Cultivating Allies in Turruk: Reflections on our Trustbuilding program

Tuesday, December 21, 2021


Sarah Naarden, IofCA Trustbuilding Program Manager reflects on how growing a community of practice in trustbuilding can be likened to cultivating pearls.  

Recently in Quiet Time, I became curious about connecting the ‘pearls of wisdom’ that emerged in the Turruk program this year. More than 20 years ago, I was a pearl diver in the Middle East and as I reflected upon the sense of trust and anticipation growing within the Turruk community, I saw the similarities to that which I experienced in the diving community. As the Turruk sessions progressed, we experienced allies deep dive into courageous truth telling with First Nation leaders, whilst others dipped their toes in to test culturally safe waters with space for ‘dumb questions’. Together, we explored the voids, nooks, benchmarks and barriers in our Indigenous education and fragmented connection to country.   

Our Uluru Response launch at Armagh, March 2021.
Photograph by Eike Zeller

The smoking ceremony at Our Uluru Response launch at Armagh, March 2021. Photograph by Eike Zeller

A Glowing Pearl  

A moment of delight this year was the IofC International Trustbuilding Program winning the Intercultural Innovation Award from the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations (UNAOC).IofC Australia’s Trustbuilding project  is a part of this international project.  

Winning this highly-acclaimed award has created a sense of pride and achievement within our First Nations collaborators and co-ordinating team. Our hope is that this will attract the curiosity of corporate and philanthropic allies and help grow our Indigenous learning partnerships Our aim is to not only meet future financial sustainability targets but establish a sweet spot of thriving conditions, abundant supply and scalable impact. This was  one of the many ‘pearls’ that have stood out this year.


Screenshot of one of the Turruk online Zoom sessions.

Stringing the pearls together  

The visionary launch of our Uluru Response National Trustbuilding Program in March, inspired a dynamic team to ‘string together’ the ‘pearls of wisdom’ embedded deep within Armagh, the Asia Pacific Centre for IofC in Melbourne. The initial intention of Turruk was to explore local initiatives, to re-establish a ‘Cummeragunja Connection’. By doing so, we wanted to expand public awareness around the 65 year reconciliation history at Armagh and connect its historical ties in hosting Yorta Yorta People from the Cummeragunja community.  A very specific intention was, to honour the Initiatives of Change legacy with the late Aunty Marg Tucker, who wrote ‘If Everybody Cared’ in 1977, the first truth telling autobiography by an Aboriginal person from the Stolen Generations. 

This important historical thread attracted the attention of Uncle Shane Charles, who took up a  live-in cultural residency at Armagh in June.  Since then, our community has had the privilege of learning everyday Indigenous perspectives that actively create a culturally safe workplace with respectful protocols. This has not only enhanced the trustbuilding program but provided cultural enrichment for all programs, residents, staff and volunteers across IofCA.  

Deep diving

With the demands of lockdown, Turruk quickly pivoted from a in-person workshop series  to online learning modules held live over Zoom. The challenges of community building through a screen were soon dissolved as we beheld the bigger opportunity to connect the ‘pearls of wisdom’ across the country and the globe.With insightful leadership, Uncle Shane lead the ‘deep diving’ with self-determination through a cultural intelligence lens. Whilst mindful not to ‘romanticise’ First Peoples wisdom, he strategically navigated away from pain narratives that reinforce a deficit lens. 

The cultural residency has further realigned our commitment to ‘deep dive ’with influential First Nations leaders who have shared their heartfelt truth telling with us. This has included: Thomas Mayor, Mark Yingiya, Tracey Evans, N’arweet Carolyn Briggs, Uncle Glen Loughrey, Uncle Herb Pattern, Alana Marsh and Kent Morris.

Listening to Uncle Shane Charles during a Trustbuilding team trip to Coranderrk - June 2021. Photograph by Gabby Harcourt

The Grit that Makes the Pearl 

The making of a pearl is an intriguing experience. Grit from the seafloor enters an oyster shellcausing  agitation which over timedevelops into layers of protective pearlescent coatings. Perhaps the most profound moment in Turruk has been reflecting upon the grit and agitation that unraveled the layers in each others truth telling.  

With courage to be vulnerable, cultivated allies, Ron Lawler and Mike Brown shared their impressive reconciliation journeys and were explicit about their ‘honesty in their failures.’ Their stories bookended Turruk and created a safe container to deepen community truth telling. Participants could empathise with their agitations, and were empowered to overcome their own obstacles and be open about their own unlearning and relearning process. Most importantly, the Turruk series enabled First Nation leaders to feel heard and culturally supported with a message that they were not alone in the burden of truth telling towards national healing. 

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