2019 is being celebrated as the United Nations International Year of Indigenous Languages. The Indigenous voice of Australia is over 65,000 plus years old, spoken by the oldest continuing culture on the planet. These voices passed down knowledge, innovations, lore and culture over millennia.
For generations, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have sought recognition of their unique place in Australian history and society for significant and lasting change.
Voice. Treaty. Truth. were three key elements to the reforms set out in the Uluru Statement from the Heart. These reforms represent the unified position of First Nations Australians. ‘Voice. Treaty. Truth. Let’s work together’ is the theme of this year’s NAIDOC week, taking place 7 to 14 July 2019. NAIDOC Week celebrates the history, culture and achievements of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
This NAIDOC week, we take the opportunity to uncover the knowledge and culture of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people such as Renae Hunt. Renae is Managing Director and Co-Founder NDT Tech Ops, a NATA Accredited, Aboriginal-owned and operated business offering non-destructive testing services to companies in the engineering, mining and oil and gas sectors.
Renae is a Koorie woman who was born and raised in Perth, along with a few close families who had moved from Victoria, with family ties to the sacred land surrounding Budj Bim in Victoria – a place both her and her family revisit to reconnect with their country. The area contains one of the largest and oldest aquaculture systems in the world, used by the Gunditjmara people for thousands of years. They constructed complex eel traps, and fish farms using volcanic rock sourced from Budj Bim, a Gunditjmara word for high head, the forehead of Budj Bim the creator.
As of 6 June 2019, with proudness of the Gunditjmara people the site has been officially accepted for UNESCO World Heritage status. This is the first Australian World Heritage site to be nominated exclusively for Aboriginal cultural values. The area is significant not only for the vast aquaculture system, but also because it challenges the idea of the hunter-gatherer lifestyle of indigenous people due to evidence of some 350 stone houses at the site.
Renae is a proud Gunditjmara woman, wife, mother of a 5-year old son and a full-time carer for her 6-year-old niece. We sat down with her to ask her some questions about her journey and what each element of ‘Voice. Treaty. Truth.’ means to her.
Renae, tell us a little about you and your business. What have been your achievements and challenges?
“My husband, Jordan, and I started our business NDT Tech Ops four years ago. Jordan was working on a project offshore and we knew that was not going to last forever. I was on Maternity leave at the time and wanted to make something for ourselves. We decided to go with NDT because Jordan had invested a lot of time and money in Jordan’s career and qualifications for NDT. It was not cheap. We spent about a year preparing our business for NATA Accreditation. When we finally got accredited, we soon realised that there was no Aboriginal presence in our industry, so we wanted to use our business as an opportunity to change that”.
“I’m really proud of the progress we have made in this time providing opportunities for a handful of Aboriginal people, I set out to only create 1 trainee position as I felt our business was only going to have 2 – 3 people. Our first employee had very little understanding of NDT when we met him. Two years with training and support, He is now qualified. We have been fortunate enough to bring on a couple more people that are going through the same process. It’s been amazing watching them become really confident in their roles.”
“It’s not just about qualifying our employees, it was about really getting to know them and creating a culturally safe environment for everyone. We also took on an entry level guy who was not Aboriginal, he has a great work ethic and we wanted to support him. It’s been great to watch him get qualified and grow within his role and become a very valued team member. I didn’t want to just create opportunities in Non-Destructive Testing but also to support NDT. Running most elements of the business was becoming quite overwhelming for me, so I thought it would be a great initiative to train and mentor someone up to support us with our business. Kassy has really thrived in her role and relieved me of most of the day to day tasks that are time-consuming. Kassy is in her early 20’s and has just finished building her own house!”
“After about 9 months of our business operating, Woodside invited me to speak at an Aboriginal Engagement Forum, I had never done any public speaking before and could never talk to more than 3 people at a time, I was always shy. It was a massive challenge for me and I was terrified, more so because it wasn’t just about talking about our business, I was to going to talk about things very personal to me, our journey, my family, my inspiration, my culture to a large room full of people who I had never met before. I have done a few presentations and speeches since then and my public speaking has really been on a journey of its own.”
“Like any business, we go through tough times, but you just have to remember what your vision is. We have faced a lot of challenges, some of them being the biggest challenges in our life and for various reasons like the loss of family. I lost my Brother in the first year of our business and when you run your own business, you are it, you can’t just take time off, you have a business to run and a family to look after. There is no sick leave, no compassionate leave, you have to be there all the time especially when your business is new and growing.”
“No one tells you how hard it is to start your own business, you spend most of your time surviving off the simple idea or vision that maybe today we will get a breakthrough. We spent most of our mornings driven by the fact we cannot fail.”
“There are some serious challenges that come with being an Aboriginal business, especially in a quality space. We have been told by people who had an opportunity to inspire us, tell us we are too high risk because no Aboriginal business has worked in this space before. We are very passionate about what we do and hearing words like that were extremely soul-crushing and we had to take those words in and somehow use them to motivate us to really make this work and be the best we could be. Being an Aboriginal business and me being an Aboriginal Woman in this industry has meant we have had to constantly prove that we are capable even with a NATA Accreditation, it’s just something you get used to doing. On the flip side, I have had a lot of self-growth. I’ve become a strong-willed and resilient person, I have confidence and I am able to share with people how proud I am of my culture.”
“There is more to succeeding than just success, it’s about changing the perception and building trust. The perception is slowing changing, we have bigger companies believing in us, it’s been great to have our clients so supportive. We have worked so hard to build the trust of our clients and other companies now they want to work with us because our clients are referring us. The weight of our client’s support has helped change the perception. My core focus is making sure our clients are happy. We want to know what their pet hates are with their NDT service, and we work extremely hard to provide them with solutions. We have built our business around good client service and we have a big reputation to uphold.”
Tell us about the two people that have most inspired you, who are they, what were their key attributes and why were they an inspiration to you?
“My Dad. He is such an inspiration to me. Growing up my Dad was a Tradesman, there were times we really struggled. When there was no work my Dad would do what he could to make sure we did not go hungry, he would mow lawns for a few dollars, I remember this as a kid. Dad worked so hard, he made sure we always had the basics and had food. He never wasted money and he made me really appreciate what we had. He taught me that if you want something in life, no one is going to give it to you. You need to find a way to get it yourself. He went on to be a business owner himself. I have watched him go through hard times to become very successful. He is the most patient, hardworking man I have ever known. My Dad is a big inspiration to me. He has been there to support and guide me through business and always on the phone when I needed a reason to not give up.”
“My Mum and our ancestors have inspired me – the history of our people’s strength. We are The Fighting Gunditjmara people. We have a strong spirit. Our people are the largest family in Australia’s history to fight for this county in War, and on their return to their land, their children and their dignity was taken, and they survived! I want to do this for them. I have opportunities now that they didn’t. That my Mum didn’t. Growing up and hearing the stories of my Mums childhood and being separated from her Mother and her siblings and just being here and seeing what she has had to endure as a person makes me really appreciate what I have. My Mum has been through things that would destroy most people and she continues to give. I have a great opportunity, things are different now because of what they went through for us, my Mum and my ancestors are my inspiration.”
What does each element of Voice Treaty Truth mean to you?
“We need to be heard and listened to, we need to be part of any decision making for our land and our people. Listen to us and let our voice be an opportunity for learning, as we are speaking and being heard, we are healing, learning and growing as a Country. I feel like our voice is getting louder, but with our voice, there needs to be change too.”
“I feel they go hand and hand. We are operating on and living on stolen land, we need to acknowledge this and speak the truth and hopefully, one day make a change. This country needs to be honest and open to educating all people about this. We can’t move forward until we acknowledge the truth to get an outcome that will have a positive impact on the future for all people. These conversations need to be had; Everyone needs to understand our countries truth and the deep connection we have to this land for everyone to move forward.”
As a community, what can we do collectively to achieve ‘Let’s work together for a shared future’?
“Cultural education I feel is the key. I think everyone needs to have some understanding of our culture to help everyone grow. We, alongside Oceaneering, here at work attended cultural awareness training. We were all in awareness training together, there were Indigenous people and non-Indigenous people there. The result was a massive connection for all of us across the two businesses because of that awareness. It was such a positive thing to make people aware. And to see our employees be confident with who they are. Most people didn’t have a basic understanding of what our ancestors went through or what we go through before this. We all see things differently after that cultural awareness training. I think this is a must for all industry and education departments to teach people about our history, culture and our connections for us to really be appreciated and understood. We need to talk, we need to tell our story, we need people to listen and hear our story so that we can all work together for a shared future.”