‘Dadirri,’ the Aboriginal word for deep listening, was demonstrated by attendees at this year’s Defence Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Network conference.
More than 300 personnel from across Australia listened and shared their Defence journeys on Ngunnawal land, in Canberra, from 2-3 November.
The conference provided a forum for Australian Defence Force and Public Service personnel, supervisors and supporters at all levels to contribute to the development of Indigenous initiatives and their own personal development in Defence.
The 2017 theme ‘Reflect. Learn. Progress…together’ was selected to acknowledge the significant anniversaries commemorated in 2017 and also the journey both Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians have shared to achieve reconciliation.
The conference provided the opportunity to reflect on some of the significant milestones, including 20 years since the release of the Bringing Them Home Report; 25 years since the Mabo decision; 25 years since the Redfern speech, and 50 years since the 1967 referendum.
Norm Laing, a proud Dunghutti man from Kempsey, New South Wales, once again facilitated the conference. He served in the Army from 1995-2002 and was one of the first Indigenous graduates of a Bachelor of Laws.
Currently the independent chair of the Cultural Advisory Group for the Directorate of Indigenous Affairs, Mr Laing said the diverse nature of Defence meant it had people all over the country.
“So this is an opportunity to bring together brothers and sisters, regardless of rank – in the APS and in uniform – to network, to be more informed on what Defence is doing to assist in day-to-day operations and capability,” Mr Laing said.
“It also provides moderation and inspiration for new generations of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders in Defence.”
Defence’s Indigenous Champion, Deputy Secretary Estate and Infrastructure Group Steve Grzeskowiak, provided the opening address.
Guest keynote speakers included artist, musician and speaker Jeremy Donovan, and General Manager, Inclusion and Social Policy AFL, Tanya Hosch.
Mr Donovan told of his struggles as a young boy growing up in foster care and how he became who he was today – a proud Indigenous man and father to his children.
“I was in 17 foster families before I was five years old. At six, I had a vocabulary of 30 words,” he said.
“Growing up I chased my identity. I tell my kids they can be whatever they want; I encourage them to learn, and obtain the knowledge they need to succeed.”
Ms Hosch said she had no formal educational qualifications, but she had workplace experiences that influenced her life journey.
“I learnt a lot on the job,” she said.
“I took on challenges to prove people wrong...to do the best I could do.”
Able Seaman Communication and Information Systems Kelly Clear of, HMAS Stirling – a Yorta Yorta, Wiradjuri woman from Deniliquin – said she attended the conference to learn.
“I’m here to network and learn and pass on any information I can back to my workplace,” Able Seaman Clear said.
“People have different ways of operating, so the networking gives me the opportunity to listen and learn and take back the best practice to my workplace and try to implement it, especially in regards to cultural diversity and knowledge,” she said.
Navy has a strong focus on recruitment and retention of Indigenous Australians. It is committed to being an employer of choice by growing a culture that values individual differences, nurtures talent and ensures opportunities for personal and professional growth. This commitment is aligned with Government policies surrounding Closing the Gap measures.