this theme! I think everyone has, it’s been embraced and celebrated like no other NAIDOC theme I can remember. Aboriginal women play such powerful roles. I have been raised around many strong women, community leaders, CEOs, board members, it never occurred to me that being a woman would ever limit my career, not in my community.
Now I have had a glimpse into non-Indigenous business worlds and seen the gender disparity. It makes me appreciate even more the role of Aboriginal women in creating pathways for us; women who worked, did whatever they could to keep their family together when the welfare was trying to take their children from them, faced constant and often dangerous intersectional racism, lobbied government for our rights and supported (or created) community movements.
We are so lucky to have their blood running through our veins, and to have grown up knowing and honouring their stories. My nanny Lulla’s legacy guides a lot of my decision making. Whenever I am faced with an ethical decision I stop and think – will my next move bring her pride or shame?
How important is it for future generations of Indigenous women for there to be strong role models for them to be inspired by and aspire to? How can we help get those women in the positions they deserve to be in?
We have so many strong female role models in our communities, wider Australia is missing out by not knowing more about them. Supporting Aboriginal women in non-Indigenous environments means asking the questions, so we don’t have to.
We are a small population, working to create large scale change. It can be exhausting. Supporting us means questioning, investigating, asking: Are Aboriginal values embedded and celebrated in your organisation or business? Are you buying from Aboriginal businesses? Are there Aboriginal women in leadership roles? And if not, what can you do to change this? Maybe this means changing leadership structures, or maybe it’s as simple as buying Indigiearth tea for your kitchen – there are ways for everyone to get involved.
What has your career taught you, so far, about leadership, leadership qualities, and the difference between good and bad leadership?
I am studying an MBA at the moment, and the trend towards leading with purpose has been a real eye opener for me. Aboriginal people are raised with this sense of purpose; I was raised with an absolute expectation that I would work to contribute positively to my community. If you ask most Aboriginal young people what they want to do when they grow up, they will say be a doctor to care for my people, a lawyer to fight the injustices, an athlete to be a role model for a healthy lifestyle, an artist to continue and share our culture …
No matter the career, there is a deeper sense of purpose to their aspirations. So many of the Aboriginal business owners I work with have the goal of making enough money to create sustainable businesses, so they can give away products and services to their community for free. I am feeling very positive about this moment in time, in which value-led leadership is becoming a common conversation at the same time as Aboriginal business is beginning to boom. I think we are about to see some exciting developments.
In terms of recognising Indigenous people and culture in a real, tangible and meaningful way, Australia has a long way to go. Where do we go from here? What can the regular Australian do to help us get there?
Learn about our shared history. I understand it’s hard for many Australians to reconcile the images of pre-colonisation life with the lives we live as Aboriginal people in urban areas. There hasn’t been access to stories and realistic representations of history. But that’s changed now, we have Aboriginal authors and filmmakers, and the internet! Information is readily available, you just have to have the desire and interest to find it.
I sat with my d ad recently and tracked our family tree, for five generations our family has lived on missions and fringe camps, worked in itinerate jobs, bought land, started businesses, established Aboriginal organisations, been involved in political movements. If you live in urban and regional areas and are interested in the local community, you can begin by finding out these stories about the local missions and camps – written or produced by Aboriginal people.
Find your Boundary Road, learn when your town was desegregated. And follow your passion and interest area – we have incredible stories about international diplomacy, health sciences, land management, sporting achievements, engineering inventions. Lots of people are uncomfortable around Indigenous issues; they don’t want to say or do the wrong thing. Building more knowledge around our shared history – the good and the bad – it will empower people to have more interesting and meaningful conversations.
Gender equality, too, has a long way to go in this country. What steps do you think Australians need to take to ensure future generations of women are free to live, work and thrive?
Protect our safety. Women are already intelligent, educated, fierce, leaders. But we need to experience safety to thrive. Equality at work means that we don’t need to change ourselves, or lose or hide parts of our femininity or culture to gain access and that we can bring our whole selves to the workplace.
And this is a start. More people reading, learning, honouring Aboriginal women like Aunties Gladys Nichols, Louisa Briggs, Margaret Tucker, Mollie Dyer and so, so many more. If you want to learn about Aboriginal women in your local community, Google the local Aboriginal organisations. Every regional area has a co-op or health service and urban areas have peak community-controlled organisations in health, education, housing and legal services. Search for their founders and life members – you will be sure to find the names of Aboriginal women. And it’s because of them, we can.