Reconciliation Action Plans – A personal reflection

Imagine going to work and having no desk, no office and no employees.  That’s what I did in 2011 when I spent four weeks on secondment with Babana Aboriginal Men’s Group in Redfern.

I went on secondment with Babana to help find premises and assist in getting funding to employ a staff member – two small things that most businesses take for granted.

Babana isn’t a normal business, it’s a not-for-profit focused on Aboriginal men who live and work in Redfern.  Led by Mark Spinks, Babana reconnects Aboriginal men with their culture, community, employment opportunities and health services.  I worked with Babana as part of Jawun – a not-for-profit organisation that forges relationships between Corporate Australia and a range of Indigenous organisations in communities across Australia. 

It’s a classic example of the old “teach a man to fish” proverb and my role also included skills transfer.  Commitment to communities is an important part of KPMG’s business values and strategy.  To date, 124 colleagues have participated as Jawun secondees, working more than 20,000 professional hours with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities across the country.

There are a number of reasons I did this.  I live in Sydney and have two small boys and believe it’s important that they see their Dad as an active participant in the community contributing to the public good. 

Prior to this I had not had much exposure to Aboriginal people or culture so I was keen to learn more.  Finally, my exposure to Redfern, like most people in Australia, was based on coverage in the media which tends to focus on tensions and conflicts in the community so I was keen to see for myself what it was like.  The opportunity to apply my business skills to assist an organisation like Babana who do great things for Aboriginal people in the heart of the city made a lot of sense to me.

James with some of the men from the Babana Aboriginal Men’s Group in Redfern, NSW.

During those four weeks I found a vibrant and strong community that actively supports each other.  Whilst finalising details for the new premises, I was provided desk space at Tribal Warrior and met many great people like the late Artie Beetson and Evonne Goolagong-Cawley, but most importantly I saw a community that was in control of their destiny. 

The local area police commander would turn up three times a week at 6am for a boxing class with the local young men, as would the local Westpac branch manager.  The leaders of Babana: Mark, Jeremy Heathcote and Ray Minniecon, would be available for whoever needed them.  Redfern was in so many ways like a small country town in the heart of the city where everyone knows and looks out for each other. We also managed to find a premises for Babana and execute an agreement with The Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations (DEEWR) to provide employment services for the Aboriginal community.

Since my secondment, I have stayed connected with the Redfern community through Babana.  I have participated in NAIDOC week events, attended men’s group meetings and arranged for KPMG to continue to support Babana with business accounting services.  I talk to Mark Spinks regularly and am proudly passionate about Babana, Redfern, Jawun and KPMG – a firm that has afforded me this opportunity and is seriously committed to Indigenous Australia.

Paul House with gum leaves and smoke
Paul Girrawah House

Paul Girrawah House has multiple First Nation ancestries from the South-East Canberra region, including the Ngambri-Ngurmal (Walgalu), Pajong (Gundungurra), Wallabollooa (Ngunnawal) and Erambie/Brungle (Wiradyuri) family groups.

Paul acknowledges his diverse First Nation history, he particularly identifies as a descendant of Onyong aka Jindoomang from Weereewaa (Lake George) and Henry ‘Black Harry’ Williams from Namadgi who were both multilingual, essentially Walgalu-Ngunnawal-Wiradjuri speaking warriors and Ngunnawal–Wallaballooa man William Lane aka ‘Billy the Bull’ - Murrjinille.

Paul was born at the old Canberra hospital in the centre of his ancestral country and strongly acknowledges his First Nation matriarch ancestors, in particular his mother Dr Aunty Matilda House-Williams and grandmother, Ms Pearl Simpson-Wedge.

Paul completed a Bachelor of Community Management from Macquarie University, and Graduate Certificate in Wiradjuri Language, Culture and Heritage and Management from CSU.

Paul provided the Welcome to Country for the 47th Opening of Federal Parliament in 2022. Paul is Board Director, Ngambri Local Aboriginal Land Council, Member Indigenous Reference Group, National Museum of Australia and Australian Government Voice Referendum Engagement Group.  

Paul works on country with the ANU, First Nations Portfolio as a Senior Community Engagement Officer

Acknowledgement of Country

Reconciliation Australia acknowledges Traditional Owners of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing  connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures; and to Elders past and present. 

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples should be aware that this website contains images or names of people who have passed away.

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