Melbourne Water is supporting the theme of National Reconciliation Week, ‘More than a word’, which puts an emphasis on taking action to make a difference.
Making a difference is something which drives Melbourne Water’s new Principal Advisor Aboriginal Engagement, Dean Heta, pictured right.
Born and raised on Wiradjuri country in Albury, Mr Heta’s mother and grandmother – who was an Wiradjuri Elder from Narrandera – always instilled in him a strong sense of cultural pride and identity.
They passed on cultural knowledge through stories about their people, ancestors and creators. This has given Mr Heta a deep understanding of his culture, country and family kinship.
Giving back to his community is at the heart of much of Mr Heta’s work, but he said that early on the path wasn’t always clear.
“I was one of only a handful of Aboriginal kids at secondary school and there was some stigma because of that,” Mr Heta said.
“I experienced racism. On top of that I wasn’t sure of what I wanted to do, and there was a time when I disengaged from learning and felt pretty isolated.
“Because of this – my year eleven coordinator thought it would be best if I was to leave school and focus on getting a job as I would not make it to year 12.
“Part of me understood where he was coming from – but I felt I was also labelled in the too hard basket.
“So, I had a month sitting on that before I realised I had to make an opportunity for myself and that was to finish year eleven and then go on to finish my Year 12 VCE and prove that a young Aboriginal kid growing up in a small, largely white community could graduate, continue study and make a difference. Prove a few folks wrong.
“And I did.”
Mr Heta said he has not looked back – and continues to give back to his community.
While completing his Bachelor in Health Sciences at Charles Sturt University, he gained work as a mental health case manager – a job with NSW Health followed – then an opportunity presented itself for Mr Heta to work as a mental health clinician for the Albury Wodonga Aboriginal Health Service.
“This role was huge for me – I wanted to provide a service to my community in the town where I grew up,” Mr Heta said.
Mr Heta later moved to Melbourne – and a career in demand. His roles included Aboriginal Service Development worker at the Royal Melbourne Hospital, a job at AFL Sports Ready, Indigenous Australian Cultural Engagement at the University of Melbourne and work at TAFE NSW.
He is now bringing his breadth of knowledge and skills to Melbourne Water as Principal Advisor Aboriginal Engagement.
“I am very excited about this role and opportunity,” Mr Heta said.
“National Reconciliation Week is important for Aboriginal communities – it’s a week where we get to showcase the positives and impact of our culture on wider communities, society and across the nation.
“But I’m a big believer in not just celebrating our culture for just one week – we should be celebrating and sharing stories of our First Nations culture and our shared history as Australians all year round.
“If you’re non-Indigenous this is about asking what you can do and acting on it. What I really enjoy most about reconciliation week is seeing non-Indigenous people participate in things they haven’t before and being open to learning new things.
“For me this is really humbling as an Aboriginal person.
“There is so much that people can learn about during National Reconciliation Week, but also seize the opportunity to think about how you can play a role in making a difference.
“We can all take a moment this week to get more understanding of the Aboriginal culture and our shared history, and how we might better engage and support our communities moving forward.
“That’s what my role here at Melbourne Water is about.”