Across the Tasman: A journey of inspiration, connection, and reflection

We are an amazing, inspired and diverse bunch of regional, rural and remote leaders who recently embarked on a journey across the Tasman Sea to Aotearoa in New Zealand as part of the ARLP’s 29th course.   

It was for the third session of the 15-month program, focusing on networking and affiliation, where over 12 days we connected with the people, country, culture and ‘whanau’- the Maori meaning for extended family or community.  

In this context, family is an important leadership dynamic that when we sit together at the dining table we can nourish in the essence of love, care and consideration, and that the time together yarning is what builds and strengthens relationships. This was a gentle reminder with our Rotorua session speakers, Wiremu and Marcella Edmonds, passionate advocates for developing a positive safety culture in the workplace, having lost their son in a workplace accident. They delivered the ‘Stand in the Gap’ presentation – a mix of emotion and power that provided each of us with guidance on how we lead from the home. 

We then enjoyed a cultural experience at Te Puia (Marae), home to the Maori culture with the NZ Maori Arts and Crafts Institute and state of the art Kiwi Conservation Centre. The cohort immersed in an experiential day of learning that set the scene for the practices of the traditional arts and crafts of the Māori culture. Our Rotorua visit also included the Pouarua Farms where we met the inspiring Quinn Morgan, an incredible young leader sharing his love of land and whanau. We were then joined by the Leadership New Zealand team and amazing alumni from the Pacifica Leaders program for a panel on women in leadership.  

Our visit and time in Auckland connected us with Leadership New Zealand’s chief executive Dan Gerrard and team members Cecilia Vakameilalo Kioa and Matua ‘Bobby’ Newson, where the affiliation leaned into a deeper connection to self – a deeper insight into challenging ourselves with the courage and direction in grounding oneself. Donning our best outfit to meet the Australian Consul-General and Senior Trade Commissioner New Zealand and the Pacific, Brad Williams, the power of networking shined through for an opportunity to grab with both hands. The climb to Mount Eden for the keen walkers and hikers in the cohort provided for a spectacular view. What a wonderful journey of leaning into the knowledge, learnings and connection in Auckland.  

Windy Wellington was certainly windy alright! Even with the whistling of the wind and the cold chill in the air, we were all warmly welcomed. Ko wai au? (Who am I?) is an introduction that explains a person’s connections to their people and place. It’s here Rebecca Sinclair introduced herself as a sixth generation Pakeha New Zealander with us joining her on an excursion to Zealandia. We set off in pairs to walk through and experience a journey requiring us to lean in and listen to our surroundings, listen to each other and soak in the beauty of nature and animals encountered every day by curious people. It was a day of transformation and in embracing empathy, curiosity and openness when we make space for ourselves. We then enjoyed a delicious three course meal at Everybody Eats, a pay as you feel dining concept for everyone. The restaurant quality food is prepared by chefs with food that would typically go to waste. The everybody eats mission is to reduce food waste, food poverty and social isolation in New Zealand. We were very fortunate enough to meet owner Jack Rainey and hear this amazing story. 

The Treaty of Waitangi session with facilitators Krissi Smith and Tina Walker-Ferguson took us on a journey of meaningful processing about colonisation and racism. It was met with grief, anger, sadness and courage, and to be brave to walk together to make change happen. It’s here that leadership responsibility can help the process be a better one.  

Then a visit to the Australian High Commission with Deputy Head of Mission Amy Guihot who shared her leadership journey from around the globe. We also met with Elizabeth McNaughton, co-founder of Hummingly – an organisation that provides resilience workshops for those experiencing tough times and uncertainty. Elizabeth shared how her series of ‘disasters’ and leadership challenges provided for an opportunity to practice her deck of cards (of tips and wisdom), a day of humour, fun, humility and hope that inspires our journey as leaders today.   

The final chapter of the networking and affiliation session took us on a journey to Christchurch, Quake City. If we weren’t walking, scooters were the popular choice of transport amongst the cohort from our accommodation at Hotel Give, which directs all profits back into the community supporting those in need. It’s owned and operated by the YMCA and its chief executive Josie Ogden Schroeder shared their work on youth disadvantage and knowledge of alternate education programs, and how compassion and care in leadership can help change someone’s life.  

We also visited the Lincoln University where former Rural Leaders NZ chief executive Chris Parsons led panel discussions with alumni, Professor Hamish Gow and Stu Taylor of Farming Craigmore, about their leadership learnings and stories. A visit to the street art museum took us through a time of visual feelings and power in the message of the works displayed. We ended the day walking in pairs through the botanic gardens before coming together as a group to share our experiential learning and takeaways from the New Zealand session – an experience that will shape us and guide us on our next chapter of the ARLP program back in Canberra, Australia.  

Written by Bernice Hookey ARLP C29 participant

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