This year, 4 to 11 July marks NAIDOC (National Aboriginal and Islanders Day Observance Committee) week, an annual celebration of the history, culture and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. While it’s a calendar event that acknowledges over 65,000 years of First Nations’ culture, it’s also a reminder that every Australian must continue to strive for greater protections of cultural heritage, Country and sacred sites.
In this series, we highlight some of the Indigenous-owned businesses in Xero’s community, and the work they’ve been doing to contribute to society and culture.
Greg Welsh, Winya
Six years ago, Greg Welsh was working in the furniture industry when an American company bought out his employer. He decided that it was time to go out on his own, but he wanted to do things differently. “I’d worked with Indigenous training programs in the past, and it was obvious that they had a social impact. I wanted my business to do the same.” He was introduced to Debbie Barwick, the CEO of the New South Wales Indigenous Chamber of Commerce, and they combined their skills to create Winya, a furniture company that supports an Indigenous employment and trainee program.
What have you achieved at Winya that you’re most proud of?
Greg: For a long time, we’ve been seen as a small Indigenous firm, so everyone expected that we wouldn’t be that good at what we do. But over the years, Winya has proved that we have the same skill sets as the big furniture players – and we do as good, if not better, work.
I’m also incredibly proud that Winya was awarded for leadership in sustainable development and economic empowerment of Indigenous people by the United Nations. We’re the only business in Australia with that accolade, so it’s a huge acknowledgement of what we’re doing to create employment opportunities for Indigenous kids.
Lowell Hunter, Salty One
As a proud Nyul Nyul Saltwater man, Lowell Hunter has always had a deep connection to the sea. In his early years of growing up in Western Australia’s The Kimberley and then on Gunditjmara Country in Warrnambool, Lowell came to understand that life revolved around the environment. “It’s always been within me to have a relationship with Sea Country,” he explains. And it’s this connection that inspired Lowell’s expressive sand artworks and images.
“One afternoon, I was flying my drone on the coastline. I decided to draw a circle in the sand that represented a safe place for me. Outside of that, I drew ‘U’ shapes that symbolised my ancestors. I sat in the circle and felt grounded, nurtured and safe,” he explains. Lowell posted his image on Facebook and was overwhelmed with positive feedback, both for the storytelling and visual beauty of his work. “From there, I went on to explore different places and yarn with different Mobs. And that’s how Salty One evolved.” he says.
What are some of your achievements that you’re most proud of?
Lowell: My artwork resonates with individuals from so many different backgrounds. I’ve had people from all over the world reach out to me via Instagram, and they want to be a part of my journey. From a business perspective, I’d say that’s something I’m most proud of – telling cultural stories in a unique way that people appreciate and value.
From a personal, cultural and spiritual side, I’m proud that I can be myself in my work. I get to spend a lot of time near the ocean, and that makes me feel grounded and connected to CountryPhoto credit: Michael Torres-Jalaru Photography
Georgia Lewis, Bulhari
Georgia Lewis began her career in law. As a proud Maori woman from Wellington’s outer surrounds, her interest in legislation is what led her to work with the New Zealand government in restorative justice for Indigenous peoples, learning skills that she brought with her when she relocated to Perth, Western Australia in 2011.
Today, Georgia is the Managing Director and co-owner of Bulhari, a trustee company that works with Indigenous Australian communities to help them manage royalties as a result of mining on traditional lands. “Our job is to facilitate communication and professional support to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. For example, we might interpret complex agreements to a Senior Elder who has never learnt Western literacy skills,” she explains. “A lot of the answers are within the communities we work with, so it’s my job to find and extract them by listening to people,” she adds.
What have you achieved at Bulhari that you’re most proud of?
Georgia: Bulhari is a vehicle for change, not just in the work we do with Indigenous communities but also internally – 80 percent of our staff have been Aboriginal people from remote areas of Australia. Those who’ve left us have gone on to enrol in higher education courses or have accepted better jobs, and I love that about what we do. If there’s something more suited or challenging out there, I encourage them to grab opportunities with both hands. We measure success through the wellbeing of others, which is something I’m immensely proud of.