Meet Jirra Lulla Harvey: Bachelor of Arts Alumna and Director of Kalinya Communications

Bachelor of Arts (Media & Communication) Alumna, Jirra Lulla Harvey, is the Director/Founder of Kalinya Communications. Kalinya is an Aboriginal owned communications consultancy with a focus on sharing indigenous knowledge. Jirra talks about her experience as a student at the University and how it has contributed to her work with Kalinya Communications.

I chose to Study the Bachelor of Arts because I was interested in understanding the power of the media, in how it shapes and influences people’s lives. The more theory based subjects suited me. I got to do cool things like a study tour around the USA looking at spectacular spaces, from museums to theme parks. I am answering these questions from Miami – so I guess you could say that tour had a big impact.

My interest in Media and Communications stemmed from my experience of growing up in the Victorian Aboriginal community, which was very different from what many non-Indigenous people understand it to be. My community is incredibly supportive, we are dispersed across the state in urban and regional areas but we tend to all know each other and work together. I grew up in Aboriginal community controlled organisations, learning about business, governance, politics, art and advocacy. I wanted more Australians to understand the diversity of our experiences and the great work being done by grass-roots organisations. I saw a career in Media and Communications as one way to share these messages.

My favorite learning experiences studying the Bachelor of Arts were in the classrooms of some of the country’s leading Aboriginal academics, Tony Birch, Philip Morrissey, Marcia Langton, Lillian Holt – I am so lucky to have been in those rooms.

I studied over 10 years ago, so of course the landscape of media, advertising, public relations and communications has changed drastically with disruptive technologies but the core foundation remains the same – we all hope to connect with images we relate to, aspire to, and that’s why I will always advocate for not only diverse representation but more importantly self-representation. The biggest change I have seen is that when I started out, you had to push the idea of Aboriginal knowledge in the mainstream – to almost defend the idea that we have unique insights. But now people are seeking this knowledge more and more. This dynamic is creating a shift in a big way; it’s opening up more space for creativity and innovation.

Kalinya started very organically, it is the only Aboriginal owned communications company in Victoria – so when we started, it was new territory – I had no idea what would work, what people would trust me to do and also very little knowledge of how to run a sustainable business.  We started out doing marketing and events and have now moved into strategic communications. This is reflective of a broader industry shift. Today, most Australian companies are developing Reconciliation Action Plans and this has presented an opportunity to work strategically in the corporate sector, and directly with executive teams and boards of major companies. When leadership believes in the importance of Indigenous knowledge, the belief filters through the whole business. So Kalinya’s work is a combination of promoting Indigenous values and knowledge in the corporate sector, shifting deficit language to strength-based within Government, and continuing to work organically with my community, depending on their needs and requests – whether it be planning a community event, mentoring young people, or working collaboratively with other Aboriginal owned business. I love a share economy; I’ll help out with marketing in exchange for whatever services or goods other Aboriginal owned businesses are creating. Building a self-sustaining Aboriginal economy is a driving force for me.

Four years ago Kalinya partnered with the Koorie Youth Council to co-create the Koorie Youth Summit, which is a workshop and network gathering of young Aboriginal people from all over Victoria. It is a special event because it is for young people, by young people. When the Koorie Youth Council grew and this year employed a team of amazing young leaders, Kalinya could step back and they ran the show. This was a very proud moment for me, to see something we created handed on to the next generation.

We are about to publish a new tool kit for journalism students on respectful reporting of Aboriginal experiences of family violence. I remember wanting to talk about the racial lens in journalism classes, but often didn’t feel comfortable as the only Aboriginal student in class. I would have loved to have had Koorie perspectives in our course curriculum. I met with non-Indigenous journalists and had really frank and open conversations about some of the challenges and fears they had when reporting on Indigenous stories, they gave some great tips. I met with members of the Aboriginal community who are experts in the family violence space to hear first-hand about the implications of negative reporting and asked them for tips for budding journalists. This advice is collated in an easy to read / jargon free tool kit that will be available for download from our website

I once dreamed of creating a full-scale agency but I have come to realise I love the freedom of a small business, I work 6 months in Australia and 6 months from my laptop as I travel the world. I get to learn about the latest marketing trends internationally and network with First Nations people from everywhere – we have so much to share and learn from each other. We are all dealing with the intergenerational affects of colonisation and economic exclusion, to see other communities’ creative solutions always recharges me with inspiration and hope when I get down.  I once dreamt of making heaps of money, but don’t want the stress of it now. Business is seductive, its easy to think bigger is better, richer is the goal. For me, financial literacy and management is the goal. I want the business to be sustainable and I want to have enough in the bank to be able to work on some projects for free. In the future I hope to keep doing what I love, and live an interesting life.

We are always asked what we want to be; we think about job titles or salary packages but don’t always think about what we want our days to look like. I think it’s important to understand the kind of lifestyle you want to live. Some jobs require you to sit at a desk 9-5 (which I was terrible at), sometimes you have to be on the road all the time (I love airplanes, others hate them) and the reality is, many of the sexier jobs require you to dedicate your life to them, build your identify around them. If you want stability and can’t imagine working a 12-hour day, then the start-up life isn’t for you. If you want to drink kombucha in a converted warehouse, the public service isn’t going to be a great fit. We often let our careers guide our lifestyles, if studying at the University of Melbourne is an option for you, you are in a privileged position and you have the freedom of choice. Imagine the life you want and work back from there.