Written by Andrew Bryant
I wasn’t expecting to be standing on the platform of Flinders Street Station, approaching perfect strangers to ask them about their thoughts on leadership. Couldn’t we get to our destination before the work began? Did the “connection” part of “Connection and Mobilisation” really have to start immediately? Apparently so.
The Course 28 cohort of the ARLP had been up early and ready to head from inner-city Melbourne to the community of East Gippsland. We were happy to actually all be there in the flesh, excited (and perhaps a little nervous) for what lay ahead in the coming days. I’d already heard “You’re taller than I thought you were from our online sessions” several times (who knew, I don’t come across tall in a Zoom room!). We had tickets, we knew where we were going – but now we had a task to fulfil while on the journey. In our first few hours, our conversations and thoughts were enriched by people we’d never see again. One of our cohort, Moses Nelliman, shared, “I found that asking random people about their perspectives on leadership led to a myriad of responses based on personal beliefs and lived experience. I was fortunate to speak to an Aboriginal woman….who spoke about her ‘old people’ back in Perth and the way they taught you about their culture.”
Fast forward a few days, and we’d been immersed in some of the stories of the region we found ourselves in, and in both experiential and theoretical learning. It was now time to access the heart and empathy part of the practice of leadership. In short, we had to sleep outside and I was cranky – I’d spent 13 years working in the human and social services sector. Did we really need to experience such a night on our learning journey, to comprehend a small taste of what those who are disadvantaged may deal with on a daily basis? Regardless, the next day it certainly evoked enormous gratitude and relief, when we discovered that our next night involved a hall, a wood fire and old mattresses.
Perhaps it was the experiences of the two previous nights – the cold, discomfort and tiredness, contrasted with the warmth, the relief and sleep – that left the group in what seemed the perfect head and heart space to be ready to engage with Scott Gorringe and the process of Engoori. A Mithaka man, Scott has worked in Indigenous education for over 20 years, and is a champion for positive discourse of Indigenous identity and culture in schools, and is co-founder of the “Engoori” method. He is a graduate of ARLP Cohort 16.
The morning started with introducing ourselves to Scott – and inadvertently introducing ourselves more deeply to the cohort. In a group where we were already aware of the power of story, for many of us, the space of that day held something of a sacred quality. As described by Dr Catherine Chicken, “the time it gave us for reflection and deep thinking about how we were feeling together and, through that, provided an opportunity for the whole cohort to understand and connect with each other better.” Sal Norton recalled “the session with Scotty was an incredibly moving experience for me as it provoked deep reflection on the unconscious biases that exist both within and around me and…stories on doing ‘with’ rather than ‘for’ or ‘to’, a mantra that can be applied across all aspects of life.” The hours of rich conversation, learning, emotion and vulnerability passed swiftly, and all too soon, we were saying farewell to Scotty.
The final day of program brough out the inner thespian in quite a few of us, myself included. With Clare Moss as a resident expert to be called upon for some guidance, Cohort 28 put together a performance well received by the Bairnsdale elite. As Tony Eyres said, “It is remarkable what can be achieved in a short period, with a few foundation skills (the evening prior); prodigious writing talent within a cohort; and a collective desire to shoot the lights out, be that in the planning, in the marketing, or while on stage!”
Some of our cohort found these experiences to be highlights. Others would no doubt recount other experiences – such as the resonance Brigid Price found with fifth-generation fisherman, Arthur Allen – “his resolve that he never compromised his values…he lives with integrity. His words were repeated by his staff, and for him it was not about the money, but the impact on his community.” Others enjoyed learning from Ananth and Tom, or Tony Liston. Others found deep satisfaction in making sure those members of our cohort struck down by COVID were able to enjoy participating as much as possible via Zoom, until they were able to rejoin us.
Perhaps Andrew Sullivan (better known as Sully) said it best in summing up the experience, “the generosity of people in our community was at times overwhelming. The willingness of others to share and be vulnerable with 29 strangers is a gift I will take with me throughout the life of the ARLP and beyond”.