A national-scale Indigenous-led digital project will help to reconnect Indigenous communities, thanks to a $473,000 grant under the Australian Research Council Discovery Indigenous scheme.
By
Laura Morelli

3 Nov 2016 - 4:54 PM  UPDATED 3 Nov 2016 - 5:26 PM

Noongar man Dr Christopher Lawrence was born a non-citizen in his own country.

“I was born before the 1967 referendum. I went home to an Aboriginal reserve in my home town of Northam in WA and lived during a time when Aboriginal people were segregated," he said. 

"As Aborigines, both my parents and grandparents were institutionalised and the psychological issues that had on them were enormous and still continue." 

Looking back at his past, he can hardly believe how far he has come today.

Dr Lawrence is leading a team of eight researchers based at The University of Melbourne, who will create new pathways to help Indigenous developers, entrepreneurs and start-ups to develop and operate Indigenous-owned technology.

“This will help to address one of the key causes of disadvantage and vulnerability in Indigenous communities—social and cultural dislocation.”

The team is designing a new app called #thismymob aimed to enhance social and health and wellbeing outcomes, and improve the connectedness of Indigenous Australians.

"This collaborative research project will improve Indigenous digital literacy and build Indigenous entrepreneurship through technology start-ups,” Dr Lawrence said.

“For me the legacy of the trauma my parents and all others from the stolen generation experienced was what drove my research. #thismymob is one of those innovative projects that evolved because I was thinking outside the square.”

“Most people - black or white, poor or rich; most people around the world are connected. So how do we, as researchers, connect with those people?

“I want my work to be meaningful and to help my mob encourage them to be proud of who they are, encourage them to be creative and find education a fun way to learn and grow and think about where they want to be.”

The Discovery Indigenous scheme:

The ARC will be providing $4.6 million for 11 new research projects under the Discovery Indigenous scheme.

The Discovery Indigenous scheme provides funding to Administering Organisations to support research programmes led by an Indigenous Australian researcher and build research capacity of higher degree research and early career researchers.

Objectives of the Discovery Indigenous scheme:

  • support excellent basic and applied research and research training by Indigenous Australian researchers as individuals and as teams
  • develop the research expertise of Indigenous Australian researchers
  • support and retain established Indigenous Australian researchers in Australian higher education institutions
  • expand Australia’s knowledge base and research capability.

Dr Lawrence has completed his masters on Applied Epidemiology  and also his PHD  on influences on food and lifestyle choices for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders. After conducting much research on the field he thought about how he could use his skills to make a difference.

“I was working with an Indigenous community and I thought ‘how can we improve the health and wellbeing of our mob… what are we doing wrong?

“I met with IT and we discussed how technology can close the gap. That’s when the light switched on. We sat down and worked hard on developing a proposal and idea.”

Breaking racist barriers:

The catalyst for change was Dr Lawrence’s constant encounter with racism.

“At the beginning of this year there was a racist app “survival Australia 3” which was about bludgeoning an Indigenous people to death.”

“The app received worldwide attention - it got over 85 thousand complaints and several users signing up to see what the fuss was about so from then I knew I was on the right track to use the technological space in my advantage,” he said. 

"After seeing this app I believe people need a human element to understand we can’t have this racist digital world. What we need is to open the doors for Indigenous developers."

Dr Lawrence is doing just that.

Next year UTS will be having their first ever IT honours Indigenous student; and I’m proud to say that he will become part of my team.”

“With this project we want to take Indigenous ideas and turn them into sustainable initiatives but at the same time understand how to involve Indigenous communities in the process. We need them to understand and participate.”

Getting involved:

Dr Lawrence wants to involve Indigenous people all across Australia in how to decide what #thismymob app looks like.

“We want this to be a one stop shop where people, corporates, government, industries - anyone who wants to access Indigenous people online, can access them here and get their message out to them because all the users will be Indigenous.”

He’s calling on all Indigenous people to get involved.

“It’s about identity; it’s where anyone can have access to the Indigenous communities and promote health programs, learning programs, youth groups, educative initiatives.”

“If any Indigenous students want to get involved, Indigenous elders, researchers, technology students, businesses, anyone that wants to contribute to closing the gap come and speak to me.

Dr Lawrence says the underlying aspects for his research is around health and wellbeing; technology is just a vehicle he’s using.

Dr Lawrence says #thismymob is about the future and creating the next generation of Indigenous technology developers and business entrepreneurs.

“This is about taking their technology ideas and turning them into a start-up. We’ll introduce them to cooperates and philanthropists where they can grow their idea and at the same time were improving digital literacy.”

We know that our mob text and use Facebook, so that’s what I'm connecting with... This is an innovative, creative, unique project that has never been done before.

Despite already huge success and development, he says this is only the beginning.

“Eventually this will become a global resource where all the worlds’ Indigenous people can connect on the one place.” 

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