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Kindred spirits – a privilege of a lifetime in North East Arnhem Land


Posted on April 11, 2013

4 min read

Hi everyone,

I recently had the absolute privilege of a lifetime, and I thought it worthy of a blog!

Telstra is one of the corporate partners of Jawun, an organisation that connects corporate and government organisations and their employees with Indigenous organisations throughout Australia.

Through the Jawun program,  I was given the opportunity to participate in a six week project-based secondment with Lirrwi Tourism in Yirrkala in North East Arnhem Land. North East Arnhem Land is in the top north-eastern tip of the Northern Territory, and as far as this city slicker is concerned, very remote.

Lirrwi is effectively a social enterprise designed to bring tourists into the small and remote Indigenous communities called homelands (usually between 5 and 20 people) to enable the homelands to generate some form of income and teach non-Indigenous people about their land and culture. Lirrwi takes a small commission to cover their costs, but in effect there is no capital outlay or commitment for the homelands – it’s a great business model and an example of a social enterprise making a difference.

My project consisted of writing detailed business plans for two homelands – Baniyala and Bukudal – so that each homeland could seek approval from the Northern Land Council to allow commercial activities such as tourism on the homeland. Without this approval Lirrwi don’t have a service to provide to tourists, and subsequently no income for the homeland. I also had the opportunity to help Lirrwi with some ideas for improving their business and reporting.

I was lucky enough to visit many homelands throughout North East Arnhem Land and met many wonderful and inspiring people – both indigenous and non-indigenous. All were patient enough to explain to me their perspective of Aboriginal culture – although I believe I barely scratched the surface!

Many things I have learned at Telstra were used during my project – from developing business cases to processes, governance to communication, leadership to capital planning – the whole box and dice, as I would say. So thanks big T!

In addition to the skills and opportunities that Telstra has given me, I also came to realise just how proud I am to work for Telstra. I have visited many locations overseas and have always thought our mobile network was world class, but in remote North East Arnhem Land you really begin to truly understand the positive impact Telstra has had on Australian communities through the power of mobile telecommunications. It is not very often you can say that you are part of something that changes people’s lives in such a great way!

And in a way, this experience has taught me that we are all kindred spirits in that everyone wants to connect in a very human way, no matter our background. And just how important constant and authentic conversations with friends, family and work colleagues are to making us who we are – even in a social media world! Telstra’s slogan of ‘it’s how we connect’ is just so right.

And last, but not least, the thank-yous…

  • To Matt, Colin and PJ from Lirrwi for welcoming me into their work and the broader Yirrkala community;
  • My fellow and very special secondees from Commonwealth Bank, Qantas, Boston Consulting, KPMG and Department of Family Services for the connections, memorable experiences and lifelong friendships that we formed; and
  • Eula from Jawun for her patience and guiding hand.

Finally, I would like to say a big thank you to my management – particularly Warwick and Tim – who gave me the opportunity, and my team who shouldered the additional workload with a smile.

Telstra will continue to work with Jawun, as part of our Reconciliation Action Plan, and we look forward to many more secondees putting their skill to work in Jawun partnership regions.