Corporate CEOs and educational leaders have joined forces to help close the gap for the remote Indigenous community of Lockhart River, following a unique immersion experience in the far north Queensland township.
The VIP delegation spent five days in Lockhart, talking to Traditional Owners, Elders, community leaders and families as part of Bond University’s award-winning Yarning Up initiative.
“This is the second delegation we have taken to Lockhart River following our inaugural Yarning Up visit in 2014,” said Bond University’s Pro Vice-Chancellor Pathways and Partnerships, Catherine O’Sullivan who co-hosted the group with Indigenous leaders Leann Wilson and Jeremy Donovan.
“Previously, our Yarning Up trips have focussed strongly on education and the role of women in Indigenous communities, with the group mainly comprised of female Principals from the Alliance of Girls’ Schools Australasia.
“This year, we included male Principals and corporate representatives which expanded the focus to a broad range of community issues such as health, justice, economic opportunities and art and culture.”
The corporate contingent included founder and Managing Director of Blue Sky Alternative Investments, Mark Sowerby; Executive General Manager – Specialised Services for ISS Facility Services Australia and New Zealand, Andrew Weaver; Chairman of Partners for McCullough Robertson, Dominic McGann; Sydney-based barrister and philanthropist, Fiona Sinclair; and Indigenous art dealer, Adam Knight.
Their input included identifying a number of potential business opportunities designed to generate jobs and income, such as a community-owned cleaning company to service the local school and other facilities.
“In conversations with some of the Elders and Councillors at Lockhart, they told us that financing the start-up costs is one of the main barriers to setting up a new business in remote areas like this,” said Andrew Weaver from ISS Facilities Services Australia and New Zealand which employs more than 14,000 people and manages the cleaning contracts at major venues across both countries.
“This is certainly something that ISS can help with in terms of providing equipment, supplies, uniforms and so on, which would allow them to establish a cleaning business owned by local people and employing local people.
“ISS has a strong focus on providing employment and opportunities for Indigenous Australians so, if a model like this works in Lockhart, the potential is there to replicate it in other remote communities or to expand it to other services such as lawn-mowing.
“But the clear lesson from all of our discussions with the community is the importance of listening to what they need, rather than telling them what they “should do”.
“As such, we’re now talking to the key people in Lockhart to see how we can manage this opportunity so it meets their needs and circumstances.”
The educational contingent included Executive Director of the Anglican Schools Commission Sherril Molloy, Emmanuel College Principal Patrick Innes-Hill and Executive Director of Worawa Aboriginal College (and original member of The Sapphires), Lois Peeler.
For Ms Molloy and Mr Innes-Hill, the group’s visits to Lockhart State School, as well as AFL Cape York House and the Cape York Girl Academy in the Cairns region had a major impact.
“Our Gold Coast students engage with rural Queensland communities like Quilpie and St George through Emmanuel College’s ConnECt Trips so I can definitely see the potential to expand that program to remote Indigenous communities,” said Mr Innes-Hill.
“But Sherril and I were both impressed with the AFL Cape York House model which provides a supportive boarding facility for boys from the Cape York communities so they can attend various day schools in Cairns. We both identified the potential for a similar facility in other regions, such as the Gold Coast.”
While all of the Yarning Up participants were impacted by the reality of life in Lockhart River, the community was equally inspired by the visit.
“We really value the fact that these businesspeople and Principals are prepared to take five days out of their schedule to experience life on the Cape and, most importantly, to spend time listening and talking to the local community,” said Lockhart State School Principal Siobhan Jackson.
“During Bond’s first Yarning Up visit two years ago, one of our teenagers helped out with the catering and spent a lot of time with the Principals. They included her in conversations and were genuinely interested in her story.
“That experience was life-changing for this young girl. She now helps run the Verandah Café here at the school and hopes to open her own coffee shop one day.”
Forging this pathway from school to tertiary training to employment is the underlying aim of the Yarning Up initiative which won the Premier’s Reconciliation Award at this year’s Queensland Reconciliation Awards.
“On our previous education-focussed visits to Lockhart and the Torres Strait Island, we’ve highlighted the challenges for students moving from small communities where they know everyone in town to large secondary boarding schools in major towns and cities; and how we can make that transition easier for them,” said Ms O’Sullivan.
“With our corporate leaders joining us this year, we’ve been able to look at creating employment and small businesses to provide real jobs for those young people when they return home and to ensure the money they earn is spent with locally-owned enterprises.”