Moving from Alice Springs to Melbourne to attend university, Rona Glynn-McDonald, a proud Kaytetye woman, was astounded to find how little people local people knew about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture.
“Anytime I met someone new, they would ask about my Aboriginality: ‘what was it like to walk between two worlds — with my blonde hair, my fair skin and connection to country?'” Ms Glynn-McDonald said.
“People felt guilty [with their lack of knowledge] and they wanted to know more.
“It was in these moments that I realised that the people and cultures I knew so well back home, were completely foreign to so many Australians.”
Rona thought racism towards Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people was a rural issue.
But after moving to Melbourne she found this was not the case.
“It made me really sad,” Ms Glynn-McDonald said.
“I realised the racism that happens in this country is due to a lack of information and misunderstanding.
“It was a growing impetus in me that we needed to educate Australia and allow them to become a nation where we celebrate our First People.
“[Indigenous culture] is not taught in our schools, it’s not written in our textbooks.
Ms Glynn-McDonald founded Common Ground, a website that shares Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures, history and lived experiences, which officially launched in June.
Common Ground uses oral history, songlines and written and video content to address a variety of topics, including the Stolen Generations, kinship and connection to country.
“I feel like a lot of Australians don’t know where to start because it’s such a colossal topic,” Ms Glynn-McDonald said.
“An online space is perfect because it allows people to go on that learning journey without feeling like they are stepping on anyone’s toes or that they are saying the wrong thing.
“Common Ground is a safe space.”
Common Ground aims to close the knowledge gap Ms Glynn-McDonald has experienced.
She said she believes there are other gaps that need to be addressed too.
“There are health gaps, education gaps and employment gaps that exist in our communities that are literally killing our First People,” Ms Glynn-McDonald said.
“Unless we can begin to understand and celebrate our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures, we won’t see improved outcomes in these areas.
“Policy and reform will never be enough.
Ms Glynn-McDonald said that while she saw the educational system shifting towards including more Indigenous content in classrooms, there were many adults who missed out on this opportunity.
“Common Ground is really aimed at allowing those people to now go on self-guided learning journeys,” she said.
“She [Rona] has worked incredibly hard on it [Common Ground],” Matt Benetti, manager of enterprise and change-making at the Foundation for Young Australians, said.
“Having it on a really well-presented and easy-to-understand platform is incredibly important in bridging the gap between non-Indigenous and Indigenous Australians.
“When you come to a sense of understanding you can put yourself in their shoes and that can lead to change in the world.”
Earlier this year, Ms Glynn-McDonald attended the Trailblazers Lab at the annual Heywire Summit.
Through a five-day intensive summit in Canberra, Ms Glynn-McDonald and 14 other Trailblazers workshopped how to take their projects to the next level.
“Trailblazers was a fantastic program that allowed me to expand my networks and develop my capacity as a young changemaker in Australia,” she said.
Ms Glynn-McDonald wants to reflect the diversity of the histories and cultures of Australia’s First Peoples.
“And we can do this by finding Common Ground.”