Graduate story: Christian Lugnan
Of the almost 200,000 Australians with a professional accounting designation, fewer than 32 are Indigenous Australians. Christian Lugnan, a Gumbaynggirr man from the Coffs Harbour region, is one of them.
"Within Indigenous communities, accountants play a valuable role in promoting financial literacy and economic development to individuals and organisations. When those accountants are Indigenous, people take notice.
"Being involved with Indigenous Accountants Australia, I want to get the message out there that you don't lose your Aboriginality when you become an accountant. Yes, historically it's been a white, middle-aged-male-dominated sector but it doesn't have to be like that. Indigenous accounting graduates can determine what it looks like. We need to shake up the profession."
As a regional manager with ORIC, Christian works with more than 600 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander corporations to ensure they comply with their corporation's rule books and the federal Corporations (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander) Act 2006.
"We are the Indigenous version of ASIC. The organisations we look after vary in size and structure, from a small asset-holding organisation acting on behalf of a community, to social enterprises and not-for-profits, through to arts groups, sporting clubs and multi-million dollar organisations like landholding and health service corporations.
"Ours is an interpretive and support role. I deliver governance workshops, attend directors' meetings and AGMs and answer questions about legislation. And because we are a regulatory body, we have the power to conduct examinations and investigations."
A talent for mathematics and desire to own a BMW car led the then 12-year-old Christian to dream about a career in finance.
"Accounting was a very foreign thing for an Aboriginal student to be doing in the early 90's. But my parents encouraged me, saying I'd be unique in the accounting world and there'd be plenty of opportunities. Education was key in my family."
Christian started his business degree in Sydney but transferred to Southern Cross University where he was able to improve his grades in a smaller classroom environment with the help of the University's Indigenous Australian Student Services.
"I took advantage of the academic support and had access to a tutor for most of my subjects. It made a big difference. Some of my fondest memories of SCU are of spending time with Indigenous staff and students, yarning, taking time out from my studies and feeling like I had the community's support."
Christian has clocked up more than two decades in the Commonwealth public service, starting with a cadetship at Aboriginal Hostels Ltd during university breaks, and later at ATSIC (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission) and the Department of Family and Community Services. He's worked as an internal auditor, financial accountant and examiner of corporations.
"While I did an accounting major, the degree gave me so much more than just financial skills. That's the real benefit of a degree: you begin to think more broadly, develop strategies, analyse risk, and see the bigger picture. And as a member of the Indigenous community, I get to share that with others who may not have had the opportunity to access that level of education or experience. I get to travel the country and meet wonderful people who are really inspiring and want to do good things for their community."
*Christian is pictured at Hungry Head. The Gumbaynggirr name for Hungry Head is Girrimarring or fruit bat. The Girrimarring is a male totem for Gumbaynggirr men.