TIC TALK Podcasts

Exploring personal experiences of inclusion

TIC TALK 7: Carl Currey

A podcast with Carl Currey
December 2013
Carl Currey

Carl Currey

Left Field Business Solutions

Carl Currey has had a long career as an advocate, government official and community connector, particularly working with Indigenous Australian communities. Carl is a passionate man on a mission – to provide the best possible opportunities for community people to reap the benefits of a full and active life.

 

 

Transcript TIC TALK with Carl Currey

Peter:

Today on Tic Talk, it’s a great pleasure to welcome Carl Currey, who for many years has been one of the leading advocates, practitioners, and administrators in the area, particularly in the area of Indigenous inclusion. I know Carl quite well, but I want to go back into things I don’t know about Carl, about his history and what formed him as a person to have this career around indigenous rights and inclusion. What are some of the things in your life, Carl, that sort of led you down this path?

Carl:

Well, Pete, firstly thanks for having me. I look forward to the opportunity to hopefully impart some knowledge and thinking to the people that are downloading these podcasts, particularly around indigenous inclusion. From a personal point of view, I am aboriginal myself, so it’s difficult to not be passionate about indigenous inclusion issues when you live it 24/7. You see the impact of things like indigenous disadvantage in your own family, in your extended family, at varying stages of your upbringing. It’s very difficult to not think about, well, why is that so?

As I grew up, I went to university and learned more about the disadvantage that indigenous Australians currently exist with, and I guess I’ve just gravitated towards delivering programs and initiatives for indigenous outcomes because I wanted to see things getting better and improving, particularly around indigenous education, employment and health, and social well-being. And from a sport participation point of view, and I had worked at the Australian Sports Commission for eight years, I found that sport was one of those key activities that was able to bring people together regardless of their ethnicity, regardless of their ability, regardless of their gender, and from an inclusion point of view and from a reducing indigenous disadvantage point of view, sport was one of those things where everybody got to come together, and it provided a pretty good platform to try and improve other things like education and employment.

Peter:

How do you think sport, like you said, redresses disadvantage there? Disadvantage is a multifaceted thing. It’s a complex thing. What makes sport different to other vehicles?

Carl:

I think sport provides the basis for positive participation. I think that’s the fundamental principle behind why sport is successful. I need to draw, I guess, a clarification here in that sport has an ability to help and/or provide the pathway towards improvement. It isn’t necessarily a panacea, and I need that to be very clear. I think that a lot of governments, and to a degree product providers, do see sport as somewhat of a silver bullet or a fix all, and it’s not. In the right context and as a part of a much broader solution, sport can play its part. And, as I said before, one of the key things it can do, and particularly for indigenous communities, sport is one of those vehicles or actions or activities that bring people to the table. Once you’ve got people engaged in a positive activity like sport, it’s actually much easier to develop a relationship, and then once you’ve developed a relationship, it’s much easier to then get people to listen to advice or programs or activities or services.

I use the example with a lot of people at times, somebody from the Department of Health turning up to an indigenous community wanting to talk about AIDS or SDIs. You walk to a community and open up with a question like that, well, no one’s going to want to talk to you. But if you actually build the messages around sport activity or an event or you bring some people in and they start talking about the importance of safe sex, then you’ve got a better chance that the information and the key messages that you’re delivering resonates and more importantly stays with the community and people listen and learn and actually pick up on it. And then again, in the future, they start practicing safe sex because of the angle they used.

Peter:

How did you get involved in this area, Carl? What started you years ago in this field? You’re almost a veteran, now, of this field. How did you get started?

Carl:

It wasn’t really a strange, sort of, start. It was more, I grew up in a small country town in New South Wales called Leighton and finished my secondary schooling there and came to Canberra to study at the University of Canberra and completed that and pretty much went from doing my degree into working for the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission. And I guess because I worked in that organization for ten years and the programs that were delivered out of that organization were primarily around indigenous outcomes, that really fostered my thinking and my ideologies around why I want to do more for indigenous outcomes. And then the opportunity to work in sport for indigenous Australians at the Australian Sport Commission where I managed the Indigenous Sport Program, given my love of sport, given my interest in wanting to improve broader hosted things for indigenous Australians and utilizing sport as a positive vehicle, it was an easy match. And from a personal point of view, it became what I would consider the dream job because I was doing everything that I loved. I was able to facilitate programs and initiatives and work with key partners who actually delivered programs and activities that I knew people in communities loved.
Again, when you’ve got people actively involved in something positive, it’s so much easier to start to deliver all these other, broader, whole of government messages. Admittedly, I guess, as the time wore on and the position within the commission changed, they moved more toward this inclusive sport type philosophy. I thought it had merit, but from a personal point of view, it was probably at a time when I had to hand the reins over, and it was important for me to then move on, and then I’m still doing some more work in indigenous outcomes from a private consultancy point of view. I’m still loving it. I’m still seeing smiling faces. I’m still seeing satisfaction, and more importantly, I’m seeing people that are coming up to me and saying thank you.

Peter:

I want to explore that paradox you mentioned there between an ocean of inclusion as being everyone’s responsibility, which is, by definition, is true, and yet you need people, individuals, to drive inclusion at the same time, people with expertise and experience and commitment to do that.

Carl:

It is true. I think that the mistake that people make around the concept of inclusion is to deliver a program that suits everybody’s needs, but doing it exactly the same way. And this whole one size fits all does not exist. It has never existed, and it will never exist in the future because you may be very good at delivering a program or a coaching course or a participation initiative that is internationally recognized because of best practice, but if you deliver it in a context or a circumstance where the people you are delivering it to have low literacy levels, English may not be their first language, and you’ve got people coming into an area or a community where they are just foreigners or people seen as not from that area, it’s very difficult to deliver something and get a really good result because you’re instantly coming up against a barrier of, well hang on, we don’t know you, so therefore why should we accept what you have to say?

In sport context, it’s easy for an internationally recognized sport scientist to travel the world and deliver their best practice because in that field you’re talking to people with similar thinking and similar ideologies that think with similar thoughts. That’s from a participation point of view where it often gets somewhat convoluted around inclusion. Then you’ve got a situation where you need practitioners, and particularly around indigenous outcomes. If you don’t have a means and a way of breaking the ice between a deliverer, who may not be culturally aware or have a knowledge about indigenous culture, then it’s hard for them to actually come in and sell a message that people are going to want to listen to, for starters; believe, secondly; and more importantly, they want to put into practice. When you don’t have those interfaces and when you don’t have those individuals with those skill sets around working with indigenous Australians or people with a disability or people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, you tend to miss the mark, and I think the concept of one size fits all, as I said before, doesn’t exist, will never exist, and that is why specific practitioners with expertise and knowledge are really, really important.

Peter:

You’ve been in a kind of unique position over the years, and you crossed that divide between government, bureaucracy, and policy, government policy, and practitioners. You’ve been involved in both areas, and have to negotiate on one hand the bureaucracy and the policy initiatives and help design those, but at the same time ensure that outcomes are achieved at the local level as well. I’m interested to explore that one because there’s no single answer to it, but it’s a real, kind of a unique position you’ve been in.

Carl:

It is, and I think the fundamental question that, from a government point of view, that is often missed when delivering services, particularly to indigenous communities or indigenous Australians is the fundamental question of tell us what you need. And there’s a difference between needs and wants. We all know that, but from a policy point of view and then from a program perspective, unless your programs take into consideration the cultural understanding, the need to be flexible, to work effectively through a relationship based approach, and to clearly understand the long term sort of sustainability of not only the funding, but also of building the capability and the capacity of the community, you miss the mark. And governments tend to be very time frame based on, well, we’ve got a program. It only lasts for four years, or it only lasts for 12 months in some cases, but the expectation is that they will change everything, and that doesn’t occur. Regardless of whether it’s in indigenous outcomes, it doesn’t occur in, you know, at the moment, the Australian government.

Sorry, let me just go back a bit. The Australian government tried to introduce some changes to Rudd machine usage and Rudd machine reforms, and it struggled to get that in four years. I think the irony of that approach, where government really struggles to get something achieved and trying to achieve stuff in indigenous outcomes, they’re similar in that they’re very large goals, and they are long term, outcome based results. Yet government doesn’t tend to support funding nor programs to the end. Often what will happen is you might do a program for 12 months. You start to build momentum. You’ve got people at the table. You’ve created some environments where people are participating positively, and you’ve effectively got the basis of an engaged community, ripe for the picking in terms of providing other key messages or other programs or initiatives because they are. They’re ripe, and funding stops or there’s a change of government, or by the whim of a minister they decide, oh, we don’t want to do that anymore. You know, I think that, in itself is absolutely crazy because, again, going back to closing the gap, closing the gap when Kevin Rudd and Neilsen signed that agreement, was a generational commitment.

Now, if your programs and your policies aren’t linked to that, you’re never going to achieve it, and I think this whole focus around short term, small bursts, lectures to the on the board actually makes the situation for indigenous Australians a lot harder because the expectation is that things can be changed instantly. Then from a community point of view, they look at these governments, and they look at these programs and look at these deliverers, and they know that they’re coming in and all they want is five minutes of their time, but expect so much for it. Communities just put the hands down and say no more, because for us, you’re not serious. While the government is committed to sports closing the gap, I’m starting to become a little bit more cynical about them actually being able to achieve that.

Peter:

That’s fantastic, Carl. Given it’s a generational thing, which it is, do you think things, I’m thinking of a couple of incidences in history that could’ve been talked about as making a difference at that time, one of them being Kevin Rudd’s sorry speech, parliament, and also, contrastingly, but significant, too, Cathy Freeman at the 2000 Olympic games and the role Cathy Freeman had there, do you think that really–First of all, let’s talk about Cathy Freeman, Olympic games. Did that make a kind of difference, or was it just a nice sporting moment?

Carl:

Personally, I think it was just a nice sporting moment. I think it gave Australians a beacon to gravitate towards. Yes, Cathy being aboriginal was a huge advantage for indigenous Australia, and obviously policy development in the future because it gave people somewhat of a wakeup call, but in reality, what it was was a great sporting achievement. Cathy was a great athlete. She achieved at the highest of levels because she was just that good. For me, that’s the way I look at that.

In terms of the Kevin Rudd speech, I think it was necessary. I think it was very important that at times when you’ve got a history that is tainted in blood and is based around oppression, and you look at the period of assimilation where aboriginal Australians weren’t even recognized as part of the normal population, they’re actually recognized in flora and fauna in a number of the acts across the different states, and it wasn’t up until the 70s when that assimilation policy stopped, so you have a situation where indigenous Australians started to be recognized as part of the normal population of Australia, and I think ironically, last year, in November, a bill was introduced into Parliament around recognition of indigenous Australians as the first Australians. This is all part of the process where the government is looking at potential reform of the constitution to recognize indigenous Australians as the first Australians. But that, in itself, that Bill was really significant because acknowledgement and getting people to see that, oh, okay, we now know why we need to focus more attention on indigenous Australians, because of them being the first Australians, because of the level of disadvantage that they currently exist with. So I’m a big believer in people who are more informed make more informed decisions and are less likely to make mistakes in the future. And I think the basis of having that first Australian recognition as a bill of Parliament is absolutely critical towards anyone’s understanding and knowledge and awareness of indigenous Australians in the future.

Peter:

What does the next few months hold for you, Carl?

Carl:

Well, I guess, personally, I’m doing some project work in the communities. One of the communities I’m working in is Gunderoo where we’re trying to improve the relationship between indigenous families and the school system. We’ve got some parents who are wonderfully active within the community and wonderfully active with the school, but as we find with all parents, not just indigenous parents, we’ve got some parents who aren’t necessarily actively engaged, and ideally, through positive activities, whether they be sport, art, music, dance, morning teas, dinners, etc., we’ve got an opportunity to then bring those disengaged parents to the table. And as I’ve said throughout this whole podcast, by getting people actively involved in positive activities gets them to the table in the first place. Then the hard work starts.

Peter:

On that note, it’s a very good place to finish. Thank you very much, Carl Currey, and I wish you very much luck with that. Thank you.

Carl:

Thanks very much, Pete.