‘Making the invisible visible’: RACGP reconciliation action plan

Matt Woodley

12/11/2020 4:32:09 PM

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders have hailed the college’s approach to enacting genuine change in the area of reconciliation.

Aboriginal woman
The RACGP RAP involves a commitment to improving the knowledge, skills and abilities required to deliver culturally responsive health services.

After more than 12 months of hard work, consultation and collaboration, the RACGP has launched a reconciliation action plan (RAP) as part of its vision of a healthcare system free of racism.
Designed to help establish a culturally safe organisation that supports continuous education and learning for staff and members, the RAP has been praised Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people within and outside of the college.
The plan involves a commitment to improving the knowledge, skills and abilities required to deliver culturally responsive health services to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, which relies on a culturally inclusive and safe environment with strong relationships based on mutual respect.
Professor Peter O’Mara, Chair of RACGP Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health, told newsGP the college deserves credit for the ‘outstanding’ process it undertook when developing the RAP. 
‘Many organisations just pass that ball to the black people in the organisation,’ he said. ‘You know, “This is about Indigenous stuff, you people are Indigenous, you should go and do this”, and that’s totally not what it’s about.
‘Right from the beginning, our college got some non-Indigenous folks who had a real passion and some expertise in this area to consult with people across the college, especially our faculty, and come up with an amazing RAP.’
As a result, Professor O’Mara said the college has been a leader in this space.
‘It makes me feel really proud of the organisation and hopeful for the future,’ he said.
‘There are a lot of people that want to do something, but they don’t quite know what to do or how to get involved, or whether what they’re thinking of is the right thing and they don’t want to offend people.
‘The RAP gives people some direction, where they can move forward in doing the right thing and know that it is the right thing.’

‘It makes me feel really proud of the organisation,’ Prof Peter O’Mara, Chair of RACGP Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health, said of the RAP.

Jefa Greenaway, Founding Director of Greenaway Architects, has been consulting on the refurbishment of the RACGP’s East Melbourne headquarters to tangibly reveal the ‘layers of history and memory of place’ present in the area through embedding Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander design into the new plans.
He told newsGP the value of RAP is that it demonstrates a ‘clear intent’ to embrace Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander perspectives and sensibilities into the way an organisation functions.
‘I often say that the most important word in a reconciliation action plan is “action”,’ he said. ‘And, ultimately, the work that the RACGP has undertaken in recent times is really seeking to activate [Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander] opportunities.
‘My reading of the [RACGP] approach to its RAP is certainly that there’s a strong desire to empower Indigenous voices, to build partnerships and forge relationships.’
According to Mr Greenaway, one of the best ways to ‘really connect’ with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture is to understand in which Country a project is located.
‘I often talk about this notion that you will concrete over Country, but the stories still exist,’ he said. ‘The work that I was doing was really looking at making the invisible visible and revealing some of the stories and narratives that reside in place. 
‘The national headquarters in East Melbourne is located parallel and directly opposite of a number of significant sites for the Wurundjeri and Boonwurrung people of the Kulin Nation.
‘It’s directly in the line of sight of Birrarung [the Yarra River] … but significantly, too, it’s immediately adjacent to the MCG, which is located on a traditional gathering place, where tanderrum would take place – the gathering of the five Kulin Nations coming together.
‘It’s by no accident or coincidence that often the significant places of importance to us now were in fact places of significance and importance back in the day for Indigenous people.’
Cultural awareness training for every staff member has been another part of the college’s process in forming its RAP.
Rob Hyatt, Education and Visitor Experience manager at Koorie Heritage Trust – which ran the training – told newsGP this demonstrated a ‘really good commitment’ to the RAP, as all staff have a role to play in its successful implementation.
‘A RAP is not just an add-on, but a part of the organisation’s values,’ he said. ‘You could do one training and tick a box, or you can commit to everyone understanding what it is that you’re trying to achieve in having a reconciliation action plan in the first place.
‘From that point of view, knowing that you’re committing all your staff through it would suggest that it actually is a part of your values.’
Mr Hyatt said the next challenge is to ensure all staff and RACGP members remain engaged and become fully culturally competent.
‘Awareness is great … but what you do with that knowledge is actually more important,’ he said.
‘It’s not just about understanding Aboriginal people – whether it’s within your organisation or in the broader community that you engage with – but understanding your own organisational culture.
‘The relationship side of it is also really important and maintaining those relationships … we’ve been able to find some really good common ground on what works as part of an ongoing relationship between our two organisations.’
Mr Greenaway likewise said with people looking for ways to meaningfully engage with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture during NAIDOC week, one of the important take-home messages is to consider how partnerships are built.
‘One of the most meaningful ways of engaging is to move beyond the simplistic low-hanging fruit and actually think about, “How can we really give visibility to Indigenous culture?”,’ he said.
‘What better ways are there to actually empower and to engage, and employ Indigenous creatives as a way of really building that authenticity and opportunity?
‘One of the keys is to employ and to directly engage and have Indigenous people at the table, so as they can become key contributors and co-designers in propositions which start to really celebrate our shared humanity and our connection to this ancient place.
‘The time is now to really embrace that and see it as not losing 240 years of colonial history, but gaining 67,000 years or 3000 generations of history.’
The RACGP reconciliation action plan is available on the college website.
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