‘…we’re coming to a point where Australians are going to want to start having these conversations about, “Yeah you’ve been doing this for 60,000 years, and these traditions have been passed on. What can we learn? Let’s talk about it. And how can we combine it with global technology? How do we make it about here and now?”‘
I am so excited by the role that the emerging business landscape could have in improving so many parts of our society. I think of the environment. I think of enabling people to find their authentic expression. I think of whole of life wellbeing and vitality.
And after speaking with this week’s guest, Jirra Lulla Harvey, I am inspired by the impact it could have on race relations, multiculturalism, and on enabling the people of Australia to live in harmony with this country, themselves, and each other.
The race conversation in Australia is quite immature, especially when compared with countries like the USA, Canada, and our close neighbour New Zealand. But as Jirra points out in our conversation, it is a time of change for our country. The voices of Aboriginal people like Miranda Tapsell and Adam Goodes are being heard. And while many people would prefer nothing was said, this speaking out is uncovering the fear of change and the casual and unconscious racism inherent in the daily language and actions of many Australians.
Jirra owns and runs Kalinya Communications, a marketing and communications agency focused on sharing diverse images and stories of Aboriginal identity in an effort to counterbalance the often negative media representation of Indigenous affairs. After a long history in the arts, including a stint at the National Gallery of Australia, Jirra started working with a wave of emerging Aboriginal entrepreneurs.
Businesses like Sasha Sarago’s Ascension Magazine, Australia’s first magazine focused on the lifestyle of Indigenous and Ethnic women. People like Jirra’s brother-in-law who is starting a landscaping business using Aboriginal principles of managing the land. And those who are creating businesses to create places and buildings using indigenous design and architecture principles so that our spaces and buildings work in harmony rather than opposition with our harsh environment.
I asked Jirra what characterised indigenous businesses, and she explained that they were values based rather than profit based. Integrity was fundamental to the brand of any business owned by an Aboriginal person due to the tight-knit nature of the Aboriginal community, there being a high degree of cross-over between family, friends, clients, partners and colleagues.
There is also a strong sense of getting as skilled up as you can so you can give back. Jirra works with four young Aboriginal interns each year, and the whole thrust of her business is about partnering with other indigenous and purpose-led businesses and giving back to her community. Competition seems to be a foreign word in Jirra’s business vocabulary.
Jirra and I met at her office which she runs out of the Korin Gamadji Institute, which in turn is located within the Richmond Football Club on Melbourne’s CBD fringe. Kirin Gamadji means grow and emerge in the Woiwurrung language, the language of the custodians of Melbourne. The institute works with 13-18 year old Aboriginal boys and girls through the Real Camp program, which helps them to develop leadership skills. Jirra helps with these camps, along with the annual Koori Youth Summit for 18-28 year olds where delegates set the agenda. Agenda topics often include things like decolonisation of things like your music choices, connecting with elders, language revitalisation, caring for country and environmental sustainability, and gay/lesbian/transgender rights and what this means within cultural context.
During our conversation we also talk about how to bring the world’s best practise of Aboriginal culture into mainstream Australian culture, how to best have cross-cultural conversations, and the mono-culturalism of Australia.
When she daydreams about disrupting something in the future, Jirra dreams of disrupting Australian morning television shows. What would the impact be if the perspective of an authentically herself Aboriginal women (as opposed to that of an Aboriginal spokesperson), was given space on Australian morning TV to say exactly what she felt on both indigenous and non-indigenous issues and news topics? Quite dramatic it would seem, and perhaps something we are not quite ready for, given the viewer response to a recent discussion on an abhorrently violent and racist game.
And Jirra’s suggestion for anybody wanting to subtlety disrupt? It is simply to listen to yourself and do what rings true for you. For Jirra, creating change through business seemed more aligned with who she was rather than doing so through other avenues such as protest.
Jirra is inspiring in her outlook and approach to business, and I hope you enjoy listening to our conversation.