Big River Imact Foundation’s New Program Launch

Josephine Cashman, Founder and Executive Chair, Big River Impact Foundation
Josephine Cashman, Founder and Executive Chair, Big River Impact Foundation, delivering the speech in Sydney.

For decades Minister Ken Wyatt has built trusting relationships on the ground with decent leaders who are community focused. These are the quiet leaders working hard to find solutions behind the scenes. Quietness is not a weakness, rather it is one strength of our spiritual leadership. Ken has won the hearts of my people and Ken is the only Australian politician I trust to unite us, heal our wounds and build a resilient culture. The time is ripe to unite Australians. Minister Wyatt is the embodiment of the moral values our old people uphold. It is an honour to have you with us today, Ken. Thank you.

Philip has been committed to Indigenous Australia for a long time and it is not well known because he does not seek recognition. I honour you Philip and thank you for your support. You are an elder and I also thank you for your service to Australia, especially New South Wales.

I wish to extend a special thank you to my New South Wales Board members. Martyn was my first supporter; Phil Blackmore whose values and loyalty have made Big River possible; Aaron Corn who has been committed to me and the promotion of Aboriginal culture; Michael Walsh from UBS who was my first corporate supporter; Mark Smith, our host and to Perpetual, that has been a leading supporter.

I wish to acknowledge the traditional owners of this country, elders past and present. I acknowledge our continuing culture and especially their contribution. I recognise we live on their traditional country and I respect their cultural heritage and beliefs. I appreciate its strength, resilience and capacity, I pay my respects to the elders of this community and extend my gratitude to their descendants who are present.

I belong to Warrimay country on the mid North Coast of New South Wales, known as the Many Rivers country.

This is an opportunity for a great union. I believe Australia is mature enough to have this conversation because we are ready to move forward as a united country. Big River is attempting to help all Australians, we want to share our expertise and create belonging.  Our aim is to blend the best of the economic market with our Aboriginal ancient ways of connecting.

Aboriginal culture has the ancient knowledge to interpret the world as a symbiotic relationship with all living things. This knowledge has incorporated biodiversity, climate, land and people since the beginning. Our creation stories connect human life to its place in the natural world and our ancestors referenced the past as a means to enforce Aboriginal law, as do all global creation stories. This law in turn established an ancient relationship matrix, emphasising the need to care for the environment and all living things. This is called patterned thinking and it involves a cyclic relationship from one generation to the next, ending and repeating ever after.

The Southern Cross constellation represents the union of marriage laws. Stars have always been integral to ancient cultures and have been especially useful for navigation. Our people gazed at the stars to make sense of the reason for human existence. I wish to acknowledge my mother for sharing this story with me. A long time ago when the world was formed, Birrugan who was an ancestral hero. He was a man who could transgress into a Magpie goose. He was know to live between species and he was one powerful creator of the landscape. At the time of creation, species and humans were mixed in a primeval soup. It was the ancestral heroes who were able to separate it. All humans are made of the same stuff. Birrugan travelled to the coast and created islands, he travelled from Nambucca Heads to Seal Rocks along the beaches. Seal Rocks is our most important site. It is a Nature Reserve located 32 kilometres south of the entrance to Forster on the NSW lower north coast. The Seal Rocks Nature Reserve consists of two exposed low lying rocks less than one hectare in size. The beaches were our highways and this can only able be translated as a dreaming track. (I remind everyone the word dreaming has been widely misused). It has been the journey taken yearly by local tribes for thousands of years.

He met people on the way including a young woman who indicated she would like to be his wife using a digging stick. The story shares the fact he was a good hunter and fighter and he protected his family. He possessed the qualities required to be a good husband. He took her as his wife and her sister as their companion. This is important. She is with him but she has a family who need to be looked after. At Seal Rocks, they ascend into the sky and form the Southern Cross constellation which lies one third of the way between the equator and the southern celestial pole. Its stars vary in brightness, one of the first magnitude, two of the second magnitude and one of the third magnitude. The neighbouring stars Alpha and Beta Centauri are known as the Pointers. The Southern Cross has been an ancient teaching tool and it involves many creation stories. One is marriage law. Marriage is not a given because one needs to be fit for the responsibility, it had to be earned and it is one reason explaining the fact we do not always get what we want. It feeds the gift giving aspects of our culture and it has become a paradigm for proper marriage which has been enacted within the Birrugan story.

Marriage is a gift. Big River is committed to achieving an economic and Indigenous philosophic marriage and we are inspired by the fact the Southern Cross constellation is inscribed on our Australian flag.

Indigenous philosophies can access the capacity needed to make sense of the contemporary impact investing market, especially its relationship to social values. Sadly, Indigenous people are among the most dispossessed and poorest in the world and the Australian public policy approach to relieving disadvantage has failed. While Indigenous culture has been underpinned by pre-industrial and pre-capitalist philosophies that no longer have relevance in the modern world, closer examination has revealed these philosophies may hold the paradigm for human behaviour, capable of improving wellbeing. Moreover our culture and its values have continued as a subtext to dominant values and many of our people continue to adhere to Indigenous philosophical ethics.

Impact investing is obliged to consider the way value has been determined. Big River is committed to examining value measurements, especially the way value has been influenced by cultural frameworks, myths and the norms underpinning it. Impact investing will benefit from studying the assumptions, challenges, tools and applications within the context of a broad sociological theoretical framework, focused on Indigenous cultural values.

Big River is driven by five main principles:

  1. to be community-led and committed to generating lasting outcomes
  2. to reach large numbers of people
  3. to seek results defined by the aspirations of our clients, belonging and economic mobility
  4. to inform ourselves first, then others
  5. to adhere to strong relationships, economic and social outcomes and transparent governance

Our first five year strategy supported by the Board aims to reach 10 per cent of the three million people experiencing social, housing and economic exclusion. This translates to 300,000 people by 2024 and we aim to achieve this by implementing six programs. Adam will outline the details of our goals shortly.

This speech was delivered by Josephine Cashman at the Big River Impact Foundation’s 2019 Program Launch at Perpetual Australia.

© Big River Impact Foundation Limited 2019.