Six weeks in the East Kimberley – a Jawun experience

May 11, 2018

180511 Jawun Blog

Fortescue Environment Advisor Olivia Hertsted is passionate about working hard to make a difference every day. She recently participated in a six-week secondment with East Kimberley Job Pathways, as part of Fortescue’s partnership with the Jawun program. Here is her story: 

For six weeks in early 2018, I lived in the East Kimberley with 10 other secondees from across Australia as part of a Jawun secondment. 

Through this journey, we all experienced some unforgettable moments together. 

Induction week could easily have been mistaken for a whirlwind sightseeing tour of the East Kimberly, but the cultural importance of this week should not be undervalued. 

As a Fortescue team member, I arrived in the Kimberley with cultural awareness training already in my tool kit. This training set the groundwork for more regional specific training delivered during our induction which gave insight into the Moorong Culture.

The surrounding landscape had an important story to tell and experiencing that landscape and learning some of those stories over the week enabled us to better understand the country and the people we would be working with.  

My brief placed me in East Kimberley Job Pathways (EKJP), an organisation funded to deliver the federal Community Development Program (CDP).  The CDP supports job seekers in remote Australia to build skills, address barriers and contribute to their communities through a range of flexible activities. 

It has been designed around the unique social and labour market conditions found in remote Australia and is an essential part of the Governments agenda for increasing employment and breaking the cycle of welfare dependency.  

As a Jawun secondee, I was there to help the organisation build their capacity and achieve their own business and development goals and I assisted by developing their Stakeholder Communications and Engagement Strategy. 

Collaboration with leadership was critical and I hit the ground running by scheduling meetings with all of the leadership team in my first week.  The open and honest discussions that followed were invaluable to the success of my brief and ultimately enabled me to develop an effective strategy that could be delivered in a central and regional setting.

Visiting some of the remote communities was also important so I could meet with EKJP employees and engage with local stakeholders including job seekers.

One of the most remote communities that EKJP services is Kulumburu, the most isolated community in the north west of Western Australia.  

During the wet season Kulumburu is only accessible by plane, with all supplies brought in on barge from Darwin. With the roads closed, we flew to Kulumburu on a stormy morning. I felt lucky to be able to visit this closed community as part of my brief but as our light plane started to descend I couldn’t help thinking what kind of challenges this small remote community faced and how I could deliver effective and practical solutions to support them.

In Kulumburu, I spent a few hours with the ladies in the art centre, hearing about the stories behind their art.  In this part of the Kimberley, the Wandjina or Rainmaker is an important part of their story. The Wandjina represents the laws of trees, rivers, rocks, bush fruit, animals and all of creations and gives the law on how we must treat and use these creations.

After our trip to Kulumburu we packed the car and headed off to visit a few other remote communities serviced by EKJP. The drive took us away from the Boab trees and into a sparse landscape where the red earth shone brightly and lead us to the small towns of Billiluna and Balgo.  

We met with local staff and walked around town to see the community projects the CDP participants were involved in. Later that evening we drove to a spot where the locals come to enjoy sweeping views over the escarpment below Balgo.  

I remember feeling like I was in the most remote place I had ever been and the realisation of how complex and challenging the Indigenous issues were in remote Australia finally became clear. 

The successful delivery of my brief was so important to me, and our Jawun motto was also to work hard during the week and play even harder on the weekend. 

My love of outdoor adventure was satiated in the Kimberley – visiting the Bungle Bungles, checking out private waterfalls and watering holes, camping at Lake Argyle, fishing for barramundi in the Pentecost River and morning hikes to Kellys Knob and Mirima National Park before work. 

As an environmental scientist, I was enchanted by the local environment ever since I arrived in the Kimberley, but my most memorable experience was spent with a local elder on his land.

We had a very special welcome to country, swam in the crystal-clear waters of Second Gorge, we heard dreamtime stories at Burger Hill at sunset and slept under a blanket of stars in the nearby bush camp after sharing stories around the campfire. It was literally the perfect way to wrap up my Jawun experience into one weekend away.

My secondment with Jawun allowed me to work with passionate and dedicated people, meet likeminded adventurers and learn so much about Indigenous people and their culture. 

I returned to Perth feeling absolutely privileged to be part of such an amazing program and eager to continue to learn more and to bring my Jawun experiences and learnings back to my workplace and to my family at home.