Jawun Journey: Partnering With Indigenous Australia

Having grown up in North Queensland and worked in the Northern Territory for 10 years prior to moving to the southern states, DMO employee Maree Weir admits that she assumed a level of understanding about indigenous communities and Aboriginal culture. But Maree’s view changed profoundly when she had the opportunity to participate in the Jawun Indigenous Community Placement Program.

This initiative develops partnerships between corporate and Indigenous Australia by providing avenues for professionals to put their skills and knowledge to use in Aboriginal communities. With a desire to help and to learn, Maree participated in the Jawun Program and worked with the La Perouse Aboriginal Community in Sydney, to develop non-Government sources of income for a child care centre that had been running for over 27 years.

Now that she has returned to her usual position as the Director of the DMO’s Work Health and Safety in Contracts Change Program, the DMO Bulletin caught up with Maree to learn about her observations and experiences.

What made you participate in the Jawun Program?

The Australian Public Service (APS) has given me many opportunities to develop and grow over the past 18 years and I now feel I am a valued member of my organisation.  From a young age, I have always believed that I should pass on such good fortune, and I’ve volunteered for various organisations throughout my life to make sure this happens. One of my core skill sets is establishing and progressing programs where collaborative and enduring relationships are required to deliver lasting value; this seemed to fit the Jawun focus on relationship-building. So, with some understanding of the difficulties inherent to living in ‘regional’ Australia, I wanted to give back to a community that didn't have access to the kinds of opportunities I had.

What was the most valuable lesson you learnt while completing the Jawun Program? 

It's really difficult to isolate the one most valuable thing; there were so many lessons and parallels with the 'corporate' world. If I had to choose a single all-encompassing lesson, it's that being recognised as a person of inherent value, while having a sense of connection and belonging to a community, can make (and seems to have made) a fundamental and positive difference to quality of life. In a nutshell, giving and getting genuine and simple respect, both individually and as a part of the bigger picture, has a demonstrable power to move mountains, no matter the environment - work or play. Importantly, giving respect is well within the power of each of us.

I think Defence and the APS could do well to consider this more closely when measuring the success of inclusion and diversity initiatives. It is easy in our bureaucracy, for the measurable outcome to be confused with the pathway to that outcome. Measuring numbers of people employed is not the answer; the answer lies in measuring how difference in each of our people is valued, and the measurable value created from that difference. Jawun and Aboriginal communities are leading us in this, by measurably valuing corporate people, and creating measurable value from our differences.


Is this for you?

The pursuit of meaningful work is something that most of us can relate to. Considering we spend a significant amount of our lives working, the desire to put this time towards something worthwhile is quite common. The work performed by DMO staff, to equip and sustain the Australian Defence Force, is critical and important and the skills of our people ensure our serving men and women have the right equipment at the right time to do their jobs. But have you ever thought how these skills could benefit other important causes?

What did you find most challenging and how did you manage this?  

At a work level, I was asking myself questions like: Why is it so? Why is this so difficult? What can I do? What can I leave them with that will make a difference? I was constantly checking myself to see if what I was going to deliver was simple enough for loosely connected people to pick up and progress and achievable in the timeframe. I'd have to say, this seemed to be the biggest 'administrative' struggle that all the secondees faced.

On a personal level, trying to come to grips with how I could know so little about the culture and challenges of people I had lived amongst for my entire life. How I could have assumed to know anything at all about such a diverse, deep and enduring culture, and why we all collectively continue to look at the incredible national treasure we have around us, and take it for granted. I managed this by trying to make a positive difference to the lives of individuals, however small, while I was there, and committing to making a difference once my secondment was over. I will continue to be involved in both the La Perouse Community and with Jawun, and encourage more people to learn about our Indigenous heritage where and whenever I can, as a part of this commitment.

What would you say to other DMO employees considering applying for the Jawun program? 

Do it! No matter what you think you know about Aboriginal members of our Australian community, or your initial reasons for wanting to participate, once you are in there you find this vast store of things to absorb and learn and it can be an incredible experience if you open up your mind and heart. At a practical project-management level, I relearned to, or reaffirmed that I could, analyse, scope, design, develop and deliver a strategic to tactical product in six weeks. On a personal level I cannot even begin to describe or quantify the change this has made to my view of Australia and my place in it.

Why do you think initiatives like Jawun are so important?  

To progress positive change of the size and scope envisaged, many people need to commit to it on a day to day basis. This program gives individuals the opportunity to make a small contribution, and, as part of the larger group, change Australian society for the better.  

More information about the Jawun Program and how you can get involved is available online.

Alternatively, email jawun.program@defence.gov.au