Aboriginal business owners from Victoria have revealed the secrets to their success and shared their desires to give back to their communities, in interviews conducted by RMIT researchers.
The interviews were part of a feasibility study to link RMIT with Indigenous business, through a Cultural Business project supported by a Learning and Teaching Investment Fund grant in the School of Management.
The 12 businesses showcased include a consulting firm, a media agency, a gallery and an industrial laundry.
Some owners were part of a first wave of Aboriginal businesses in Victoria and have been operating for nearly 30 years, while others are new businesses carving out their niche.
Interviewees included celebrity chef Mark Olive (aka the Black Olive) and world renowned photographer and RMIT Adjunct Professor Wayne Quilliam.
The RMIT project team consists of Senior Lecturer Tim Butcher, Associate Professor, Indigenous Specialisation, Barry Judd, Ngarara Willim Centre Senior Adviser Matthew Starr and Research Officer Jane Harrison.
“Many of the truisms about running a business, such as the importance of hard work, resilience, persistence, the need to know your market and the need for good governance, thread through the interviews,” Ms Harrison said.
“However some of the themes that the interviewees brought up highlighted a culturally different approach to running a business, such as the importance of embedding cultural protocols and values in their work and the way they work with communities.
“The desire to ‘give back’ to Indigenous communities, either through pro bono work or through mentoring other Aboriginal people, was a strong and constant theme throughout the interviews.”
Media consultant Jirra Harvey, who has run her own business for two years, has the goal of mentoring four young Aboriginal people each year.
“This has been in my business plan from the start,” Ms Harvey said.
“I had the support of some incredible mentors and acknowledge that I walk a path that has been carved for me by the hard work of my Ancestors and so it is important that I inturn open the door for the next generation,”
“The Indigenous PR industry is very small; I was the second Aboriginal student to graduate from my degree but today we have a wave of young Indigenous students studying in this area and so my door is always open.”
One of the aims of the interviews, with their focus on the strengths and achievements of the participants, is to counter-balance the deficit view, or negative representations, of Aboriginal people that many students are subjected to through the media.
The interviews will provide content for a new course in cultural business that may be offered as part of RMIT’s Indigenous Specialisation program.