Dr Jonathan Kingsley is a Research Fellow at the Melbourne School of Population and Global Health (The University of Melbourne). In addition to this role, Jonathan is a Founding Member of the Oceania EcoHealth Chapter and a Health, Nature and Sustainability Research Group External Partner.
Jonathan talks to Dalton Koss HQ about his passion and dedication to EcoHealth, social justice and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ health and wellbeing.
I am an EcoHealth Researcher who links ecosystems to animal and human health. My journey in this area started during my Honours year when undertaking research on the health and wellbeing benefits of community gardening. During my Honours study, I realised that I wanted to learn more about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. Via a connection and introduction by Associate Professor Elizabeth Hoban, I met two inspiring Aboriginal mentors who are based in Derby, Australia: Dr Ann Poelina and Dr Ian Perdrisat. Ann and Ian welcomed me with open arms, providing guidance and teaching me the intricacies of how Aboriginal culture links to health and wellbeing. Over a four-month visit, I realised that Aboriginal culture, health and wellbeing is all intricately linked to traditional land (known as Country). This knowledge and experience shifted my trajectory. I wanted to learn more about Aboriginal culture where I grew up which is Victoria, Australia.
This led me to undertake a Masters research project on the connection Aboriginal Victorian people have to their Country and its association with health and wellbeing. Simultaneously, I continued working in a number of Aboriginal communities in the Kimberley and Pilbara regions located in northern Western Australia. On completing my Masters, I worked for the Victorian State Government, in academic institutes and within the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health sector.
These experiences combined with my passion to better understand the human-environment relationship, led me to undertake and complete a PhD at Deakin University. This occurred over a ten-year period, nurturing my growing EcoHealth knowledge. This journey opened a number of leadership opportunities for me including: a contributing member for a number of international academic, non-government and EcoHealth initiatives. Such experience allowed me to become a keynote speaker at a number of international conferences and a recipient of environmental awards.
The six key words I use to describe effective and successful leadership include:
1. Practice: I believe each individual is born with talent, however, without practice and nurturing these skills will sometimes never be fulfilled. A good example of this is my presentation skills. When I started giving presentations I was terrible. Over the years my oration skills improved through repeated practice. Mentors can definitely help this process, but it takes the individual to make it happen.
2. Persistence: To be a good leader you have to be willing to fail and continue. I view this type of failure in a positive light for its ability to create change. You cannot blame others for this failure nor can you rely on others to help you move forward. This motivation has to come from within oneself.
3. Outgoing: If you do not push yourself into the unknown you cannot grow as an individual and evolve.
4. Flexibility: This evolution would not be possible if I had not been flexible towards change and able to recognise that sometimes my approaches need to be adaptable to situations. Working in government, NGO’s, universities and within communities has allowed me to evolve my communication styles.
5 & 6. Humble and Compassionate: there are people who believe they are leaders in the public domain but in private do not show leadership. Traits should not change no matter the social circumstances. To be a true leader you should show love and appreciation of family, friends, colleagues and communities you work with (obviously for these relationships to work reciprocation is required!).
In 2007 one of my close colleagues, an Aboriginal Elder from Western Australia passed away way too early in life. For many years I blamed myself for not providing greater support to him and his community. Through this experience I endeavoured to work better in the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health sector. This led me to apply for visiting scholar positions in the UK and attempt to get into medicine. I quit my government position to work at the Victorian Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation. Eventually I was successful gaining a place in a Medicine and spent a year at the University of Cambridge as a Visiting Scholar. During this time I failed often but simultaneously had many successes. One example of this was my first presentation I gave at The University of Cambridge. It was one of the most overwhelming experiences of my life but provided me with one of the most rewarding debate and discussions on my research topic. On return to Australia, I started my medial degree. During the first semester, I realised the blame and pressure I placed on myself was not helpful. I left the medical degree and moved back into the fields that drive me: EcoHealth, social justice and preventative medicine.
I attribute my success to my parents. They have always supported me. At school I had a learning disability where most teachers thought I would amount to nothing. My parents built a support network around me and connected me to teachers who were compassionate and provided the guidance I required. This experience taught me to be resilient and provided a foundation of critical learning that enabled me to succeed at university.
I don’t think you can invest in leadership. I think leadership comes through everyday living. I have been privileged to work in Aboriginal communities across Australia, taught and learnt at a leading university across the world, have supportive family and friends and always pushed myself in great jobs. All of these have been important in my leadership journey. These experiences cannot be quantified in financial terms or time wise.
I try not to involve myself in politics. I have a simple goal. I believe human survival can only occur through understanding our Planet and its diverse ecosystems. The way I practice this is through learning about Aboriginal ecological knowledge, research in the EcoHealth field and advocating my views of social justice. This has certainly meant my job stability has fluctuated in Australia as these types of ideas can often be shunned.
An old work colleague said to me once, “I am underpaid and overworked”. I would like to say the same goes for me. I give a lot of my time after hours and on weekends to my research and community work. But I also recognise that I am very privileged. I have grandparents who came to Australia with nothing other than scars of war and I work with people that live from day-to-day. I never want to take for granted that I often gain greatly from the time I give.
I usually exercise to maintain health and wellbeing, but of late that has taken a back seat to eating good food and drinking lovely beverages. What I really enjoy doing is listening to my wife play piano and sing, spending time with my dog Bobby, and going to the footy. Preparing myself to becoming a father makes me feel great too.
My tip is always try new ways of being. Never give up, especially when other people tell you otherwise. Often when people oppose your views, but you still maintain supporters, it means you are doing something right.
Organisations I recommend include Indigenous Community Volunteers and the Oceania Ecohealth Chapter. The Oceania EcoHealth Chapter can be found on Twitter @EcoHealth13.
For more information about Jonathan’s EcoHealth work, please follow these links: