Imagine going to work and having no desk, no office and no employees.  That’s what I did in 2011 when I spent four weeks on secondment with Babana Aboriginal Men’s Group in Redfern.  I went on secondment with Babana to help find premises and assist in getting funding to employ a staff member - two small things that most businesses take for granted.

Mark Spinks - the angel of Redfern

Babana isn’t a normal business, it’s a not-for-profit focused on Aboriginal men who live and work in Redfern. Led by Mark Spinks, Babana reconnects Aboriginal men with their culture, community, employment opportunities and health services.  I worked with Babana as part of Jawun - a not-for-profit organisation that forges relationships between Corporate Australia and a range of Indigenous organisations in communities across Australia.

It’s a classic example of the old “teach a man to fish” proverb and my role also included skills transfer.

Commitment to communities is an important part of KPMG’s business values and strategy. To date, 124 colleagues have participated as Jawun secondees, working more than 20,000 professional hours with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities across the country. 

There are a number of reasons I did this. I live in Sydney and have two small boys and believe it’s important that they see their Dad as an active participant in the community contributing to the public good. Prior to this I had not had much exposure to Aboriginal people or culture so I was keen to learn more. 

Finally, my exposure to Redfern, like most people in Australia, was based on coverage in the media which tends to focus on tensions and conflicts in the community so I was keen to see for myself what it was like. The opportunity to apply my business skills to assist an organisation like Babana who do great things for Aboriginal people in the heart of the city made a lot of sense to me. 

During those four weeks I found a vibrant and strong community that actively supports each other. Whilst finalising details for the new premises, I was provided desk space at Tribal Warrior and met many great people like Artie Beetson and Yvonne Goolagong-Cawley, but most importantly I saw a community that was in control of their destiny. The local area police commander would turn up three times a week at 6am for a boxing class with the local young men, as would the local Westpac branch manager. The leaders of Babana: Mark, Jeremy Heathcote and Ray Minniecon, would be available for whoever needed them. 

Redfern was in so many ways like a small country town in the heart of the city where everyone knows and looks out for each other. We also managed to find a premises for Babana and execute an agreement with The Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations (DEEWR) to provide employment services for the Aboriginal community.

Since my secondment, I have stayed connected with the Redfern community through Babana. I have participated in NAIDOC week events, attended men’s group meetings and arranged for KPMG to continue to support Babana with business accounting services. I talk to Mark Spinks regularly and am proudly passionate about Babana, Redfern, Jawun and KPMG - a firm that has afforded me this opportunity and is seriously committed to Indigenous Australia.

Comments on this post close at 8pm AEDT.

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    • acotrel says:

      06:44am | 08/02/13

      I know all about Redfern, I saw the series on the ABC.

    • PJ says:

      06:57am | 08/02/13

      We’ll be getting an apology from the Labor Government in a few years for it’s recent NT policies, that were described as “Ethnic Cleansing” by Community Leader Monk and condemned by Amnesty’s Shetty.

      Imagine taking 5 years just to make a Kindergarten ‘space’ for an Aboriginal child. Just a space, not an attendance. And then celebrating this easy peazy goal like it’s 1999.

      The Gillard Government. They could ‘spin positive’ apartheid.

    • PJ says:

      09:58am | 08/02/13

      Where’s the comment pointing out the Gillard Governments NT policies being described as ‘Ethnic cleansing’ by Indigenous Community Leader Monk and condemned by Amnesty International’s Shetty as being like the ‘dark days of South Africa?’

    • Christian Real says:

      12:10pm | 08/02/13

      You have mastered the art of spinning,how is things at Liberal Party Headquarters today?

    • bananabender56 says:

      08:35am | 08/02/13

      Not sure really what the article is about - a feel good piece on how I relate to the Aboriginal community? I thought the bigger issue was the apparent lack of assistance in remote Aboriginal communities. I would suggest spending 4 weeks in the NT would give a much wider insight. Again, we seem to be promoting a community of seperation - an Aboriginal community as opposed to an Australian one.

    • Rose says:

      09:01am | 08/02/13

      No, you’re seeing it all wrong. It’s about understanding the unique situation of Aboriginal people and using that knowledge to help them integrate into the wider community.
      Only the truly ignorant would not recognize that when a people suffer through generational abuse at the hands of the government and large NGOs, i.e., Stolen Generation, dispossession, legally entrenched discrimination, etc, that there would be significant measures needed to undo the damage.
      You can’t point at money being thrown at the’cause’ as evidence of them being in any way helped more than any other group as often the money thrown at the Aboriginal ‘problem’ was actively making the situation worse in the long term, much as the current Intervention will.
      It will be people like James who get in there and really get to know the people and the problems, and support (not dictate to) the Aboriginal people that will ultimately help overcome the gap.

    • Jack says:

      10:40am | 08/02/13

      Not sure really what the article is about .....
      the banana monarchy ?
      what has happened to the Queen?

    • Josie says:

      11:15am | 08/02/13

      This article ties in to the release of the annual Closing the Gap report, and is saying that real change happens with community involvement and engagement, rather than extenesive consultation.  Indigenous communities aren’t just the ones in remote areas, in fact, the majority of Aboriginal people live in urban areas and their communities (they do exist) are just as important.  Sometimes the remote communities are actually better resourced than urban and regional communities (I spend a considerable amount in all three), and the cultural disconnect is much stronger in urban areas.

    • Josie says:

      11:15am | 08/02/13

      This article ties in to the release of the annual Closing the Gap report, and is saying that real change happens with community involvement and engagement, rather than extenesive consultation.  Indigenous communities aren’t just the ones in remote areas, in fact, the majority of Aboriginal people live in urban areas and their communities (they do exist) are just as important.  Sometimes the remote communities are actually better resourced than urban and regional communities (I spend a considerable amount in all three), and the cultural disconnect is much stronger in urban areas.

    • expat says:

      12:04pm | 08/02/13

      Aboriginals have no interest in integrating to society, none what so ever.

      What happened in Australia was not unique, it’s been happening around the globe for centuries. The issue here is that a group of people have pushed the victim card and taught the aboriginal people how to play it in an almost professional manner. The best thing that could happen is if the do gooders were to mind their own business and let the aboriginal people move on.

      Give them the option to integrate or cut the payments, send them to the bush and let them live like they did a century ago. It’s harsh but life is not fair and you will find plenty of people are sick and tired of issues.

    • Rose says:

      12:44pm | 08/02/13

      expat, if you are right, could you blame them? Our society is the one that stole their kids, destroyed their communities, discriminated against them (and still does), took away their autonomy and took away and then destroyed their land.
      You’re wrong though, most Aboriginal people want exactly what the rest of us want, security and opportunity for their family, health care and education for their kids, a lot don’t trust white governments (understandably) to help them get that and are therefore not quick to believe promises made.
      It’s people who get in and help Aboriginal people, who work to understand them and who show them and their culture respect that will help them integrate, not people like yourself who stand in judgement without bothering to try and get your head around what’s really going on.

    • jade (the other one) says:

      12:44pm | 08/02/13

      expat - the obvious success of this program, and others such as the police-youth boxing program would suggest that your opinions about the desire of indigenous peoples to integrate is at best, uninformed.

    • Jeremy says:

      08:40am | 08/02/13

      James - having you involved in Babana has been amazing. Most people have little or no understandings of what Redfern is like today. We have some very strong organisations who are making the community a better place.

      It was great having you as a part of our group during the secondment, and I’m even more happy that once you finished you have remained a part of our group.

      For those who don’t know what Babana means - it is an Aboriginal word for Brother - and James are one of our Brothers!!!!!

    • Wakey Wakey says:

      08:41am | 08/02/13

      Awesome effort Mark Spinks. AOM please! People like you are our society’s anti-disintegration glue

    • Ridge says:

      09:02am | 08/02/13

      A Men’s Group? And Big Sister hasn’t come in to bust it up?  I wish them all the best!

      I agree with the teach a man to fish concept.  That’s real equality.

      What is not okay: “I don’t catch as much fish because… I dunno…  racism!”  And then the government coming in and giving away free fish because because of white privilege or something.

    • Jess says:

      09:23am | 08/02/13

      Redfern has womens groups too.
      There are both men and womens groups in Redfern they most likely work very closely together on community issues but needs are different (equal but different) and you know it’s the rules. Good luck trying to convince an Aboriginal person differently.

      There is quite a few programs that start in Indigenous communties and then move accross to the non-Indigenous community. How long has the primary health centre (GP, nurses, and dental) been there early 90’s?  there has been a few reading programs that have started in Indigenous communities and moved accross to mainstream education, employment programs for at risk youth have also moved accross into the non-Indigenous.

    • Jess says:

      09:11am | 08/02/13

      There is also Indigenous Community volunteers that does a similar thing for Indigenous communities. Professional skills transfers. 

      The Redfern community is doing great things for the Indigenous community in Syney as a whole. Many community outreach programs and Employment programs start there and continue through Sydney and other capital cities.

    • Jess says:

      09:34am | 08/02/13

      Hey James,
      Your company, from reading your bio, seems perfectly placed to deliver some micro-financing services to Indigenous services. Profit for your company, helping Indigenous small business become self suffient. There are a couple of companies that want to provide services in this sector but can’t get an Australian financer. Maybe your company could check it out? 

    • Rebecca Harcourt says:

      09:37am | 08/02/13

      Great to see this piece in the mainstream- Babana Aboriginal Men’s Group is brilliant- great people, humble, strong and making such a difference in the Community where it counts and also bringing that change influencing across employement, education, media and government - congrats to JAWUN too - Very proud to know so many of the great leaders of Babana who pay their respects to all with dignity and make a difference to so many lives.

    • jade (the other one) says:

      10:03am | 08/02/13

      This is a really wonderful story with a great outcome. I only wish more Australian businesspeople were like James - willing to share their skills and knowledge where it’s needed. Its so refreshing to see an article showing some positives.

      These sorts of programs I believe are the ones most likely to be effective in this space - ones that fill the gaps in experience and education within disadvantaged communities, and share skills to help them function independently and participate in Australia’s economic life.

    • Hartz says:

      10:12am | 08/02/13

      As shown by the billions of dollars wasted attempting to help indigenous people improve their lot in life… People need to want to change, they need to actively participate in their own improvement. No one can do it for them, and constantly playing the blame game and assuming a victim mentality never helped anyone. Nor does the “white guilt” that leads to more money being randomly thrown at the problems. Hopefully resources can be more tightly focussed and more people will volunteer their time to provide leadership within these communities in order to help motivate the next generation to drop the victim mentality, take ownership of their situation and lead their people into a better future.

    • jade (the other one) says:

      11:32am | 08/02/13

      What a negative, unnecessary, defeatist comment. It’s a shame that you had to make it on an article which is celebrating a successful experience.

    • Ridge says:

      11:49am | 08/02/13

      Good point.  Give people too much money for nothing, and they lose their incentive to work.

      Want to close the gap?  How about equality of opportunity instead of equality of outcome.

    • Rocky says:

      11:57am | 08/02/13

      A ridiculous, ignorant statement @Hartz. Do you really think any Aboriginal people don’t want to improve their lot? Our mob have been fighting since colonisation for it.

    • jade (the other one) says:

      12:41pm | 08/02/13

      @Ridge - and what do you think this sort of thing is?

    • Hartz says:

      12:43pm | 08/02/13

      @Jade (TOO) sorry I didn’t know I was supposed to gloss over the truth so you could have a warm fuzzy feeling. I don’t think it is defeatist anyway, I think it is factual and hopeful…

      @Rocky: Of course I think people want to improve their lot in life but I also believe that they have a sense of entitlement and want it done for them. I have actually listened to the aboriginal elders who say that welfare is killing their people; that a sense of entitlement is rife and the endemic problems present in communities can only be fixed when aboriginal people take responsibility for them. I am hopeful that society can benefit from the depth of indigenous culture, I hope people stop playing the victim and move forward and I hope that people stop trying to stifle debate by resorting to name calling. I notice neither of you actually countered any of the argument I presented but merely attacked it as negative, ignorant and ridiculous… I look forward to a more intellectual response; maybe you can show me where I am wrong..??

    • fml says:

      12:50pm | 08/02/13


      Here is an example of good happening in the community, then the self-perceived victim of the down trodden white man asks, what about me? I want more, more more.

      I firmly believe that “white guilt” is perpetrated and cultivated by people like hartz.

    • Hartz says:

      01:53pm | 08/02/13

      @fml - wow… how does anything I said hint at “what about me?” or how did I come across as a “poor down trodden white man” - I am no victim and I merely echoed the words of aboriginal elders who have expressed these concerns to their own people. I have not attacked or discredited anyone or anything, nor did I attempt to belittle the good work mentioned in this story. Here in lies the problem, you shriek with feigned indignation when ever anyone has the nerve to suggest that aboriginal people have some responsibility for their own plight. The excuses being made for them only hinder their progress. And to be honest, you’re pathetically weak attempt at attacking me only serves to prove my point. It seems that you can not provide an intellectual response because what I have said is the truth.  Like I said I am happy to hear any legitimate response that doesn’t include personal attacks.

    • Modern Primitive says:

      02:49pm | 08/02/13

      Get your hand off it fml.

    • NSS says:

      10:19am | 08/02/13

      I’m not an Aboriginal person, nor do I live in Sydney, so I’m afraid my knowledge of the issues is only second-hand, however, this is a very positive sounding piece. It’s great to see a corporate citizen like KPMG taking a a social interest and I especially like the idea of “skills transfer”.

      Well done, James.

      Now, if we could only get other large companies to contribute voluntarily in a similar manner to addressing social problem areas - and not just by throwing money at them.

    • Stephen says:

      12:06pm | 08/02/13

      I have done business with James in Corporate Australa and my read has me believing the experience has had a positive Change effect on him. Knowing his position at KPMG and his business engagement style, he will prove a positive influence on those in the community who work with him and those he mentors. Good luck Babana and James

    • Stephen says:

      12:06pm | 08/02/13

      I have done business with James in Corporate Australa and my read has me believing the experience has had a positive Change effect on him. Knowing his position at KPMG and his business engagement style, he will prove a positive influence on those in the community who work with him and those he mentors. Good luck Babana and James

    • Big Nana says:

      02:49pm | 08/02/13

      I know nothing about Redfern or any other urban indigenous community. What I do know, and know well, is remote traditional community people and remote, less traditional people living in large towns. I have spent 42 years amongst the people, gave birth to four of them and now have 23 grand and great grandchildren who are all indigenous. Two things- in 1970 when I first arrived in the Kimberley most of the work being done to run the towns was done by part aboriginal people, referred to as coloureds. The only white people around were mainly a few professionals-doctors, teachers, nurses(although we had one aboriginal midwife way back then) bank managers etc. The semi and unskilled work was all done by indigeous people and asians. They had no support systems, no cultural consultants, no special training schemes, no separate legal or health systems yet they weren’t just surviving, they were thriving. And literacy levels were better than today.
      Currently we have a plethora of all types of assistance and seemingly endless funding yet in many places, especially the remote communities there has been an increase in apathy, dependence and victim mentality. Those indigenous people who have managed to escape this cycle are doing well. They have jobs, send their kids to school everyday (many in private schools) and quite a few have mortgages. If this can be achieved in the far north I don’t understand why a place like Redfern, with all it’s access to facilities, has so many problems.

    • Stained says:

      03:08pm | 08/02/13

      “reconnects Aboriginal men with their culture”
      How does an aborigine reconnect with his/her culture in Redfern, a suburb a couple of hundred metres from the biggest city in this land?
      Amusing to say the least, the aborigines living in country must be reeling with laughter.


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