Indigenous employment and education activist

27 May 2020

Frank Gafa (BA '15) is the Chair of the ANU Indigenous Alumni Network Committee and a member of the University's Reconciliation Action Plan Committee.

Frank is passionate about improving the experience for both Indigenous staff and students, and contributing to providing an environment where Indigenous people can thrive.

In the lead up to National Reconciliation Week 2020, we sat down with Frank to talk reconciliation, Indigenous employment and his motivations for getting involved in the ANU Indigenous Alumni Network.

This year's reconciliation theme In This Together is particularly poignant during the current pandemic. What have you been doing to stay connected to family and community during this time of isolation?

The most important thing for me has been to have regular catch-ups scheduled with friends and family. Even though they are virtual, it has been important to not get lost in isolation, especially living on my own. In my day job for the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU), one of the great things is regular Zoom sessions for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander members to maintain community and also support each other during this difficult time.

I think it will be great for ANU Indigenous alumni to connect virtually in the current situation. The original plan for 2020 was to hold events in capital cities for alumni, but now we actually have a fantastic opportunity to come together as a national network, reconnect with old study mates and make new ones!

What are your top three career tips for Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander students who are about to graduate?

My first tip would be to look out for the unique opportunities the nation's capital has to offer, like going to a public lecture or event. The people you meet and things you learn there are immense. Secondly, utilise the support ANU has to offer mob on campus -- the Tjabal Centre was for me an integral part of eventually graduating. The loving and supportive community at the centre really does help to keep on track in that stressful final push towards graduation.

Thirdly, really focus on what you want to get out of your qualification. For Indigenous students, there are so many graduate opportunities for you to pick from, with both Government and private businesses offering great programs. Also, look for what is on offer at the University -- whether further study or an opportunity for a job, the ANU community is a really nice place to work and if you love living in Canberra, then I'd say it is one of the best!

What events will you be getting involved in this Reconciliation Week?

With the social isolation this year, I will be keeping myself safe and attending virtual events. The one I am looking forward to the most is a panel discussion hosted by Larrissa Behrendt reflecting on 20 years since the bridge walks for reconciliation in 2000. The panel is being livestreamed on Facebook and I really encourage people to listen in on the session.

What advice would you give our non-Indigenous alumni, who want to actively support the pathway towards reconciliation?

I would say, simply listen. When you are looking for the best way to support Indigenous people, always ensure your actions are informed by Indigenous people and that you never do anything without our involvement and approval. I live by this quote from Lilla Watson, "If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together".

What inspired you to get involved in the ANU Indigenous Alumni Network Committee?

I was first contacted by my good friend, Dave Johnston to get involved and when it was suggested to me to become Chair of the Network Committee, it just felt like a natural progression. I have always been passionate about education and creating communities for Indigenous people at ANU, from being a student representative on ANUSA to being a staff representative on NTEU.  

Having a seat on the ANU Reconciliation Action Plan Committee, I hope through engaging with alumni across the country, I can represent people's views on the University's future direction. I really want to be involved in supporting the University to continue improving the environment for Indigenous staff and students, and there are no better opinions on how to do this than from our alumni.

» Read Frank's profile to find out more

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