Images by Eramaya Albrecht @eremayaalbrecht & Dylan River @riverdylans.
Welcome to the Good Human Series, a space where we celebrate the good in humanity by sharing the stories of impact focused individuals making a positive change in the world through their work.
We love a really good story - there is something about a well told tale that our human brains just can’t get enough of. But more than that, although it’s not really something we think about on the day-to-day, stories are at the steering wheel of our culture, carrying our history and inspiring our future. Someone who has a deep understanding of the social power of storytelling is today’s Good Human, Rona Glynn-McDonald, proud Kaytetye woman and founder of Common Ground.
“Australia is built on a story that ignores its true history. Since 1788, Australia has been largely shaped and governed by colonial narratives and systems of power. These systems do not centre First Nations voices, knowledge and solutions,” Rona speaking to the inspiration behind, and purpose of Common Ground.
Determined to shift this, Rona launched Common Ground, a not-for-profit working to shape a society that centres First Nations people by amplifying knowledge, cultures and stories. Common Ground is about dismantling colonial systems so they centre First Nations people, and their ways of being and knowing.
Prior to building the foundations of Common Ground, Rona held the title of Director of First Nations at YLab and the Foundation for Young Australians, and worked in policy at the Central Land Council, and at the Research Unit for Indigenous Languages at the University of Melbourne.
In collaboration with their creative network and partners, Common Ground amplifies the voices of First Nations communities and embeds knowledge across the education system through shaping audio, film, and written content for schools, campaigns, and advocacy work. Since launching in 2018, their online resources have been viewed over 1 million times. One of their most recent projects, First Nations Bedtime Stories, reached over 100,000 primary school students in 2021, and supported teachers in bringing Dreaming stories and other knowledge into the classroom through film and accompanying resources. This is just one of the many creative and impactful projects Common Ground has brought to life.
Today on the Good Humans Series, we talk to Rona about the impact of Common Ground, what’s on the horizon, and how their recent project, ‘Dreamy’ can help us all get some more sleep.
Rona wears the Margot Shirt while hanging out with her four-legged friend
OD: How did the idea for Common Ground come to you? And how did your time at YLab just prior, inform what Common Ground has come to be?
Since 1788, Australia has been largely shaped and governed by colonial narratives and systems of power. These narratives and systems do not consider First Nations voices, knowledge and solutions. Growing up in Mparntwe (Alice Springs), I saw the way our voices were rarely centred in many of the systems that impact our lives - whether that was in health, education or our economic systems. There were so many moments in my life where I saw how community-driven storytelling can shape better outcomes, but there were very few opportunities for that to occur. That’s how and why Common Ground was born. To create safe spaces where First Nations people can share their stories and perspectives, shifting away from colonial narratives to shape new systems that centre First Nations people, and our ways of being and knowing.
My work at YLab taught me so much about collaborating, centering multiple lived experiences and perspectives, as well as learning how to shift systems. As a social enterprise that trains and employs young people with lived experience to solve complex social problems, a lot of our work was about systems change. Common Ground builds on what I learnt at YLab - about how shifting systems is also about shifting the narratives and mindsets we hold as individuals.
OD: One of Common Ground’s most recent projects is Dreamy which launched very recently, focusing on stories to help us sleep. Something that we all need more of! Where did the inspiration come from for this particular project?
We were approached by Snapchat and Ogilvy to shape a project with them that would achieve two things: help young people sleep and centre First Nations stories.
Accentuated by the pandemic and ongoing lockdowns, young Australians' level of stress is at an all-time high. Younger people have reported poorer sleep quality during the pandemic. Many are turning to digital technology to distract and soothe themselves, with young Australians spending an average of 5.5 hours on their smartphones every day.
What we created was ‘Dreamy’ - a project to help all people drift off into dream and connect with the land around them. The project features five original sleep stories from First Nations storytellers, beautifully illustrated with artwork from Carmen Glynn-Braun.
Through this series we’ve seen how stories, grounded in connection to Country, can provide a new way for people to find a sense of peace and calm in difficult times. The reach of Snapchat’s platform, combined with their genuine intentions to listen deeply and make space for First Nations creativity and innovation, makes this a landmark project in bringing together a technology platform with First Nations people and knowledge.
OD: A lot of your work has also focused on creating resources for early learning and primary age students. Why was it important to you personally, and to Common Ground, to focus energies at this age group, and what have you seen is the impact?
I grew up in classrooms that rarely centred the true histories and experiences of my community. I was part of a cohort of First Nations young people in primary school that had our lived experiences and truth denied. We learnt about Captain Cook and we learnt Japanese, but we never heard from local Elders that hold deep knowledge and wisdom.
Our projects often target the classroom because we can see teachers need support in building their capacity to centre First Nations histories and perspectives in lessons. We create comprehensive educational resources for our annual week of storytelling, First Nations Bedtime Stories. The initiative is an amazing opportunity for all people, young and older, to learn from stories that have been shared since the beginning of memory.
Young people are open, curious and compassionate. It is our responsibility that we shape education systems that prioritise truth-telling, so we can grow the next generation of future custodians that centre First Nations people, knowledge and cultures.
OD: Something we love about Common Ground is that, with a foundation built on storytelling - something completely universal in nature - there is really no limit to the projects or areas of impact your and your team’s work could have. With this in mind, if you could collaborate through Common Ground with anyone of any industry, who would it be?
We’d love to collaborate with Tiktok. We see how the platform is growing and there are so many young First Nations people using the platform to spread knowledge and voice. It’s an exciting space full of incredible creators, with so many opportunities to nurture First Nations talent and continue to shift away from colonial narratives.
“Through this series we’ve seen how stories, grounded in connection to Country, can provide a new way for people to find a sense of peace and calm in difficult times. The reach of Snapchat’s platform, combined with their genuine intentions to listen deeply and make space for First Nations creativity and innovation, makes this a landmark project in bringing together a technology platform with First Nations people and knowledge."
OD: What gives you hope?
Young people give me so much hope. I’m still a young person, and I feel so lucky to coach and back other young people to continue to work to beat injustice and shape a future that is grounded in truth, First Nations knowledge and wisdom. As future custodians, young people are holding people and systems to account, thinking intergenerationally and centering the voices of marginalised groups.
OD: What’s on the horizon for you and for Common Ground?
For Common Ground, we are currently growing our team and developing storytelling projects and campaigns that will shape spaces that centre First Nations people, wisdom and knowledge. Personally, I’ve got a music project that will be released early next year under the name RONA. It’s been in development for a long time and I’m so excited to release some tracks and see how people respond. The first single is coming out in March and an EP will follow in April!
To learn more about Common Ground click HERE, or to listen to their Dreamy Sleep Stories series visit dreamsleep.com.au.
Then, we invite you to explore more of the Outland Journal, for more stories of humans doing good things.
"We’ve always seen business as a force for good and our approach to Thankyou when we first started still remains the same today - it wasn’t about starting a business that could also do some good in the world. It was about using business as a means to right a social injustice."