Julia Symons from Netball Australia talks about the OneNetball Program and their journey toward a Reconciliation Action Plan.
I’m Julia. I’m from Netball Australia and I have the privilege of looking after our ‘One Netball’ program which is all about making netball a more inclusive sport, welcoming newcomers but also creating safe spaces regardless of your background or ability to participate in our sport at all levels and I’ve been very privileged to look after our Indigenous engagement programs and what I’m here to talk to you about today, our Reconciliation Action Plan, so I think I’m dangerous! This walking microphone thing just really gives rise to going way over time so I’m going to try to just cut to the chase a bit more.
I acknowledge the traditional owners of the land, the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin Nation and pay more respects to Elders past and present and extend that respect to all Aboriginal people here today. We use the term and you will hear the term past, present and future in acknowledgements to Country often and when I was considering my reflections on our RAP journey and I’ll shorten it to that because I will be tongue-tied all morning, I was thinking about the past, the present and the future of our RAP journey and I think the most important message I can probably give today is about my reflections on the past on how we’ve got to where we currently our with our RAP.
So I came into this role about four years ago and one of my dot point deliverables as Kymon mentioned - a bit of a Jack of all trades.
1) Community Engagement Manager - all communities, working with all inclusion groups was develop a Reconciliation Action Plan and a dot point on a piece of paper looks good but I quickly realised probably within about two weeks that there was no way that our sport was ready for that and there are a number of key reasons for that and before I get into those I do want to put a bit of a line in the sand here.
We don’t claim to be experts in Indigenous engagement. We don’t claim to have all the answers and what the RAP has been about for us and in speaking to our RAP Working Group in Darwin last week when we had a meeting, their message for you is that a RAP can be about a journey of discovery, about a journey of learning and of understanding of coming to terms with past actions and their impacts and you don’t have to be an expert. It is actually a learning process - so first things first there.
The other point I want to make is that I’m not Indigenous and I’m speaking on behalf of an amazing group of people - Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders who came together to form our RAP Working Group to inform the direction of where we head as a sport through our RAP so I think it’s important to make mention of that because for us in the RAP process it’s all been about the importance of Aboriginal voices and not making decisions on behalf of people who aren’t in the room to speak for themselves so I did ask the group at the last meeting. I said, “I’m going to this thing. Are you okay if I speak about it?” and they said, “Go for it. We’re too busy. We can’t be there, go for it” so I feel empowered in that sense.
So as I mentioned when I first came into the role I realised we weren’t in a place for a RAP and part of that process involved going and speaking to previous Advisory Group members of Indigenous Advisory Groups that Netball Australia had brought together over the last decade and most of the time that was because of a grant. A grant would demand that you had to bring together an Advisory Group of some sort. I think this is probably starting to sound familiar for a few people and because the grants were perhaps only in one year or two year or three year increments those groups would be picked up and put down, picked up and put down, picked up and put down so not surprisingly when I turned up,
“Hi, I’m Julia. I’m new and fresh and shiny and I just want to talk to you about what’s happened and get an understanding of what’s happened in the past”. I have these meetings burnt into my memory because some of the first responses were, “Right okay and how long are you here for? Contract role or funded? Yeah, how long is that for so how long before I see another person come and talk to me about the same thing?” A few nods - maybe some similar experiences and not just in Indigenous engagement as well.
So it was very clear what the journey would have to be that I would have to be consistent, that I would have to keep in contact, that I would have to build respect and trust or try to rebuild respect and trust over a long period of time that it wouldn’t happen overnight. It wouldn’t happen in a heartbeat that this was going to be a very long journey to even get to the point where I could go back and say, “So, what do you think about a Reconciliation Action Plan?” so put your hands up if you have a RAP, if your organisation has a RAP?
Okay so to Kymon’s point before about being the Jack of all trades and having to do a whole lot of things but then to Patty’s point about time, investment of time as the primary resource, the RAP has been exactly that. We decided to embark on the RAP process two years ago once I’d been working for two years to get - and look, not everyone wanted to have a seat at the table again even after two years. They said, “Do you know what? I’m going to step back and see what happens because I can’t go through that again” and we said, “Fair enough” but the men and women who did put their hands up and say, “We will be part of this. Netball is a part of our lives and we want more opportunities for our not just women and girls, not just our aunties and nieces but our entire community” have been the most inspirational group of people to work with and that our entire organisation has learnt from.
So in February of last year we had our first RAP Working Group meeting in our office here in Fitzroy and it was an incredible two days. The first day and probably the first half of the first day was characterised by a lot of listening, a lot of hard truths, acknowledgements of past actions and the impacts of those actions and then there was almost a moment led by our absolutely magnificent Chairwoman Karen Milward who’s a Yorta Yorta woman from here in Melbourne. There was a point where there was a consensus that we would learn from what had happened in the past and we would move forward to bigger and better things and the whole group was on board and from there what shifted from at times tears and at times really painful reflections, shifted to a hell of a lot of laughter, so much fun, endless brainstorming, big pipedream ideas because at the beginning of the RAP that’s what you should do. I firmly believe that completely take off the blinkers and just go if everything in this world worked according to plan and we had endless resources this is what success looks like and then we realised where we actually are and peg that back a few steps but I still believe it’s important to be aspirational in your RAP so a year forward, meetings all over the country to engage with our member States. We’re an affiliated structure in netball. Getting consensus on any National initiative is challenging at best but we kept the States and Territories up to date and part of that process so “We’re having this meeting. If you’ve got any updates on projects you’ve been running in Aboriginal communities, let us know what they are and we will feed it back up” so we kept everyone engaged in that process and then we came to our RAP launch in November of last year.
It was pretty amazing for some key reasons and I guess I’m sharing this with you because the RAP Working Group again said, “Pass this on. If you are going to start your own RAP these are the things that you might be able to pick and choose from” so we launched our RAP at our AGM so all of our State and Territory members were there, all of their CEOs, their Presidents and some other Executive Members were there. Netball Australia’s Board was there and a lot of staff as well. We also had our Annual Awards Dinner that night so it gave us the perfect platform not only to talk about the RAP not just as an order of business but as an event of great significance for the sport.
It also happened that Marcia Ella-Duncan the first Aboriginal woman to play netball for Australia was being inducted into the Hall of Fame that night and I can’t really convey enough to you the power of storytelling in your RAP process and in your RAP journeys so there was a video package made about Marcia and her journey as a netballer and what it meant to her to be entered into the Hall of Fame and none of it was about Marcia. Everything was about her community and people’s ability to connect, maybe perhaps a lot of people haven’t had too much to do with Aboriginal netball before but everyone connected with Marcia as a mum, as a Coach as an Exit Go Coach, as a sideline parent, as a young mum. Everyone could connect and when that package was played at the Annual Awards Dinner - not a dry eye in the house and everyone was on their feet and with that moment when she was then interviewed by Nicole Livingston about
“What are your hopes for the future?” she referred to the RAP and said,
“Everyone needs to get on board with this. Everyone needs to be part of the solutions that we’re creating, that we’re working towards” and when she was asked what her hopes for the future were and Nicole was obviously asking in a netball context and she said, “Oh the first Aboriginal Prime Minister would be nice” oh “And the first Aboriginal Netball Diamonds Coach and everything else” but again aspirational think big, dream big and then put the structures around it.
One other thing I’d just like to share is the importance of empowering the people around you to take on the responsibility and it is a responsibility and to take on the passion of starting a Reconciliation Action Plan and I will give you one example before I finish.
We have had Indigenous Cultural Awareness training at Netball Australia for the past four years and after the first session a young man from our Communications Team came up to me and said, “Right so I felt a bit stupid to ask this in the session but do I say Indigenous or do I say Aboriginal or do I say Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander or do I say Australia’s first people? I don’t know what to write” and we realised because he was so afraid of saying and doing the wrong thing that he was doing nothing and I would say that that collectively sums up the experience of a lot of people who I think have the right intent but are just terrified to the point of inaction so empowering people with information; empowering people with inspiration - there is no way you could hear Marcia Ella speak and not be inspired. Empowering them to go into their own areas and I will give you an example of the Events Team writing in Flag Protocol for the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander flags into events protocol. That will continue to happen regardless of who’s in the Community Engagement role of acknowledgement of Country being put into every Board Member’s speech and the understanding of why you have that. Having Aboriginal Ambassadors as part of our commercial sponsorship packages around athlete ambassadors because they are fantastic community role models and they’re just amazing women full stop.
All of these things that you can integrate into different parts of your business that isn’t necessarily about creating the next Aboriginal superstar but that can embed the celebration of Aboriginal culture into your sport.