NAIDOC Week Q&A with Noel Niddrie

Noel Niddrie is one of Australia’s leading Indigenous communications and research practitioners. He is a Kamilaroi and Darug man and the Director of independent communications and research consultancy, Winangali.

As NAIDOC Week draws to a close, he sits down to discuss reaching Indigenous audiences and this year’s NAIDOC Week theme, “Get up! Stand up! Show up!”

Thanks for taking the time to talk to us. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

My mother is a Kamilaroi woman from Coonabarabran, and my father is a Darug man from Sydney. I was one of the first Indigenous Australians to graduate with a communications degree, more than 30 years ago. Since then, I set up Indigenous media in the 90s and worked with many public and private organisations, advising them how to communicate with Indigenous communities.

In 2005, I founded Winangali, an independent communications and research consultancy which specialises in engaging with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander markets. We provide many communications services, including community engagement, communications strategies, research, facilitation, and evaluation.

What should communications professionals know about communication with Indigenous communities?

Communications must be evidence-based. Just like any other market or audience, it’s important that any strategy is backed by research and community consultation to ensure it will work.

There’s a tendency to believe messaging is universally applicable and including an Indigenous face or artwork will work, but this approach is very superficial. It doesn’t consider the lived experience, cultural differences and values of Indigenous people, and how to best connect with our mob.

One thing I’ve noticed after decades of research in Indigenous markets is a common experience of Aboriginality. Across Australia, I’ve heard the same stories repeated; I’ve heard the same desires and hopes expressed. The experience of being a First Nations Australian is different to being a non-Indigenous person. It’s a remarkable connection that needs to be acknowledged and the PR professional needs to be aware of this.

Communication is all about finding the right switch to flip, finding, reaching and knowing an audience and ensuring your message resonates. Indigenous communication is no different, but without proper research you’ll never find the right switch.

I also think that the myth of the traditional Indigenous person is breaking down. Instead, we’re recognising an emerging Indigenous middle class. There are more Indigenous people in the greater Sydney region than the entire Northern Territory! Yet, we think of First Nations peoples as remote nomads. This is slowly changing. Indigenous Australians have always been early adopters of technology - Facebook is very popular in Indigenous communities and has been since its creation, for example.

How can the communications industry better reach Indigenous communities?

The communications industry needs to recognise we only know what we know. There is value in engaging Indigenous professionals. I’ve worked on communications campaigns targeting Indigenous people for more than 30 years now, so I’m intimately familiar with Indigenous markets across Australia. That expertise can’t be easily replicated or replaced.

A friend once told me: “Brain surgery isn’t brain surgery to a brain surgeon. It’s just another day at work.”

Indigenous communication is just the same. It requires research and insight and creativity and that may seem daunting because of the potential for making treacherous mistakes. Yet for someone with that expertise it’s not brain surgery - it’s just another day at work.

The generalist communications practitioner won’t have the deep familiarity needed for successful communication - and they shouldn’t be expected to!

You wouldn’t expect a GP, dentist or even a heart surgeon to perform brain surgery, so don’t expect a non-Indigenous communications practitioner to know how to engage First Nations audiences. Find someone with experience and bring them in.

This year’s NAIDOC theme is “Get up! Stand up! Show up!” What does that mean to you?

I think it’s up to each person to determine what it means to them.

To me, it’s not just a call to Indigenous Australians, but to everybody. It’s a call to anybody passively watching the Indigenous struggle. It’s a call to get involved and make your voice heard.

Angus Campbell once said, “The standard you walk past is the standard you accept.”

So this theme asks us to call out injustice when we see it and to do something about it.

I think it’s also a reminder to shine a light on Australia’s First Nations culture and history. This spotlight shouldn’t be only for Indigenous people, either. We all benefit from the history of this country - non-Indigenous Australians should also take pride in Australia’s thousands of years of culture.

So, this NAIDOC and beyond, I ask you all to be a good ally and Get up! Stand up! Show up! for equity of all Australians.