Interview with Shane Hamilton: self-determination in action
Shane Hamilton is a Wakka Wakka and Bundjalung man from Queensland, who has spent the past few decades dedicated to helping those in need. He is a respected leader with executive experience in both government and corporate enterprises.
“My vision of economic development and business development is very aligned with my values.” Shane said. “I am focused on breaking down barriers and setting up opportunities for Indigenous people to flourish.”
Growing up surrounded by other Indigenous families just south of Brisbane in Inala, Shane was no stranger to government policies surrounding Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
“I will always look at things from an Indigenous perspective.” he said. “What myself and many other Indigenous people do is never lose sight of our cultural connection, background, and where we come from.
That’s important to us, and at the same time, my professional world doesn’t necessarily share those same values and principles. It’s one of the things that you learn along the way: how to bring cultural values and connections to the work that you do.”
As a young man, Shane had many aspirations, one of which was becoming a physical education teacher, however, his path in life was altered after watching his friends leave school to complete apprenticeships. He started to see the benefits of leaving school to earn money.
“My father and I had this conversation. He said, ‘you have two choices — one is to go back to school and go to university, or two, between now and when school starts you need to find an apprenticeship.’”
Shane left school and spent the next 16 years working in corrective services, starting as a prison officer.
Progressing through the workforce
“It changed the way services were provided to the Aboriginal community across NSW. We made a real positive difference.”
In 2000, Shane moved to Western Australia (WA) to assist in managing a detention facility, the first private prison in WA, and later went on to a position in correctional services under the WA Government. During this time, he worked on the Kimberley and Goldfields custodial plans.
“We were devising new plans around, not just the design and build of new prisons, but how they were run – specifically for Indigenous offenders,” he said.
Shane’s experience in correctional services provided him with an opportunity that would change his life.
“In 2006 I received an opportunity to work in Aboriginal Housing. I started as the Aboriginal Housing Director in the Department of Housing in Western Australia and worked there for about three years.”
It was a period where Shane’s work extended to his personal passion to make a lasting difference in the lives of Indigenous people, and in 2009 Shane joined Community Housing Limited and helped set up their operation in WA.
After several years in the field of community housing in WA, Shane was offered an opportunity in Sydney to work in the New South Wales (NSW) Government’s Aboriginal Housing office, guiding a major reform program.
“I spent four years as CEO and loved every minute of it” he said. “While hard work, it changed the way services were provided to the Aboriginal community across NSW. We made a real positive difference.”
Achieving true reconciliation
“There has to be some truth-telling about what has taken place in the past, because it’s the history of our country — it’s not 200 years old, it’s 60,000 years old.”
Shane understands the barriers that exist for many Indigenous people. He is focused on actions to create a better life for future generations. For Shane, ensuring housing supply remains a central passion, but he recognizes that education and reconciliation are critical.
“When we talk about reconciliation, we need to have an honest conversation about the history of our country. There has to be some truth-telling about what has taken place in the past, because it’s the history of our country — it’s not 200 years old, it’s 60,000 years old.
Aboriginal people have started to have that conversation, but it starts with coming together because we don’t have a treaty, and a treaty is about admitting what has happened, and then coming together to talk about how we will go forward” he said.
Reflecting on the past is a large part of healing and understanding the processes that everyone goes through.
“I reflect back to my parents and grandparents because they weren’t given those opportunities. Now we don’t just need to survive, we can flourish because they helped us create a platform where we have equal footing and access to opportunities that were not there before.”
“I’m very lucky that my family valued education and believed getting a job was important, those things were driven into me pretty hard, I guess when you’re a kid, you don’t appreciate that.”
Shane concluded by saying: “Indigenous empowerment is the thing that gets me out of bed in the morning and principles are important when it comes to the type of work that you do.”
Thank you for the work you’re doing, Shane!