The Kimberley Land Council (KLC) has found new leadership in Yawuru man Brian Wilkinson.
Taking the reins of the organisation as the new Chief Executive Officer, Wilkinson brings a wealth of knowledge, a bursting contact book and big ideas.
“The KLC is probably one of the peak Aboriginal organisations across Australia and it is an honour and a privilege to have the opportunity to lead it,” he said.
Wilkinson noted the responsibility of his new position.
“When it comes to the day to day responsibilities, I have led large organisations … and am comfortable with these day to day responsibilities with the KLC,” he said.
“The responsibility and expectation of my own mob is substantial, but to give back to the Kimberley what I have learned in a career that has taken me around Australia leading in Aboriginal Affairs is important.
“But for a Yawuru man to come back to his own Country and lead one of the biggest organisations at such an important time for the Kimberley — the importance and responsibility is not lost on me.”
“There’s a lot of expectation, but I love a challenge and I’m looking forward to it.”
Wilkinson’s reputation precedes him, having made footprints in almost every region of WA.
“I’ve never lived anywhere in any town longer than three years at a time,” he said.
“In terms of Government and in Aboriginal communities I’m known right across the state. I’m very well connected with Aboriginal people, particularly within the Kimberley.”
Prior to stepping into his new role with the KLC, Wilkinson spent over three decades working for the WA Police Force at both community and governance levels.
“My father was a police officer, so was my brother, my two uncles and my cousin. We are one of the biggest policing families in WA Police Force,” Wilkinson said.
Wilkinson specialised in improving relations between Aboriginal people and the WA Police Force.
“I finished my career in policing in the Kimberley, guiding the implementation of all those multicultural facilities in remote communities which came out of the Gordon Inquiry.”
In 2001, the WA Government announced the Gordon Inquiry in response to concerns from government agencies regarding family violence and child abuse in WA Aboriginal communities after the death of a 15-year-old girl in the Swan Valley.
Wilkinson became a police officer with the intention to make a difference for his people.
“As a police officer I got to see the world of my people, the disadvantage and some of the trauma they suffer. I felt I could make a difference locally as a police officer, and that used to drive me — making that difference to help communities heal and come together,” he said.
“It got to a stage in 2009 after a 30-year career that I felt more than me being a champion locally, I wanted to be able to influence government policy at a higher level.
“That is what drew me into the Aboriginal Affairs Coordinating committee as their first Chief Operating Officer.
“This was an incredible opportunity to examine the effectiveness of services to Aboriginal people on the ground and then provide policy advice to the heads of government to improve services to Aboriginal people.”
Wilkinson brings a diverse set of skills to the KLC.
“I have worked and walked in both worlds, I have credibility with Aboriginal people. I have a lived understanding and a working understanding of the issues and challenges that face Aboriginal communities on the ground,” he said.
“I have that relationship and credibility with State and Commonwealth Government … I understand the best way to make change.”
Wilkinson wants to continue the work of the KLC whilst taking it to the next level.
“The absolute priorities are, for me, finishing off the good work the KLC has been doing for decades and be one of the first land councils to get 100 per cent [Native Title] determination,” he said.
“Once we have our Country, we need to make sure we are caring for it.
“I’m keen to have areas within the Kimberley listed as Indigenous Protected Areas. That will trigger the implementation of a ranger program across the Kimberley.
Currently, there are nine IPAs across the Kimberley and eight ranger groups across the Kimberley Ranger network.
“My hope is that all Country across the Kimberley has rangers on it caring for it and protecting it.”
Wilkinson said once land is secured, the next priority is protecting and empowering culture.
“My aim is that the KLC supports … the capturing of our cultural history from the Elders and then the education of not only Aboriginal people but more importantly non-Aboriginal people,” he said.
His final priority, and one of the most significant, is self-determination for the Kimberley.
“It’s about controlling our future,” he said.
“We have people designing services over the top of Aboriginal people. What we want to do is implement that co-design process that says don’t sit in St Georges Terrace or in Canberra designing what they want to do then coming here and imposing.
“Instead, come here, talk to us, listen to us, be informed, then write your strategy, come back, check again if it is correct and then we will join in implementing.
“KLC can facilitate this in supporting Aboriginal people, communities and those wanting to deliver services in the Kimberley. All we will be asking is to work with us at the KLC.”
Wilkinson is dedicated to changing the game for the KLC, bringing it closer to community and holding their own in decision-making spaces.
“We are here to represent the interest of people … we exist for all Aboriginal people in the Kimberley. Everything we do, the Aboriginal people of the Kimberley must be in the centre.”
By Rachael Knowles