For a man who has worn dozens of hats in his lifetime, Warren Mundine’s role as an official Australia Day Ambassador for Ashfield Council may, on first acquaintance, appear curious to some. Given the historical implications of white settlement for Indigenous people, surely he finds it difficult to square his own background with such a role?
“I do understand where some Indigenous people are coming from in regard to Australia Day in particular – I was one, and still am one,” he says. “But if we are going to move forward with reconciliation, it’s about actually reconciling and working together. One thing I like about Australia is that we know we’re not perfect, but we’ve always worked together as a community to resolve these issues in a mature, non-violent way.”
Although best-known as the former National President of the ALP, Mundine has been involved with multiple projects across a number of fields, including the Southern Cross University Foundation and an appointment on the Australian Government’s Indigenous Housing Committee. Such broad experience, however, did not in any way diminish Mundine’s emotional relief at the Government’s 2008 apology to the stolen generations. “There was a small hole in my heart, and when the PM gave the apology, for the first time, that hole was filled.”
Moreover, Mundine believes the symbolic importance of the apology should not be underestimated in the rush to analyse progress ‘on the ground’. “It doesn’t diminish the apology – that was a powerful, moving moment for Aboriginal people,” he says. “You don’t overcome 200 years of conflict in two years, nor change 30 years worth of policy, much of which was bad. Julia Gillard’s ‘Education Revolution’ will have a profound effect in 10 years or so on our community, I’m quite sure of that.”
For a man who has worn dozens of hats in his lifetime, settling on just one achievement of which he is most proud is difficult. “The widespread recognition from the mainstream about Aboriginal art and culture – it’s a slow process, but it’s very satisfying,” he says. “But at the same time, for instance, last year I was working for Football Federation Australia, and we took 180 girls up to Townsville. We helped to introduce them to that world and that was a very proud thing for me.”
Mundine is currently the CEO of NTSCORP (formerly the NSW Native Title Service), a role in which he continues to push to empower Indigenous people to break the poverty cycle and build up a strong Indigenous economy. The degree of support, he says, is extremely encouraging, and bodes well for the success of the project.
“In the last 18 to 20 months, I haven’t been in a boardroom – or indeed a situation in the general community – where people haven’t wanted to roll up their sleeves and help pull Indigenous people out of poverty.”