Following on from National Reconciliation Week, The Weekly team had a chat to Customer Service Officer Charlene Crothers to talk about the influence her Aboriginal heritage has had on her life, both professional and personally.
What has been your journey so far with DEW?
I started with the department in January this year as a Customer Service Officer.
Previous to my role with DEW, I worked as a Licensing Coordinator at SafeWork SA processing licence registrations and advising customers on their legislative requirements. I also had the opportunity to do a 15-month stint in the SafeWork SA Investigation Unit as an Investigation Support Officer.
Tell us a little bit about your role for the department?
A normal day on-the-job for me would be assisting customers with the processing of or providing information for permits, online bookings and national parks.
I absolutely enjoy and thrive learning new things, so joining a completely different state government department is providing me great insight into environmental conservation and sustainability.
One aspect I enjoy in this role is undertaking research into the department’s legislation. This assists me in answering customer enquiries and helps me encourage them to visit our parks. The enquiries can be interesting and complex. With my curiosity, I have to seek and know the answers!
What are the benefits of your First Nation’s cultural knowledge in your work?
My grandma has since passed, but she was an Aboriginal woman born in Sydney, and part of the Stolen Generations. My grandma didn’t know when her birthday was, nor which Aboriginal group she belonged to. She was removed from her family at a young age.
My grandmother was extremely resilient, intelligent and kind, making her an inspiration to me. Her kindness and generosity to people from all walks of life, whether you sat at the bottom or the top, was unlike anyone I’ve encountered.
One of the many examples of resilience throughout her life was when she was released from the Cootamundra girl’s home at age 14 and sent to a rural farm to work. Unfortunately it was during this time she was subjected to various abuses. Knowing how resilient she was throughout her life, it did not surprise me to hear that she ran away from the farm, with no money, and managed to find her way back to the Cootamundra girl’s home where she reported the abuse.
When she left Cootamundra she applied to the government to work. She became a registered nurse in Sydney where she met my Irish grandpa. They married and eventually moved to Adelaide and started a family. She worked in the public healthcare system and in the local Indigenous community in healthcare for Nunkuwarrin Yunti. Nunkuwarrin Yunti is currently where my mother works as a healthcare professional, following in the footsteps of my grandma.
My Aboriginal heritage has had me experience first-hand the ramifications of previous Australian policies. These policies have resulted in acculturation - a gap in education and healthcare. I strongly believe in Australia coming together to continue to close the gap, so that as a nation we can break the cycle of generational trauma.
Australia is only now beginning to see an increase in number of young Indigenous students completing year 12 and going on to tertiary studies. This fills me with pride, as I see education as being fundamental to ensuring the preservation of Aboriginal rights, heritage and culture.
Australia has a culture and history that the rest of the world is fascinated by. Culture is diverse, and diversity is enlightening.
You are currently participating in the Gladys Elphick Women in Leadership Training Course. Can you tell us about your experience?
Gladys Elphick worked tirelessly alongside many other influential Aboriginal women to establish vital services in the community. The influence of these women lead to the establishment of Nunkuwarrin Yunti, Tauondi College, and the Aboriginal Legal Rights Movement. Gladys was also president for a period of time of the Council of Aboriginal Women of South Australia which campaigned for the 1967 Referendum.
The training course is providing me an opportunity to better prepare myself for leadership roles and how to achieve it. I recently attended a session titled Building Confidence, Social Media Strategies, Application Tools, and Winning Resumes, facilitated by Marlene Cole, a highly-regarded successful woman in the field of career mentoring and corporate speaking. It was really worthwhile and I am thankful for being given the opportunity by the department to participate in it.
What does the future hold for you?
My grandparents instilled in me a strong sense of social justice.
My grandfather, an amazing man in his own right, was passionate about human rights, Indigenous issues, and the South Australian state economy. I want their legacy to live on in me and my children. I want to ensure that we learn and grow from our history and past mistakes.
I am currently studying criminology and criminal justice online with Griffith University in Queensland, and I hope this leads to a future in compliance, policy, or the criminal justice system.
I am really enjoying my time with the department, and appreciating the emphasis to support Aboriginal culture, particularly traditional land ownership and co-management for future preservation of the environment, land and culture. These conservation efforts are significant and align with my values.
I love learning new things and enjoy change, so I am looking forward to what my future holds at DEW.