Kate Thomann talks about the importance of education and opportunity for Indigenous peoples
Friday 20 November 2015
Kate Thomann (nee Gilbert) is from a proud Wiradjuri family. Kate has twenty years experience in the Australian Public Service and has managed several Commonwealth Indigenous programs including: stolen generations and bringing them home; social and emotional well-being and mental health; substance use including volatile substance use and petrol sniffing; and Indigenous broadcasting, languages, culture and contemporary music.
In her recent address at the 2015 Aurora Indigenous Scholars International Study Tour Reception, Kate reflected on the importance of education and opportunity:
“Education is a right and a privilege that was for too long denied to many Aboriginal people. Countless generations of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have fought long and hard for us to have the same rights and access to education – and education must continue to be embraced as an opportunity. It is what changes one’s life and one’s circumstances.
“My father is Kevin Gilbert. He was the first Aboriginal play-wright and wrote the first published Aboriginal play,“The Cherry Pickers”. Educated to fifth grade, in jail Dad read the dictionary, the Bible and the encyclopaedia from cover to cover in order to educate himself. Upon his release he published the first political works written by an Aboriginal person. “Because a White Man’ll Never do it” is now an Angus and Robertson Classic and his oral history “Living Black”, for which he won the National Book Council award in 1978, exposed the reality of surviving colonisation and genocide. He was heavily involved in the Aboriginal Tent Embassy, was a human rights activist and spearheaded the ongoing fight for a treaty and Aboriginal Sovereignty. In 1992, he was awarded a four-year Creative Arts Fellowship for his 'outstanding artistic contribution to the nation' but tragically, as remains the disparity in health and life outcomes between Indigenous and non-Indigenous mortality rates, died six months later aged 59.
“My Dad always encouraged me to get a good education, and to use education as a tool to improve our lot in life.
“In 1996, at age 22 I graduated from the ANU with a Bachelor of Arts, one of only two of Dad’s six children with a university degree today. It is only now, 19 years later in 2015, I can proudly say that my sister and brother-in-law are currently studying at university.
“My university degree led me to apply for a Cadetship with the Australian Public Service where I started my career while I was still studying.I’ve now been working in Indigenous affairs for over 20 years and during this time, I have had the pleasure of managing several national programs including: stolen generations and bringing them home; social and emotional well-being and mental health; substance use including volatile substance use and petrol sniffing; and Indigenous broadcasting, languages, culture and contemporary music.
“In mid-2014, I was appointed to the position of Chief Executive Officer for the Australian Indigenous Doctors’ Association (AIDA) - a national not-for-profit professional organisation which supports Indigenous doctors and medical students, advocates for the delivery of a culturally safe health care system and works to improve the health and life outcomes of Indigenous Australians.It is fair to say that when I was appointed to my job I did not really know what a CEO did. I’d never worked outside the bureaucracy and I’d never worked in a national organisation, much less managed one.”
Kate recently won a Roberta Sykes Indigenous Education Foundation bursary, and attended the May 2015 Leading for Results Program in Singapore. This five day program for Executive Leaders and Global CEOs is delivered by INSEAD – one of the world’s most renowned and largest international business schools.
On her experiences at Leading for Results:
“It is an amazing five day course that takes you around the world on a global leadership journey, introduces you to a vast array of different cultures, perspectives and views, and then zooms in on your approach, organisational and individual leadership strengths and weaknesses. It’s a bit like Alice in Wonderland, straddling high-level strategic thought, tools and frameworks down to a deeply personal internal and challenging journey of self-reflection, group coaching and 360 degree feedback. We were taught about different culture styles, practices, communication contexts and how to manage virtual teams in a global, and culturally diverse, team environment.
“I believe I have become a more effective leader and manager as a result of my attendance...I learnt thatcommunication is key to everything: leadership, motivation, encouragement, facilitation, sharing, and creating a shared vision and delivering on outcomes.
Through the course, I learnt a lot about leading teams, leading by example and communicating change. I believe that I have become more effective as a leader and manager as a result.”
Kate finished up with these inspirational words to the 2015 Aurora International Study Tour Scholars:
“To those amazing scholars about to travel the world to further their education - good luck, bon voyage and remember just how deadly you are. Your contribution to your family, your people and your community is what will continue to bring change to Indigenous Australia and to close the life, health, education and employment gap. Each one of you are to embark on a deeply personal journey. Never forget that you make us proud.”