Brian Wyborn grew up on the tiny island of Daru, just off the coast of Papua New Guinea bordering the Torres Strait.
“It was such a different childhood,” said Brian. “At 5 to 12 years old, we had free rein and no parental oversight.”
“I’d go out and shoot a bird and cook it on a fire, and that was my lunch.”
While the lifestyle sounds idyllic, it was also a childhood of danger and disadvantage.
“We used to live across the road from a prison,” said Brian. “When there was a breakout, the wardens would chase the prisoners and fire their guns, so we’d have shots fired over the top of our heads.”
“Our ‘go to’ was to get under the bed and lie flat until the shots finished. Then I remember walking to school the next morning and they’d be washing the blood off the road.”
Australia and the military
In 2000, Brian moved to Brisbane with his mum, dad and younger brother. He was in Grade Six and his sister had already been in Australia for a few years.
“It was an adventure for us coming down here to a new place and a new country,” he said. “You don’t have a lot of Torres Strait Islanders here, so I had to try and find and build connections with people myself.”
And build those connections he did. Brian studied business, did a grad program with Medicare, and at the same time (in 2008) enlisted in the Army Reserves!
“A lot of Indigenous people don’t get drawn to something like the military but it’s probably one of the best experiences you’re going to have,” he said.
“It’s such an inclusive environment [and] no-one talks about the colour of your skin. You’re all there doing the same thing.”
A brave career change
It was while on deployment maintaining law and order in the Solomon Islands that the Army Reserves provided Brian with the “motivation to make a career change”.
“I developed an understanding of the people’s struggles,” he said in a recent interview. “We were hearing the worst of stories and the people had so little, but were so happy.”
“I realised if I want to make change, offering financial advice to individuals and communities is an area where you can see that change.”
So after some more study and a string of financial planning roles, in 2020 Brian turned his back on a comfortable job to make an impact for Indigenous communities with NAB.
He’s now Senior Wealth Adviser at JBWere advising, individuals, families, business owners and charitable/not-for-profit organisations.
“That was a big decision for me to make in the middle of COVID,” he said. “I could see that JBWere was the right fit and I just had to take the leap and trust myself.”
Within his role at JBWere, Brian has a dedicated focus on advising Indigenous organisations on how best to allocate assets and invest Native Title royalties and charitable trust funds for the benefit of future generations.
And his success is due in large part to his deep understanding of how complex Indigenous identity can be.
His own family tree includes his mum, who was born and bred in Papua New Guinea, and his dad, who is of Torres Strait Islander and English descent.
“Indigenous people come from very diverse backgrounds,” he said. “Some are really close to their communities and their people, and then you have people like me who grew up trying to figure it all out.”
“Some may see themselves in the mirror and know that they’re Aboriginal, but perhaps are from the stolen generations and have no connection to the land or Country, or don’t even know where to start.”
Reconciliation is hard
May 26 was National Sorry Day, which acknowledges the mistreatment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who were forcibly removed from their families and communities.
And today marks the beginning of National Reconciliation Week (27 May – 3 June), which this year has the theme: ‘Be Brave. Make Change.’
During Rec Week and beyond, Brian hopes that we can make a collective change to better understand the truths of the past to avoid repeating the wrongs of the past today.
“We learn that Captain Cook came and then boom, Australia began,” he said, “but we don’t know our history in enough depth to have really open, truth-telling conversations.”
“Reconciliation is really hard when many of us don’t know what we’re reconciling!”
For more on how NAB is helping create positive change in partnership with Indigenous Australia, visit nab.com.au/indigenous