Kara Talbot is Head of Connecting with Country, this is what it means
Connecting culture with progress and why it matters
By Jenny Ringland
Kara Talbot is a proud Yuin Walbunja, and Kamilaroi Kwiambal woman whose job as Head of Connecting with Country for social change agency Cox Inall Ridgeway is a connector of culture and progress.
She’s part of a new generation of thinkers “bringing into the workplace new thoughts, new practical ways of execution and a new way of wanting to work with Aboriginal people’’.
“The more people are willing to be educated, the more people are willing to sit down and listen, to let Aboriginal people lead Aboriginal conversations, the further we will get,’’ Kara says.
It’s her job to work with myriad stakeholders from planners to architects, government builders, councils and community groups to look at including culture into newly formed developments and programs. Kara hopes to be able to take an urban focused pilot project and test how this will work in regional areas.
“There is space to do this, and I think we need to use Aboriginal voices from a vast array of regional areas to test how culture can enhance newly established sites,’’ Kara says.
“Essentially my job is putting culture into master plans so that the outcomes look different for different communities.’’
The inclusion of Aboriginal voices in the planning and implementation of different projects forms part of her remit, but fundamentally it means passing on what Connection to Country represents for her.
“We really need Aboriginal people leading the conversations around ways Aboriginal people managed sustainability to use methods that are more traditional to allow for culture to be embedded into the practice,’’ Kara says.
“Connecting with Country is listening to my mum and dad retelling the stories of their childhood on Country, the foods they used to eat or the water holes they’d swim in because storytelling is what keeps Country alive. Country is more than just the trees and the plants and birds and the grass under your feet. Country is everything, from the skies and the land and everything in between.
“We need to understand how holistic Country is. There are people who read the skies and understand the stars and the sun and the moon and there are others that read Country for what it is. When the flowers bloom, there are certain species that come on, for instance. It’s an ever evolving process of learning how to read Country in different ways.”
Sharing cultural knowledge
Kara’s work with water allowed her to engage with Traditional owners across NSW and speak to knowledge holders who have cultural knowledge on how reading Country differentiates from a standard Western calendar. Kara acknowledges that the cultural information passed on to her is knowledge held by other people of differing nations across NSW.
It’s this reading of Country that Kara says is where Western Culture has so much to learn from Our First Nation’s culture in regards to living more sustainable lives.
“I think that, for me, when I look at sustainability, I’ll think of food sources and how Aboriginal people would use cultural calendars or seasonal calendars to know when to harvest which foods,’’ Kara says.
“For instance, out in the west, in the winter time, we would harvest emu eggs but we would learn how many to take to sustain the next generation of emus. And same thing happens for Saltwater mob, being able to culturally and sustainably catch bush tucker, but knowing to leave enough and using those seasonal calendars to drive when to hunt and gather.’’
Having spent years doing Aboriginal engagement across NSW with DPIE Water and then a year as a Senior Policy Officer, for Kara it all comes full circle with her mission of implementing that knowledge into modern policy and legislation.
“We’ve got all these tools at our disposal after years and years of engagement, why not use them so that culture really sits at the front end of those policies,’’ she says.
“I like that I can include Aboriginal voices in the planning and the implementation of different projects. We have this incredible knowledge and have proven how we can look after land and how land in return looks after us.”