A new future for Indigenous business leadership

5 May 2021

In a landmark event on Saturday 1 May 2021, Monash Business School and the William Cooper Institute welcomed the first cohort of students into the Master of Indigenous Business Leadership – the first program of its kind in Australia.

Professor Jacinta Elston, Pro-Vice Chancellor (Indigenous) and Head of the William Cooper Institute, said Monash had the longest history of engagement in Indigenous higher education in Australia.

“We’re proud of this legacy, but we know we can do more. Creating the Master of Indigenous Business Leadership is about building a new future with a program exclusively designed for Indigenous Australians to strengthen our country’s Indigenous leadership in public, private and community sectors.”

The Business School’s Director of Equity, Diversity and Social Inclusion, A/Professor Nick McGuigan, said how fitting it was that this course was being launched in 2021 as Monash celebrates 60 years of making change.

“We welcome our first cohort of students, who themselves are fierce changemakers and I am personally excited to work and learn from all of you. I am also delighted and grateful to welcome N’arweet Dr Carolyn Briggs AM, a Boon Wurrung senior elder and the Senior Indigenous Research Fellow (Practice) within the Monash Faculty of Art Design and Architecture (MADA).

(L-R) The Master of Indigenous Business Leadership's first student cohort with faculty and teaching staff. N’arweet Dr Carolyn Briggs AM.

“Aunty Carolyn has been instrumental in driving change as a custodian of Boon Wurrung culture and an advocate for Indigenous youth for over 50 years. It is our immense privilege to have her here today to perform our Welcome to Country.”

“Wominjeka – welcome to our country,” declared Aunty Carolyn. “Today I am sending you a challenge to come with a purpose. Not only on behalf of my ancestors but all first nations people here today on the lands we meet. People who are connected to the lands and waters that we call Australia – a connection that stems back over 80,000 years and brings forward the stories of our people.”

“We speak of three sacred laws that guide how we remain interconnected with each other, the land and our past. Yulendj, meaning knowledge is about the importance of our customs and stories being retained and passed onto future generations. Djeembana means community, acknowledging our diversity, strength and capability. Parbanata is about honour as we pay respect to past generations who took care of the lands and waters before us. If we can all adhere to these laws we can find that common purpose and co-create a new future for all first nations peoples.”

Following a Dreamtime story told in dance and accompanied by the traditional music of the Yidaki, or didgeridoo, Aunty Carolyn’s grandson Jaedon Williams (pictured below left), led guests through a moving and time-honoured smoking ceremony to cleanse our ‘Marrup’, “the spirit we think with, love with, talk with and choose with – through this ceremony we cleanse our spirit, wish for our future and welcome friends and guests to our lands,” said Jaedon.

Professor Elston said it was with genuine purpose that the group gathered and told the story of the giant scar tree that was a feature of the ceremony.

(L-R) Aunty Carolyn’s grandson Jaedon Williams leads a traditional smoking ceremony. Professor Jacinta Elston told the story of the giant scar tree.

“The Boon Wurrung Tree was brought off country under the custodianship of Aunty Carolyn, in partnership with Monash Art, Design and Architecture (MADA) and the Monash University Museum of Art (MUMA). The tree has a history, it tells a story of relationships and connections and it comes from the Dreamtime. It joins us here tonight to be part of this new journey.

“Our journey to get to this point has been an amazing collaboration between Monash Business School and the William Cooper institute. There are so many people to thank but I particularly wish to acknowledge the incredible work of Katrina (Mohamed) Johnson who has been instrumental in getting this program off the ground.

“For our students, you will shape the future of this program and you are now part of the Monash ‘Change It’ legacy. I know that your capacity to lead will become even stronger and that together we can create positive change for the future of our community,” continued Professor Elston.

Dean and Head of Monash Business School, Professor Simon Wilkie, said he was proud of what had been achieved and honoured to be welcoming the first cohort of students.

“I welcome you today and am so happy to be here with you as you embark on this incredible journey. I also wish to thank A/Professor Nick McGuigan for his leadership as Course Director, together with Professor Rob Brooks, Deputy Dean Education, Fiona Bertoli, Education Services Manager and all of the teaching staff, including our colleagues in MADA and the William Cooper Institute, who have worked tirelessly behind the scenes to drive this idea forward and create the best program possible.”

Indigenous Artist, Dale Harding (pictured top far left), descendant of the Bidjara, Ghungalu and Garingbal peoples of central Queensland, who is currently exhibiting at MUMA said, “my advice to this cohort is to find each other, support each other and lean on each other. Find the support networks across Monash that will help you achieve your goals. Then play… make the most of the time you have here, it is precious indeed.”

The launch culminated on the ‘ceremony mat’ as Aunty Carolyn embraced each student welcoming them with open arms to the Monash community.