Ashleigh Hyland, proud Anaiwan woman, undertakes project management working with Indigenous Specialist Services team members to assist clients in building cultural knowledge into their projects with a more locally focussed approach.
Ashleigh’s family is from Armidale in NSW.
“Although I have always known that I am Aboriginal, due to the scar left by the impact of the stolen generation and the fear to admit to being Aboriginal, my father only found out about his heritage in 1992,” Ashleigh explains.
“My Aunty is an Elder and she has researched all about our family, sharing this information across family members. This knowledge and being proud of our Aboriginal family have meant that for me, fortunately, I have always been aware.
“The Anaiwan mob fled their Country as it became increasingly taken for use as farmland. Unfortunately, this has affected knowledge because not a lot of it survived, in particular our language. But there are efforts to find out more so there is hope for our cultural survival.”
I want every project to be inclusive and to be able to have this approach on the projects I am working on in my career. To enable the Traditional Custodians of Country to have a seat at the table is very empowering.
Geography, land and climate is central to the story of the Anaiwan Country is a broader New England area consisting of the Tablelands and the rivers that flow to the north, south, east and west. East to west, the humid coastal zone ends in the escarpment from which the Tablelands slope gradually to the west becoming the slopes and then the plains. North-south, both the humid coastal zone and the western slopes and plains are broken up by a series of river valleys. Climate varies east to west and to a lesser extent, north to south.
Ashleigh has been with WSP for more than three years, previously working in the Sustainability group on Infrastructure Sustainability ratings and taking the Cultural Lead on projects.
“I was able to get the opportunity with the Indigenous Specialist Services team because of their need for project management skills and my strategic thinking and whole-of-project best practice understanding. I wanted to be part of this team to give back to community. I want every project to be inclusive and to be able to have this approach on the projects I am working on in my career.
“To enable the Traditional Custodians of Country to have a seat at the table is very empowering.”
Why is it important for WSP to connect to Country?
“WSP is leading the way,” says Ashleigh.
“The Indigenous Specialist Services team is achieving incredible results that are being delivered and through this, the value of our involvement in projects is being seen. By including Indigenous knowledge and culture into projects with identifiable and broad outcomes, it provides the opportunity for incorporating Country in infrastructure permanently and for future generations.”
What has been your standout moment working for WSP?
Ashleigh nominates being involved with the Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP).
“It is a great privilege to be included in the RAP Advisory Group, working also with external advisers to the RAP Working Group.
“The best thing is seeing the change happening within WSP – actual change – and there has been a lot of change happening! It’s exciting to be a part of this.”
What is one thing we all can do to understand Country in the context of place?
Ashleigh’s response is, “Ignite the fire in the belly to understand.
“If you learn more, you’ll know more. Spend time to understand, do your homework.
“Start by getting to know your local area – understand its patterns and connect to the surrounding environment. Many people think that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples are just one culture, but it is many. It’s very diverse. Get to know the Indigenous culture in your area as a start.”
Ashleigh asks of everyone to start the journey and to do it of your own accord, as your beginning on your learning journey.
Find out more about the Indigenous Specialist Services team.