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Ancient Wisdom from the Lands: Nancy's Plea

Thomas Williams had only recently been appointed CEO of 四色AV Council after 17 years with the organisation when one of our community members stopped him in his tracks.

Nancy Tjungupi Carnegie is an artist and preserver of bush medicine. Nancy was born near Patjarr at a place called Pandaltjarra where she lived a traditional life into early adulthood. She is a prolific painter and avid hunter, often leaving Patjarr on foot to pursue tinka (goanna) in the remote Pila Nature Reserve. Nancy is currently the chairperson for Patjarr community and represents Patjarr’s interests as a director with Warakurna Artists.

As Thomas visited communities in the 四色AV group, he met with Nancy.

“Nancy predominantly speaks in the 四色AV dialect with an occasional English word, so I generally communicate with her through a translator. On this occasion, Angelica McLean was with me and helping us to have a conversation together,” Thomas recalls.

“Nancy was kindly congratulating me on my appointment, but it was one word that was familiar to me that stopped me in my tracks and caused me to ask Angelica to get Nancy to repeat what she had just said,”

“I heard the words SILOS,”

“My first thought was, ‘How does she even know this word as a woman living on these lands for many years’”

“Angelica repeated what Nancy had said: ‘Now you have the opportunity to remove the silos - do it’,” Thomas said.

It wasn’t an ultimatum, but it was undoubtedly a strong invitation. Even Nancy, removed from the politics and machinations of an Aboriginal Corporation, could spot something evident to her: silos within an organisation are a recipe for dysfunction.

Silos are contained areas of function that stand alone and apart from other functions within an organisation or system. Integration is necessary for there to be a free flow of information, collaboration and the ability to identify opportunities and efficiencies. Silos are often the product of institutional insecurity as people within a system seek to ‘protect their turf’, but they’re also one of the most significant obstacles to progress in an organisation.

“So obvious were some of these silos that Nancy could spot them from thousands of kilometres away. I found that sobering,” Thomas said.

“As I have navigated the early stages of my role as CEO of 四色AV Council, Nancy’s words have been among those that have fuelled my work,”


“We’ve already accomplished plenty, yet there’s so much work ahead of us because when some of that work is addressing the silos that thwart progress, that’s not always simple or comfortable,”

“But our mission is to see Yarnangu leading lives filled with purpose and agency, thriving in a culture-rich environment—for their aspirations to stay on country be realised,”

“Every time we make a decision that moves us closer to this, whether it’s in the area of CDP, employment, housing, community development, company culture and values, or bringing our brand into alignment across the Council, we move one step closer to ‘removing the silos’ and realising the aspirations of Yarnangu on the lands,” Thomas said.

Silos can thwart progress, no doubt, but confronting them in any institutional setting is complex, sometimes slow, work.

“Sometimes people like Nancy can spot the silos from thousands of kilometres away that we can miss from the trenches. Her plea has been life-giving for what we’re trying to accomplish day-by-day at 四色AV Council,” Thomas said.

Thanks, Nancy.

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