Working towards reconciliation through the culture of Indigenous Victorians

For 35 years the Koorie Heritage Trust has been working to protect, preserve and promote the living culture of Indigenous people in south-eastern Australia. Viva Energy Australia works closely with Indigenous communities across different parts of the country, and began a three-year partnership with the Koorie Heritage Trust in 2018.

TomMosbyPortrait

 

Generally speaking, there is a gap in our understanding of Indigenous culture within the wider Australian community. Indigenous paintings and storytelling, the instruments used in cultural performances and the performances themselves, are all part of a culture that is as mysterious as it is ancient. 

The Koorie Heritage Trust believes that education is the first step towards reconciliation, and that knowledge and understanding of Indigenous culture will help us achieve that ultimate goal.


An important role

Tom Mosby, CEO of the Koorie Heritage Trust, was born on Thursday Island in the Torres Strait and culture was part of his upbringing. “Throughout my career, whether working in the arts or practicing law, culture has always been an important part of me,” he says.

Tom understands the importance of promoting, supporting and celebrating Victorian Indigenous culture. “Most people assume that Aboriginal culture only exists up north, in Queensland, Northern Territory and the top of Western Australia, but we actually have a strong, living, thriving Aboriginal community here in Victoria. It’s very much part of contemporary life, and the Koorie Heritage Trust has a role to educate the wider community about that.”


Bridging the gap

There is a chasm between what the broader Australian community knows about Indigenous culture and what it’s really like. In part, reconciliation is about bridging that gap, which can only happen when we acknowledge Indigenous people as the traditional custodians of the land and take the time to learn about Indigenous culture, its history and its place in modern society. 

The Koorie Heritage Trust runs educational programs and services designed to bring us closer to reconciliation. These include Aboriginal walking tours and programs developed specifically for schools and educators, temporary exhibitions showcasing Victorian Aboriginal artists, a unique and irreplaceable collection of Victorian Aboriginal art and artefacts, and a shop that stocks products sourced primarily from Victorian Aboriginal artists, designers and craftspeople.

“It’s not just about bridging the cultural gap,” says Tom. “There are many gaps that need to be addressed, from education and literacy to employment and health. For me, it all comes back to education and that will take time, because people first need to realise why bridging these gaps and achieving reconciliation is so important.”


Much needed support

Viva Energy is the Principle Corporate Supporter – Collections, Exhibitions and Public Programs – of the Koorie Heritage Trust. It provides support in many different ways, but perhaps one of the most important is the Trust’s Oral History Program.

“Aboriginal history is not written. It’s passed on through stories from our Elders, and when we lose our Elders we lose part of our history as well. The support from Viva Energy enables us to go out and record those stories, and also digitise our collection of oral histories filmed in the eighties and nineties so they’re preserved for future generations.”

Viva Energy’s support also involves sponsoring the annual Koorie Art Show, which provides opportunities for emerging and established Aboriginal artists in Victoria to present their work in a professional setting, and to many people.

“It’s an important exhibition for us,” says Tom. “At the end of the day we’re a small not-for-profit organisation, and without that support from Viva Energy we wouldn’t be able to deliver that type of exhibition or attract the level of entries we receive.


Respect, relationships and opportunities

Vince Neville is chair of Viva Energy’s Reconciliation Action Plan Working Group, which was established to help advise the company on how it might best contribute to reconciliation and engage with and support Indigenous communities. Vince is extremely proud of the company’s ongoing relationship with the Koorie Heritage Trust.

“It’s not just about what we can do for them. The Koorie Heritage Trust is fantastic for us, too,” he says. “Because of their proximity to our Melbourne office, our people have opportunities to visit and gain a deeper understanding of Indigenous history and culture.

“The work that we’ve been doing with them, the cultural awareness programs that they’ve been helping us with, the walking tours, are all part of our education process. Our people are building a greater respect for Indigenous culture and its rightful place in Australian history and society, which ties in perfectly with the key principles of Viva Energy’s Reconciliation Action Plan: respect, relationships and opportunities.”

Viva Energy launched its inaugural Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP) last year with Tom Mosby. “The thing that really stood out for me is how genuine Viva Energy is in relation to its reconciliation journey,” he says. “The support it provides to organisations like the Koorie Heritage Trust is fantastic, and the number of Viva Energy staff that attended the launch was a wonderful reflection of the organisation’s commitment to reconciliation.”

According to Vince, developing a RAP was a natural progression for Viva Energy. “I think it just shows the maturity of the company,” he explains. “We’ve always been heavily involved in supporting Indigenous communities and had great feedback about the work we were doing, but having a formal program that’s recognised externally cements who we are as an organisation and what we stand for.”


Challenging times

The recent Covid-19 health crisis has been a challenging time for everyone. The Koorie Heritage Trust suspended all public programs, including workshops, public walking tours and training programs. That meant they had to find another way to continue to deliver and promote the work they do.

Tom recognised that the difficult circumstances might actually present an opportunity. “We explored digital platforms for our programs and services, including online exhibitions and virtual galleries through our new platform KHT Online, that would stand the Koorie Heritage Trust in good stead beyond the crisis,” he says. 

“For example, the support that Viva Energy provides us through our Oral History collection will enable us to put more of our digitised oral histories online for the public to access. 

“We are also exploring how we can record the voices of our communities who are going through the crisis today. We acknowledge that the overwhelming voice that we are hearing is that of the non-Indigenous community. KHT Voices enables us to record the voice of our own people which I strongly believe will be another invaluable resource in years to come.”


Leading the way


It’s important that companies like Viva Energy investigate employment opportunities for Indigenous people at all levels of their organisation, from senior management to trainees. This was mentioned at Viva Energy’s RAP launch, and Tom agrees wholeheartedly.

“Corporate Australia is quite powerful. By looking at their employee profile and demonstrating how we can all work together, corporate Australia can actually influence the rest of the country. That kind of recognition would be an endorsement of reconciliation.”

It’s a step in the right direction, but Tom is quick to point out that we have a long journey ahead. “At the end of the day, I think reconciliation is a long-term thing. It will take time, but in five years I would hope that there is a much better understanding of Aboriginal people, and of Aboriginal people as valued members of a contemporary Australian society.”

 

Learn more about Viva Energy’s Community Program and commitment to its Reconciliation Action Plan.

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