Helen - 2010 Graduate Program



Home State: New South Wales (NSW)
University: University of Sydney
Qualifications: Bachelor of Arts (Honours)

Growing up in Armidale in North West NSW, being involved in the performing arts was a huge part of my life, so it was a natural progression for me to do a Bachelor of Arts, majoring in Theatre, English and Communications. I was initially on a high school teaching scholarship, but at the end of my arts degree I realised I wanted to pursue a career in arts policy and management.

In my final year, I worked as a journalist for Fairfax Media. Throughout university I was also involved in youth affairs and social policy at a local, state and federal level (including advising the NSW Minister for Youth), and in arts administration and marketing for CarriageWorks Arts Centre and Vibewire. Keen to gain further expertise in this area, I was proactive in seeking experience on various committees, and I have been appointed as a member of the Accessible Arts NSW Creative Committee, the Express Media's National Advisory Committee and the Sydney Theatre Company's Youth Advisory Panel.

The Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts (DEWHA) graduate program seemed like a perfect fit as it combined my interest in arts and culture and experience in government, while exposing me to a broad portfolio and great learning and development opportunities.


First Placement: Regional Arts, Arts Policy and Access Branch

My first rotation was with the busy and dynamic Regional Arts team, which administers funding programs which support the provision of performing arts to regional and remote Australia. This gave me the opportunity to gain skills in program management and exposed me to an area of the arts I had previously known very little about - arts touring. The section provides secretariat services to ministerially appointed committees and assists in their analyses of applications, and I was required to liaise with stakeholders, prepare briefs, funding agreements and ministerials and ensure that financial processes were conducted transparently and appropriately.

When I joined the team, the section was reviewing its current processes across each program, so I also had the opportunity to revise the program guidelines for the Contemporary Music Touring Program and Playing Australia program to bring them into line with the new Commonwealth Grant Guidelines.

A highlight of the rotation was the opportunity to attend the Long Paddock Arts Touring forum, which brings together presenters, producers, state touring coordinators and other stakeholders to discuss productions for national touring. This provided a great insight into the way different parts of the sector interact and exposed me to the work of potential applicants.

Second Placement: Public Affairs (Corporate and Environment Quality divisions)/Change Management Team, Policy and Communications Division

For second rotation I wanted to gain a broader understanding of the Department's activities and develop my corporate knowledge, so I was fortunate enough to be placed in the Policy and Communications Division. This rotation provided me with an invaluable opportunity to put my media skills to use in a government context, and allowed me to use my initiative to develop DEWHA's new internal communications capacity, including designing a comprehensive communications strategy for the Secretary's change management agenda.

Working in the Change Management team provided me with insight into the department as a whole as it reviewed its corporate functions, and I was privileged to have the opportunity to consult with departmental staff, preparing key issues papers on aspects such as financial management and human resources, and use this to assist in developing a new strategic plan that will allow the department to 'do business better'.

Public Affairs develops and implements whole of government communication strategies for internal and external communications. Providing media support to the environmental quality division allowed me to develop my knowledge of areas as diverse as hazardous waste, ozone and synthetic gas and fuel quality. Highlights included writing Ministerial speeches, media releases and media handling notes for events such as the Environment Protection and Heritage Council meeting and Enviro2010. I was also required to liaise externally with publishers and graphic designers, undertake media monitoring, editing and proofreading and was given the responsibility of preparing the Branch's submission to the 2010 Annual Report.

Third Placement: Indigenous Broadcasting and Media sector review, Culture Division

For my final rotation I was placed in the Indigenous Culture Branch, working on the high profile and complex Indigenous Broadcasting and Media Sector Review. The Review will consider whether the resources allocated to the sector are delivering the best outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the country as well as influencing future policy considerations of free-to-air carriage of Indigenous broadcasting content on new digital broadcasting platforms. I was placed in the team during an exciting period of national consultations and the writing of the Review, a great opportunity as a major attraction of the Department for me was its engagement with Indigenous affairs and I was also looking to gain additional policy experience before the end of the graduate year.

In this role I was required to provide secretariat, administrative and research support to the expert Review team, working with an inter Departmental Steering Committee and a Stakeholder Advisory Group. I was responsible for arranging focus group meetings with representatives from the sector, including travel arrangements, analysing stakeholder submissions and preparing meeting papers and Ministerial and Parliamentary responses. I also prepared briefing papers on specific topics such as training, employment and new media. A particularly rewarding experience was travelling to Perth and Alice Springs to provide secretariat support to the Review team, which enabled me to see how funding from the Indigenous Broadcasting Program is implemented on the ground and to attend public consultations, where I heard the views of a wide variety of stakeholders on future challenges and opportunities for the sector.

'the best thing about working for us ... is the environment'