Why cultural competence is important

12 July 2019
NAIDOC Week 2019: Voice. Treaty. Truth.
As Australia celebrates NAIDOC Week 2019, we talk to Rebecca Halliday, Sydney's new Director of Indigenous External Relationship Development, about why the University's focus on cultural competence is so important.

This year’s NAIDOC Week theme is “Voice. Treaty. Truth.” What does this mean to you?

I am a proud Aboriginal woman with links to both the Dunghutti and Birpai nations. For generations, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have sought recognition of our unique place in Australian history and society and have sought significant and lasting change.

The Yolngu concept of Makarrata captures the idea of two parties coming together after a struggle, healing the divisions of the past. It is about acknowledging the injustices and trauma of the past and seeking to make things right.

I believe that a lasting and effective agreement cannot be achieved unless we have a truthful understanding of the nature of our history. Acknowledging our shared history is necessary before we can build a meaningful and trusted relationship with each other and achieve a true state of reconciliation. 

Why is it important for the University to engage with Indigenous communities?

Early and ongoing engagement in a culturally appropriate manner is widely recognised as one of the key elements of best practice consultation with Indigenous peoples.

In my newly created role as Director of Indigenous External Relationship Development, I believe that ongoing communication and partnerships with local and wider Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community and leadership are essential to maintaining the University’s standing as a trusted adviser to government, industry, the university community, and the broader community.

Additionally, if the University seeks to realise optimal research outcomes for the benefit of the Australian and global community, it is critical that we listen to Indigenous voices, which includes know-how, practices, skills and innovations – found in a wide variety of contexts, such as agricultural, scientific, technical, ecological and medicinal fields, as well as biodiversity-related knowledge.  

What do you hope to achieve in your role? 

In the role of Director Indigenous External Relationship Development, it will be crucial that I build and maintain relationships with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in the tertiary education sphere. I’m keen to develop and implement strategies articulated in the University's Indigenous Strategy by nurturing the participation and empowerment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples at every level of study, research and employment.

In this role, I will also develop, deliver and facilitate strategies, advice and programs that promote and sustain effective community engagement outcomes, including effective government, industry and civil-society partnerships. Some of the key deliverables in my role include:

  • setting up and coordinating an Aboriginal Advisory Circle,
  • developing, implementing and evaluating a new Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Engagement Plan
  • coordinating the development of a database for Indigenous community engagement activities undertaken by staff across the University.

NAIDOC Week is an important week of the year. How can organisations like the University apply its principles throughout the year?

The Indigenous Strategy and Services (ISS) portfolio is focussed on developing, coordinating and integrating planning, implementation and evaluation policies, systems and programs relating to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community engagement in whole-of-University, Faculty and PSU strategies.

Whilst Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people encourage the broader community to participate and celebrate their histories and culture during NAIDOC Week each year, utilising the knowledge and expertise of the ISS to embed Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander education, research and engagement activities within your sphere of influence is far more impactful.

A continued commitment to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander advancement means that we seek to embed the Indigenous know-how, practices, skills and innovations in areas of focus for the University.

What is it about the University that made you want to move your career here?

The University of Sydney’s primary objective is to create and sustain a university in which, for the benefit of both Australian and the wider world, the brightest researchers and the most promising students, whatever their social or cultural background, can thrive and realise their full potential.

I seek to thrive and realise my full potential.

Who inspires you and why?

I am extremely fortunate to have worked with several influential Indigenous and non-Indigenous leaders throughout my career. Most importantly, there have been several strong Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women who have guided, mentored and supported my professional and cultural journey. These include, but are not limited to, Dr Jackie Huggins AM, Kerry Timms, Professor Lisa Jackson Pulver AM, Carlyn Waters and Rachel Perkins.

Most people recognise Rachel, a woman of the Arrernte and Kalkadoon nations, as the daughter of Aboriginal rights activist Charlie Perkins and as a television and film screenwriter, producer and director.

However, I’ve had the privilege of working closely with Rachel in her role as an Indigenous cultural heritage expert member of the Australian Heritage Council (AHC). With the same passion and skill that she brings Australian Indigenous stories to the screen, Rachel brings a deep and rich knowledge of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultural heritage and seeks to protect and conserve it for generations to come.

As is our way, she ensures that Indigenous traditional owners are at the forefront of this endeavour and that their stories are the first to be told. I admire her determination, her willingness to share her expertise and her humility no matter what stage she is on.

Related articles