My name is Ian Trust I am an Aboriginal man from the East Kimberley and the Executive Chair of Wunan Foundation. Wunan Foundation’s charter is to achieve Aboriginal social and economic reform through education, housing and employment.
My whole working life (apart from my apprenticeship as a diesel mechanic) has been working in positions involving Aboriginal affairs, including WA Aboriginal Affairs Planning Authority, Commonwealth Aboriginal Development Commission and ATSIC.
I have always had a strong social conscience and a belief that the Aboriginal people of Australia should enjoy the same standard of living as other Australians. Australia is a rich country and there is no reason why a big percentage of the Aboriginal people should be living in poverty (by Australian standards).
After I completed my apprenticeship as a diesel mechanic in the early 1970’s, Aboriginal community development was just starting in the Kimberley and I saw it as a better means to achieving Aboriginal empowerment through economics and getting our people to organise themselves. My first major challenge was learning about finance to the depth required to run a community organisation like a business. My other major challenge was public speaking but it improved as my general knowledge increased.
What I enjoy most about my field of work is that it’s challenging, it’s rewarding and the outcomes I achieve benefit other people. The power of my work is the knowledge that I can influence how society looks 50 years from now but if I only influence a small section of the community my efforts would not have been in vain.
I associate leadership with knowledge, wisdom, courage, compassion and dignity but it’s really about helping people discover the power they have to change their life or the lives of others. Leadership should be about creating the environment for people to flourish and create the life they want. My strengths as a leader can be summarised as consistency, persistence, determination, having a vision and belief.
The biggest leadership initiative I have undertaken in my life so far (along with other East Kimberley leaders) has been supporting the introduction of the Cashless Debit Card (CDC) in Kununurra and Wyndham by the Federal Government. The introduction of the CDC has been extremely controversial to say the least but it is an attempt by Aboriginal people to support a policy which is different from what we have been doing for the last 50 years.
I believe that if we want to achieve better outcomes in the future for our people we must do things differently. Support for any new strategy always takes time to build and I believe this will be the case with the CDC. Any new social reform initiatives always require a small committed leadership group to drive change and without this leadership group no new ideas would ever be attempted.
It is only after more people come to understand what you are trying to do over time that support goes up. This was also the case with the introduction of alcohol restrictions in Halls Creek and Fitzroy Crossing. Nothing worth achieving is ever easy but if it’s important to you, you must be prepared to back it and support it and stick at it.
There is saying that says “If you want to have things you have never had before you must be prepared to do things you’ve never done before.” I think there is a lot of truth in that.
If I could go back and give some advice to my high school self it would be:
- Read and read to increase knowledge
Learn how to manage your money! VITAL
Watch your habits and your friends
You must give to get
Develop a work ethic and be
If a young person was interested in my area of work, I would tell them that working with people is always tough and it takes time to build trust and rapport. It’s important to be consistent in how you deal with people and having good, clear communication skills is crucial.