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Brisbane Airport Corporation’s environment and sustainability manager, Wendy Weir, reflects on its efforts to ensure that it operates a culturally aware gateway.

Regardless of how experienced the traveller is or how many air miles they’ve got in the bank, navigating your way around an unfamiliar airport is a stressful experience. 

Alleviating passenger stress is a key focus for many airports, and there are numerous articles that demonstrate the benefits of having happier, stress-free passengers. 

Having clear, consistent and unobstructed signage is an obvious start. But how does an airport cater for all nationalities and languages? What cultural and religious needs must be taken into consideration? 

These are essential questions that must be considered to better cater for all passenger needs and to demonstrate cultural awareness. However, this article focuses on the lesser known, but much valued aspects of one airport’s journey in cultural awareness, and it starts at home, in Brisbane.

Creating a sense of place

Let me set the scene – you’ve arrived in Brisbane, Australia, for the first time. It is sub-tropical, so it’s either a glorious ‘winter’ day or it is hot and humid. Your senses haven’t been confronted by the weather yet as you’re still navigating your way through duty free shopping, border control and customs. 

At what point do you realise that you have arrived in the traditional lands of the Turrbal, Jagera and Quandamooka peoples, the Indigenous people of the Brisbane region?

Brisbane is a cosmopolitan city that celebrates its relaxed, sub-tropical climate and laid back lifestyle through our people and our architecture. We incorporate these design principles into everything we do at Brisbane Airport. 

But how do you, an international traveller, connect with the people, culture, language, heritage and achievements of the oldest, continuing cultures on Earth – Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples?

Cultural awareness starts at home

This is a question that Brisbane Airport Corporation (BAC) is now on a journey to answer, and it starts with raising our own cultural awareness and understanding of Australia’s Indigenous people in the first instance. 

For if we don’t understand and celebrate Australia’s Indigenous heritage and culture, then how can we help passengers to? 

A journey towards reconciliation

Our solution was to develop a Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP) in conjunction with Indigenous employees and Traditional Owners. Brisbane was the first airport in Australia to develop a RAP that was endorsed by the peak body overseeing reconciliation in Australia in May 2016.

Reconciliation is an issue that cuts to the heart of who we are as Australians. It involves acknowledging the impacts of colonisation and past policies and practices that are continuing to impact Australia’s Indigenous people today. 

But Brisbane Airport is just an airport, right? How can an airport solve such a big issue? We certainly can’t solve all the issues, but we can stand up and acknowledge our Traditional Owners, show respect for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and culture, and look for opportunities together. 

What is a RAP?

A RAP is simply a business plan that documents what an organisation commits to do to contribute to reconciliation in Australia. It enables organisations to commit to implementing and measuring practical actions that build respectful relationships and create opportunities for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. These themes form the backbone of our RAP and are explored below.

Theme 1: Relationships

BAC is committed to building stronger relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. We are striving to create a company culture and environment that connects Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and the airport community, neighbouring community and international visitors to Brisbane. 

Central to this is fostering mutual respect, sharing and celebrating the rich Aboriginal history of our area and beyond and building beneficial partnerships to further reconciliation.

Theme 2: Respect

As a gateway to Australia, BAC recognises and values cultural diversity as an asset that enriches our community. We will continue to respect and incorporate Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art and cultures into our physical structures and spaces at Brisbane Airport, and celebrate and share Australian Indigenous peoples’ cultural knowledge, relationship to land and sea, histories, perspectives and experiences throughout our core business activities.

Theme 3: Opportunities

BAC understands the significant social and economic barriers experienced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and communities within our region. We will contribute to the efforts to strengthen professional development, employment, access and economic opportunities for Indigenous Australians through our continuing engagement across all facets of core business activities.

A global issue

Reconciliation is a topic that all people relate to. This is because reconciliation is an issue that goes way beyond Australia. It resonates across cultures, across languages and across time. 

What are the reconciliation issues relevant to your region or country right now? What additional corporate social responsibility initiatives could your airport do to demonstrate cultural awareness at a holistic, life-changing and humane level? 

Surely this is an area where an airport can demonstrate its values and show leadership that resonates for all people and across time? There are only benefits from doing so.

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