A publication of the Centre for Advancing Journalism, University of Melbourne

Engineers help Indigenous Australians build strong communities

The engineering industry can play a crucial role in improving the lives of Indigenous Australians, according to Engineers Without Borders (EWB) head Lizzie Brown.

Words by Eisha Gupta
 

Ms Brown said that while many organisations had started offering cadetships and mentoring programs to young Aboriginal Australians, there was much more that could be done.

“Generally such programs are disconnected from the communities they cater to,” she said. “The community partners have little understanding of engineering, let alone providing Aboriginal youth the opportunities to gain skills, get into a degree, move away from home and retain a job with ease.

“There’s hope to bridge that gap. We want to inspire young people with the belief that engineering creates a better world for them and their families.”

“We want to inspire young people with the belief that engineering creates a better world for them and their families.” — Lizzie Brown, Engineers Without Borders

As part of her Dean’s Lecture at the University of Melbourne, Ms Brown said the involvement of Aboriginal communities in the development of their land and resources was  crucial in teaching job skills.

“We’ve spent the last seven years working with Aboriginal communities. In far north Queensland, we supported an Aboriginal community to set up a simple toilet block. They had different land rights and it took two and a half years to get proper permits to get it going,” Ms Brown said.

“We were caught up in a challenging bureaucratic process but have successfully set a precedent in the time it takes today to get those permits. Now the waiting time is three-to-six months.  

“Designing and constructing a toilet block was a chance for our corporate partners to work side-by-side with the Aboriginal communities. For members of the community it was an opportunity to develop technical skills and get inspired by new career pathways.”

Ms Brown said a shift was needed  in how Australian engineers saw their role in society. 

“Engineers are taught to put technology at the centre of the way they think. But technology should be the last resort.”

“Engineers are taught to put technology at the centre of the way they think. But technology should be the last resort.”

“We have to look for people interested in building relationships, sharing knowledge and thriving on cross-cultural experiences. Our approach is long term capacity building.

“Technical training institutions, local engineers and industries have to build the skill sets of engineers so that no external expertise is required.”

Ms Brown said the Australian government had done a good job in developing local skills, despite time and budgetary constraints but that “generally, the role of engineering in creating solutions to human development could be recognised more strongly”.

She said that engineering was fundamental to living a life free from poverty. 

“Individuals that join us have an inherent sense to make the world better. We try to connect their experience and skills to make a social change. It’s part of a global movement that is more cohesive and will see great things happen in the future.” 

“Without engineering, we wouldn’t have effective healthcare. We take it for granted.”

“Without engineering, we wouldn’t have effective healthcare. We take it for granted. For millions, if not billions, of people there is a substantial gap in access to water, sanitation and road infrastructure.

“A global movement would change engineering education, activate engineers in companies, create institutional change, attract different types of people and create a change in society’s expectations.

“We’ll be successful when the first thing a person on the street thinks when you mention the term ‘engineering’ is that the profession is a force for changing whole communities.

“Suffice to say that isn’t what first pops into a layperson’s mind right now.” 

About The Citizen

THE CITIZEN is a publication of the Centre for Advancing Journalism. It has several aims. Foremost, it is a teaching tool that showcases the work of the students in the University of Melbourne’s Master of Journalism and Master of International Journalism programs, giving them real-world experience in working for publication and to deadline. Find out more →

  • Editor: Jo Chandler
  • Reporter: Jack Banister
  • Audio & Video editor: Louisa Lim
  • Data editor: Craig Butt
  • Editor-In-Chief: Andrew Dodd
  • Business editor: Lucy Smy
Winner — BEST PUBLICATION 2016 Ossie Awards