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Published 09 August 2012 05:05, Updated 09 August 2012 16:56
Gavin Tye is surprisingly optimistic for someone who spent 15 years managing offenders in south-east Queensland prisons.
Tye, who now teaches business leaders in the finance and accounting professions how to recruit talent from indigenous communities, holds a similar philosophy to that of Cape York indigenous leader Noel Pearson: The way we deal with people in economically disadvantaged communities needs to change.
“If I blame every non-indigenous Australian for past injustices against my people, it’s very pessimistic,” he says. “It doesn’t bring about positive change. I prefer to ask, ‘How do we learn from those past injustices?’ It’s to say, collectively we never let them happen again.”
An indigenous boy who grew up on a cattle property in south-west Queensland, Tye left school in 1980 to work in shearing sheds in Longreach and later with Queensland Rail. “After five years I realised I didn’t want to do a pick-and-shovel job; that I needed to use my head a bit,” he says.
At the age of 21, he decided to go back to high school and complete year 10 in Rockhampton and soon after, in 1988, became a correctional officer working in maximum security prisons.
“My job was managing offenders, day in, day out,” he says. “I’d have to cut down those who’d suicided. I carried out someone who had their head smashed in with a 25-kilogram weight to the back of their head and had their brains leaking out . . . I got a cup of boiling hot coffee thrown in my face. I was spat on; assaulted. Things of that nature.”
The personal impact is obviously long-lasting but it’s also driven Tye to keep working to improve the life of indigenous Australians. Except rather than do it through the “bureaucracy” he’s now employed by Australia’s three main accounting bodies. His job is to increase the number of indigenous people in the accounting profession from 11 to 1000 over the next decade.
His message to top companies is: “Business can be an active part in cultural change. It can take ownership of being part of the solution to the socio-economic disadvantage of indigenous Australians. That means offering employment opportunities and being actively engaged with indigenous communities.”
Tye is still surprised that many don’t understand indigenous culture. “I have deans of universities saying, ‘tell us what to do’,” he says. “You need to engage with indigenous community elders on a regular basis. Not a calendar year basis.”