Lost Conversations - Finding new ways for black and white Australians to lead together

Lost Conversations front cover illustration by Ross Carnsew

It’s time for a game-changer in how black and white Australians relate

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The difficulties ‘black’ and ‘white’ Australia have in coming together—to talk, to work, to lead change—are core to our challenge to reconcile, as a country.

But if we want to shift the status quo—if we want to lead change on entrenched Indigenous disadvantage in health, education, housing and social equality; to address the disproportionate rates of incarceration and the devaluing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures; to achieve treaty, or constitutional recognition; to eliminate racism—then we don’t need another program, or initiative or money thrown at the ‘problem’.

We need to stop focusing on how we can try to fix things, and start looking at how we actually work together.

Lost Conversations is a new book which is the result of two years work by nine authors—five Aboriginal and four non-Indigenous (including two staff at Social Leadership Australia). 

Its aim is to help generate a new dialogue between black and white Australians and take black:white conversations to new levels of courageousness and openness—for conversations that we daren’t have … until now.

Who are we?

The creators of this work are black and white Australians. We come from different parts of the country and represent diverse opinions and lived experiences. We are not representative of the whole black and white experience. However, we do have first-hand knowledge of what happens when black and white Australians come together to try and work on change.

Geoff AignerGeoff Aigner

Author, educator, consultant and Director of Social Leadership Australia, Geoff is a second generation Australian whose family immigrated from Germany and Egypt. Geoff's first book, Leadership Beyond Good Intentions: What It Takes To Really Make A Difference, was published by Allen & Unwin in 2011. His second book, The Australian Leadership Paradox: What It Takes To Lead In The Lucky Country, co-authored with Liz Skelton, was also published by Allen & Unwin in 2013. As Director of Social Leadership Australia, Geoff is responsible for providing strategic direction for the centre in its mission to create better leadership for a better Australia.

Cheryl GodwellCheryl Godwell

A direct descendant of the Kokoberra people in far north Queensland, Cheryl is an Aboriginal woman born in Mount Isa, Queensland. Graduating from the Queensland University of Technology with a Bachelor of Social Science (majoring in Human Services), Cheryl relocated to Canberra in the late 1990s where she spent over 13 years working for the Commonwealth Government. As a manager of Indigenous and non-Indigenous policies, programs and initiatives, Cheryl continues to pursue her interests in social policy and sustainable community development. She is Manager of Charles Darwin University’s Away From Base (AFB) funding program targeting improved rural and remote Indigenous engagement in VET and Higher Education studies.

Jane MartinJane Martin

Dr Jane Martin is a facilitator, educator and consultant for Social Leadership Australia. Of Dutch and Irish descent, many of her ancestors were sent to Australia as convicts, deported for fighting poverty and political oppression. In this spirit Jane is passionate about working for social justice. This started with developing services for women and young people and more recently she has worked in services for survivors of mental ill-health. Jane is a graduate of Process Oriented Psychology. Founded by Dr Arnold Mindell, this is a form of depth psychology dedicated to social justice through 'deep democracy' which she utilised in facilitating Lost Conversations.

Grant PaulsonGrant Paulson

Grant is a Birri-Gubba/Bundjalung man, also of Scottish and Ni-Vanuatu heritage. A husband and father to four, he holds the role of Faith and Development Advisor at World Vision Australia.

Grant was previously Group Manager at Reconciliation Australia, where he advised leading organisations on implementing effective Reconciliation Action Plans in the workplace. He was a participant in Social Leadership Australia's Headland initiative and is currently working on a thesis on spirituality and social change.

John Rawnsley

John Rawnsley

John is a Larrakia/Anmatjerre man who was born in Darwin. A solicitor with the North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency in the Top End of the Northern Territory, he provides legal advice and casework for people involved with the correctional and juvenile justice systems. John is involved with the Larrakia Development Corporation and is on the board of the Aboriginal Areas Protection Authority, an independent statutory organisation established under the Aboriginal Sacred Sites Act 1989 that is responsible for overseeing the protection of Aboriginal sacred sites on land and sea across the NT. John has extensive experience in government and as a parliamentary and ministerial advisor. In 2009, he was the Deputy Mayor of Alice Springs.

Kim Robertson

Kim Robertson

Kim is a proud descendant of the Thanakwithi, Waanyi and Wik peoples of Cape York in Far North Queensland, and has English ancestry through her father. Kim has dedicated over 20 years to Indigenous community development, largely within the public service (including regional management roles in Far North Queensland and the Kimberley region of Western Australia). Her experience includes project management and policy development across diverse portfolios such as libraries, sports and recreation, land use and cultural heritage, education and leadership. Kim holds a BA in Social Science (JCU) and a MA in Indigenous Social Policy (UTS).  She continues to work in Indigenous higher education and is pursuing a passion for the visual arts and the role of culture in Indigenous leadership practice.

Liz Skelton

Liz Skelton

Liz has been working for the past 20 years to create positive social change by leading social justice organisations in Australia and the UK. Liz is a social change and leadership practitioner, author, thought leader, consultant and teacher of systemic social change. Formerly Principal Consultant of Social Leadership Australia, Liz led extensive adaptive initiatives in the business, government and not-for-profit sectors on a range of complex issues including homelessness, Indigenous leadership and business/community engagement. Liz was born in England, but grew up in Scotland, and has travelled, lived and worked in many different countries before becoming an Australian citizen. She is co-author, with Geoff Aigner, of The Australian Leadership Paradox: What It Takes To Lead In The Lucky Country (Allen & Unwin, 2013) and was previously General Manager of Streetwize Communications developing initiatives with young people and Indigenous communities on social, legal and health issues in Australia.

Libby VarcoeLibby Varcoe

Libby Varcoe is a freelance writer and editor. Her family immigrated to Australia in the mid-1800s from County Meath in Ireland and Cornwall in Britain. She was raised on the ancestral territory of the Eora people. Libby has worked with many government and corporate organisations. She worked for Streetwize Communications as a consultant scriptwriter and researcher working on social justice, health and legal projects targeting disadvantaged young people. In this role she travelled to Indigenous communities across NSW to consult with Aboriginal youth groups and community workers and worked creatively with Indigenous writers and artists. Libby holds a BA in Social Science majoring in journalism, and a Masters of Professional Writing, both from UTS.

Mark Yettica-PaulsonMark Yettica-Paulson

​Mark is an Indigenous man from the southeast Queensland and northeast NSW regions. He is the founder and director of The Yettica Group which specialises in facilitating Indigenous leadership and assisting groups to work better as Indigenous and other Australians. Mark has many years’ experience in leadership management consulting, community education, leadership training, church and community organising and youth work. He held the role of CEO for the Australian Indigenous Leadership Centre and has helped many leading organisations develop Reconciliation Action Plans. In 2009 Mark was recognised by The Australian as being one of the top 100 emerging leaders in Australia. In 2011 he won ‘Best Public Speaker in Australia’ on the ABC’s Strictly Speaking program.

What people are saying

Endorsements by Steve Larkin and Chris Sarra

“The authors of Lost Conversations show great courage by putting their perspectives on leadership out there. I hope their courage enables other Australians, Indigenous and non-Indigenous, to believe in, aspire to, and demand a more honourable Australian future for all of us to share.” 
—Chris Sarra, Founder and Chair, Stronger Smarter Institute

"Lost Conversations is a book that Australia needs.  Some of the most exceptional leaders I know of have presented what I would call distilled wisdom—insights at once visionary and practical, that grow from the authentic experience of leading and from deep reflection.  This is a book that avoids shortcuts and simplistic solutions.  But it cracks apart many of our assumptions, upsets pessimism and reframes hard questions.  I know Lost Conversations will inspire and guide new leaders now and in the years ahead."
—Tim Costello, CEO, World Vision Australia

Lost Conversations deals with the important issue of communication between black and white at an individual level. I hope that these stories are a forerunner to another set of conversations that are required in a post-Mabo Australia—the critical conversations between those who represent the black collectives, which are the holders of the world's oldest living cultures, and the dominant society.”
—The Hon Frederick Michael Chaney, AO, Board Member, Reconciliation Australia; Former Deputy Chair, Australian Native Title Tribunal; 2014 Senior Australian of the Year

“Anyone engaged in inter-cultural work with black and white Australians will recognise the many truths in this little book, which details the many ways we have allowed our most important national conversations to get 'lost'. The results are challenging, sometimes discomforting, but ultimately exciting—because they open a new space for conversations to make real progress in this space.”
—Assoc Prof Sarah Maddison Author; ARC Future Fellow, Faculty of Arts & Social Sciences, UNSW

“… illuminates how unequal power relations manifest in people’s everyday reality and exposes the effects of racial inequality. For this reason alone, those who are committed to achieving racial harmony in this country should regard Lost Conversations as a must-read.” 
—Prof Steven Larkin, Pro Vice-Chancellor Indigenous Leadership, and Director, Australian Centre for Indigenous Knowledges & Education, Charles Darwin University 

Other endorsers include:

  • Dr Helen Szoke, Chief Executive, Oxfam Australia
  • Dr Tom Calma, AO, Chancellor, University of Canberra; Chair, Australian Indigenous Leadership Centre
  • Clover Moore, Lord Mayor, City of Sydney
  • Jeremy Donovan, internationally renowned didgeridoo player and CEO, GenerationOne
  • ​Rosie Southwood, Manager, Aboriginal Affairs, Wesfarmers
  • Simon Sheikh, Founder, Future Super and former National Director, GetUp!
  • Lisa Chung, Chairman, The Benevolent Society
  • Simon Terry, Change Agent  and Partner, Change Agents Worldwide LLC
  • Elmarie Gebler, Owner & Director, Fortis One

Get your copy

Lost Conversations is downloadable in PDF format from www.lostconversations.org.au.

Download FREE now!

Publication Date: 
20 Nov 2014