Project Officer, Indigenous Workforce Participation Initiatives Program (IWPIP), Darwin
Jeremiah Larrwanbuy Baker is fluent in English, speaks four Aboriginal languages and understands 12 more. Born and bred in north-east Arnhem Land, he learnt his culture as he grew. “Even as you walk and talk you are practising law,” he explained. His school days finished at Year 8, as his Milingimbi school only went to post-primary. Attempts to continue school in Darwin were unsuccessful and although he attended many short courses, it was decades before he returned to formal study.
Jeremiah’s first career was in broadcasting on Milingimbi, as part of the Broadcasting for Remote Aboriginal Communities Scheme (BRACS). “I operated video cameras, set up sound systems and other equipment and produced radio programs with a blend of modern and traditional music”. After three years, he moved to Darwin, working as a fruit-picker where his language skills were invaluable in communications between Aboriginal and other workers.
Language skills, and the ability to negotiate with people from different backgrounds, opened the door to Jeremiah’s long-term career as a public servant. He began with a short-term role as an Aboriginal Liaison Officer, helping people from remote communities to access government services such as medical treatment. His duties included helping people with paperwork and making appointments. His contract was extended; then he became a permanent officer, working at the hospital on emergency and surgical wards with remote and urban Indigenous people. “I had the language skills to assist the specialists to get full consent from the patients.”
In 2008, Jeremiah joined the Department of Housing as a tenancy support officer and was accredited by the Aboriginal Interpreter Service. The work covered tenancy rules and obligations, “every issue that a tenant would have.” His role shifted from urban dwellers to remote communities. “I got the opportunity to go to other remote communities and cultures, places that I had only heard about.” It was a busy time for Jeremiah and his team, providing intense support in remote communities, trouble-shooting, training people to work with interpreters, advising staff on cultural issues such as a death in a community.
Jeremiah and his team mates were encouraged by their supervisor to study part-time for a Certificate IV in Social Housing through Batchelor College. It wasn’t easy, as the group often worked in remote areas without access to online resources. “Our office was in the tenants dwelling.” Despite the long break from study, Jeremiah excelled, graduating in June 2015. He has also achieved a Certificate IV in Training and Assessment and was able to take a year’s leave from the Department to complete cultural obligations in Arnhem Land.
Jeremiah recommends the public service as an employer. “Once you are in, you’ve got so many opportunities. I was one of those statistics; in later life I have grabbed every opportunity with both hands.”
“Where I am now, I am so proud - I am living my dream.”