Boots-on-the-ground experience was crucial in the provision of a First Nations aged care facility in East Arnhem Land.

    Non-executive director and JBWere wealth adviser Brian Wyborn credits his service in the Army Reserve for motivating his work on the boards of Australian Regional and Remote Community Services (ARRCS) and Metro Arts Brisbane.

    Wyborn, who grew up on the Papua New Guinea island of Daru before moving to Brisbane for high school, was deployed to the Solomon Islands in 2011 as part of his Army Reserve service. “While working alongside Australian Federal Police maintaining law and order, I developed an understanding of the people’s struggles,” says Wyborn, who identifies as a Torres Strait Islander. “We were hearing the worst of stories and the people had so little, but were so happy. It was a motivation to make a career change. I realised if I want to make change, offering financial advice to individuals and communities is an area where you can see that change really quickly.”

    Wyborn studied business at Queensland University of Technology and started a graduate program with Medicare in the middle of the global financial crisis. He says his PNG childhood gave him first-hand experience of disadvantage — and working at Medicare helped him understand the complex health needs of First Nations Australians.

    The turning point came two years after his Solomons service, in 2013, when he left the public service to study financial planning. Over subsequent years, he worked with AMP, Rothguard, Stonehouse, Wilsons and finally JBWere as a wealth adviser to individuals and NFP organisations. His work advising First Nations groups on how best to allocate assets and invest Native Title royalties and charitable trust funds for the benefit of future generations — determinations ranging from $30m–$200m — inspired him to seek leadership opportunities at the board level.

    “The appeal of board work is the leadership opportunities, getting the chance to shape the future I’d like to see,” says Wyborn. “You need to look at what this community needs now and what they may want in the future, then help them to set up generational wealth transfer, similar to the work done with high-net-worth individuals.”

    Wyborn’s first board appointment was with Barayamal, a First Nations-owned and run charity, followed by Metro Arts in Brisbane. In August, he became the second Indigenous board member of ARRCS. The service provider runs 10 residential aged care facilities with 385 allocated beds and 11 community care programs servicing care recipients across the Northern Territory. Its vision is to “work together and in partnership with others to be a leading provider of culturally responsive, quality aged and community services in regional and remote Australia”.

    “The crux of what ARRCS does is working with our old people, providing them with a lifestyle and an outcome for the later part of their lives — one that’s comfortable, culturally aware and safe,” says Wyborn.

    Nhulunbuy project

    ARRCS’ biggest project is a long-awaited $30m, 32-bed aged care facility in Nhulunbuy, 1018km east of Darwin on the Gove Peninsula. The centre will open in April 2022 to service the town’s 3240 population as well as people in remote areas on the peninsula.

    Beginning her role in July 2019, ARRCS general manager Wendy Hubbard had lengthy prior experience leading Ballarat Health Services in Victoria and Bega Valley Health in New South Wales. The month before she started at ARRCS, board chair Craig Barke GAICD — also an accountant and CEO of Uniting Care Queensland — had given evidence at a hearing of the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety in Broome.

    In his evidence, Barke outlined the challenges for aged care providers in remote areas, including limited availability of skilled staff, geographical isolation, the huge travel distances, high levels of socio-economic disadvantage, the need for security measures including perimeter fencing around facilities, the complex health needs of clients, and distrust of institutions and authority.

    Culturally appropriate care

    Hubbard says that given more than 80 per cent of ARRC's clients identify as First Nations people, it’s essential to provide culturally appropriate care in partnership with local communities — who speak more than 90 languages. Among her responsibilities are managing risk management issues, yet she says the biggest challenge is staffing. This month, 26 more staff will arrive from the Pacific Islands, on top of the 33 Samoan people granted visas in September 2021. A $13.2m staff accommodation block is also being built as part of the new facility.

    Hubbard reports to the five-member board, which meets six times a year. Since Hubbard started, all but one board meeting has been run remotely due to COVID-19 restrictions. “The board sharpens my thinking and what I get most from it is support,” she says. “They understand that it’s hard doing this job.”

    Exclusively for First Nations clients, the Nhulunbuy facility will serve aged people (over 50 years of age) from the town, the Gove Peninsula and East Arnhem Land. Hubbard says the community has been waiting 20 years for an aged care facility on country and that there are nine elders from the region who would prefer to live on country, but are currently forced to live in Darwin and Alice Springs due to the present lack of facilities.

    The aged care centre will also offer a palliative unit and respite care for people on renal dialysis. The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare reports that 49 per cent of Indigenous adults over 65 suffer from chronic kidney disease.

    Architect David Kaunitz says he and his team have spent more than two years consulting with stakeholders in the Nhulunbuy region, visiting communities and homelands to talk about their needs. As a result, the rooms are designed as twins with separate ensuites for women, and single rooms for men. The home will have no corridors and each room will have at least two windows with outside views. The landscaping will be done by local nurseries and builders are using stringybark timber milled in the region for cladding.

    Value of lived experience

    Wyborn meets with Traditional Owners on country, delivering strategic advice and investment management to NFPs and Indigenous communities in the NT.

    “There’s a gap here and physical presence matters when you’re building relationships that are ongoing,” he says.

    Wyborn completed the AICD's Foundations of Directorship course in 2020 and plans to complete the Company Directors Course in 2023. He sees value in bringing lived experience overlaid with professional experience to a board, but is saddened there are so few First Nations directors, saying that he can “count on one hand” the number of Indigenous investment advisers he is aware of.

    “I look at my two daughters and I think not only of gender diversity being important, but that diversity of background is key,” says Wyborn.

    “Having Indigenous people on boards means their lived experience allows directors to make better decisions. It’s about having skin in the game. My children will grow up saying, ‘It’s normal — our dad does it’.”

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