What I learnt from our Cultural Learning Program

Published Jul 13, 2021, 8:02 AM
Written by Robert Sternberg

Discover how our Specialist Software Engineer found his regular motorcycle rides outside Melbourne much more engaging once he knew more about the First Nations' people and their history of the area.

Even my motorbike ride seems different after doing our Cultural Learning Program

In the four years I’ve been in Australia after moving here from Germany I’ve always been interested in First Nations culture. I’ve supported the Indigenous Literacy Foundation (ILF) for many years, but I didn’t know a lot about the Wurundjeri people, who are the local First Nations people of the Melbourne area, until Symbiote's recent Cultural Learning Program, and visit from Wurundjeri cross-cultural adult educator, Uncle Bill.

The session was a real eye-opener. For example, I was surprised to learn that First Nations people had traditionally built huts and farmed in this area before white settlement. I’d thought they were nomadic. I started noticing things like the wominjeka signs in the Yarra Valley and the First Nations school in Healesville. 

Image 1. Motorbike ride to view significal cultural sites around the Yarra Valley
Image 1. Motorbike ride to view significal cultural sites around the Yarra Valley
Image 1. Motorbike ride to view significal cultural sites around the Yarra Valley Mobile
Image 1. Motorbike ride to view significal cultural sites around the Yarra Valley Mobile

I definitely have a different perspective on Australia Day after what I learned from Uncle Bill. Rather than seeing it as just another public holiday, I now understand the problem that many people have with that day, seeing it as a day marking an invasion, not one to celebrate. I’m also more aware of how much pain and inequality First Nations people still experience now.

What’s different for me is a desire to share what I’ve learned with other people, so they understand how important country is to First Nations people and how we can understand and overcome prejudices we’ve been taught through history books. It’s clear to me how many seemingly small things can make a difference in shifting attitudes – things like an email signature acknowledging the ownership of country you live and work on. 

Image 2. Headstone of Wurundjeri elder William Barak in Coranderrk
Image 2. Headstone of Wurundjeri elder William Barak in Coranderrk
Image 2. Headstone of Wurundjeri elder William Barak in Coranderrk Mobile
Image 2. Headstone of Wurundjeri elder William Barak in Coranderrk Mobile

I’d like to see Symbiote look at ways to help more First Nations people to get into the tech industry. 

After the talk, I went on my usual motorcycle ride through the Yarra Valley. However, this time I rerouted because I remembered that Uncle Bill had mentioned significant sites around the area. Even with the help of my GPS, I still took a few wrong turns and had to walk some distance from my bike to find the Battle of Yering memorial he’d mentioned, which is on an old, closed highway. I also visited the former Aboriginal reserve Uncle Bill told us about, Coranderrk, and found the headstone of the respected and influential Wurundjeri elder, William Barak. 

Our cultural learning program has made me see things in a whole new way: both the landscape of this country, and the rich history of the First Nations people of this place. 

Image 3. Battle of Yering memorial
Image 3. Battle of Yering memorial
Image 3. Battle of Yering memorial Mobile
Image 3. Battle of Yering memorial Mobile

 

About the program

The first Symbiote Cultural Learning Program: A First Nations Perspective was run to coincide with Australia Day in 2021.

Two of our indigenous leaders, Rachel Kelly and Kiel Barber, proposed the Cultural Learning Program to create a safe space for cultural learning within our business. They both recognised the one sided narrative so often promoted with Australia Day that they wanted to ensure everybody at Symbiote had the opportunity to learn about First Nations perspectives as a way to build deeper empathy and understanding of others lived experiences. They also felt the program would not only broaden perspectives but could also help in the development of more user-friendly products in the future.

This first Cultural Learning program provided sessions with Uncle Bill Nicholson Jnr, a Wurundjeri Woi Wurrung Corporations Principal adult cross-cultural educator, as well as a talk by Symbiote staff member and First Nations man, Kiel Barber and team discussions.

This Program applies the ‘Think global, act local mindset’. By creating a safe learning environment for staff to listen and learn, we hope to build a deeper awareness and empathy of each other’s lived experiences, while celebrating the diversity that makes Symbiote a great place to work.