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Engaging the next generation

National Reconciliation Week 2021 is running 27 May to 3 June, and this year’s theme is “More Than a Word”. In the lead up to the week, some Australian Water Association members share their reconciliation journey.

While reconciliation takes "more than a word", one water utility has focused its efforts on helping Aboriginal students within the community write a children’s story book to help educate young people about the value of water.

It has been almost two years since Hunter Water instigated its first Reconciliation Action Plan, and the utility is well on its way to achieving many of the initiatives outlined, including launching its newest education resource, Where’s Our Water?

Hunter Water Inclusion and Diversity Senior HR Business Partner Lisa Warren said the project instills pride in the Aboriginal cultures present within the utility’s community, and encourages school children to engage in learning about water.

“This free children’s eBook tells a story about native animals living around the Hunter River, drawing on the traditional wisdom and practices of Aboriginal people in caring for our land and waterways,” she said.

“The story, which was written by 10 Aboriginal students from Newcastle High School, aims to educate young people about the value of water.

“It is available as a free eBook on the Hunter Water website. The book is available in both Awabakal and Worimi languages.”

Further to launching Where’s Our Water?, Hunter Water has also been collaborating with a local Aboriginal artist to create a work about the community’s water.

“One of our actions under our RAP was to engage Saretta Fielding, an award-winning Aboriginal artist of the Wonnarua and Awabakal Nations,” Warren said.

“Saretta worked with members of the RAP working group to create an artwork, Mariin Kaling — All for Water, which celebrates our shared natural resource of water.”

Positive and effective action

Further to fostering cultural awareness with books and art, Hunter Water has also become a member of the NSW Indigenous Chamber of Commerce (ICC), which gives the utility access to a database of Indigenous suppliers within the Newcastle region.

Warren said Hunter Water’s first Reflect RAP has been focused on three key areas — People, Community Engagement and Sustainable Procurement — and that the utility has developed a deeper understanding of how to take positive and effective action moving forward.

“Implementing our first RAP has been a journey to learn the best way to engage with our local Aboriginal community and understand that there was much that we took for granted,” Warren said.

“Relationship building with our Aboriginal communities takes time and trust, and that is not something that can be rushed. Similarly, educating our own staff takes time.

“We’ve realised that it helps enormously if you have leadership commitment at all levels of the company, as well as a dedicated RAP working group, good planning, and appropriate budget and resourcing to fulfil commitments made under the RAP.”

Warren said the utility has identified many more opportunities in terms of employment, community engagement, and procurement, which will be developed further in the next RAP.

“There is more work to be done in how we provide work experience and employment opportunities,” she said.

“But also how we partner with Aboriginal community groups and other like-minded organisations, how we support community events and activities, and how we create opportunities to engage with and build the capability of Aboriginal businesses.

“We will build on the success of the actions completed under our first RAP and will aim to up the ante each year with our reconciliation activities.”