Staff Profile: Clare McHugh

Staff Profile: Clare McHugh

Hi, I’m Clare McHugh, the Executive Director of Policy and Programs at the NSW Aboriginal Land Council (NSWALC). My mob is Gamilaroi (Leslies from Moree) and Dhungutti (Griffens from Walcha). I was born and raised on the Central Coast in Gosford and am the youngest in a family of seven (which includes brothers and sisters from my parents’ previous relationships).

With my partner Chris Ingrey, who is the Chief Executive Officer of La Perouse Local Aboriginal Land Council, we have four beautiful and head strong children aged between 11 months and 11 years of age.

I’m proud to say my mum was one of the founding members of Darkinjung Local Aboriginal Land Council and in this capacity she helped them with some of their first ever land claims, among other things. Like many others that grew up during the 1980s, I was exposed to Land Council business and Aboriginal rights issues from a young age.

My mum raised me strong in the knowledge and understanding of my Aboriginality and placed a huge emphasis on making sure that I know our history, our past and stories. I’d say my mum’s influences led me to the work I do today and it’s nice to know she is proud of what I do.

Leading the Policy and Programs Division, I am responsible for overseeing the development of advice to the Council and the CEO on a wide range of matters. These include NSWALC’s responses to various strategic government and non-government policy matters, the delivery of programs to Aboriginal people across the state, ensuring the land rights and land claims agenda is implemented, carrying out land and property management, and economic development initiatives.

I think my most important responsibility in this role is to inspire and support my team to give 100 percent and to remind staff that we are working to create positive change for the mob – this often takes time and it’s important to keep people motivated. That’s my job.

I’m proud to highlight the outstanding work being done in the Policy and Programs because quite often the majority of our achievements are made “behind the scenes”, including some really terrific advocacy and rights based work (such as pushing for the return of Aboriginal culture and heritage to Aboriginal people in NSW and protecting Land Rights from being diminished under the Crown Lands Review), supporting the network to continue to grow its asset base through continuing to strategically claim land, and importantly starting to look at ways that we can move forward and unlock some of the economic potential of the land assets the network has accumulated since 1983.

When I think about Land Rights today and how it was 30 years ago, I see we still have a way to go, particularly if we’re serious about securing a better future for our children and their children. I think there’s immense unlocked opportunity that we’re yet to realise through the Land Rights system. By that I mean we’re sitting here now, more than 30 years after Land Rights was introduced in NSW, and we are still dealing with many of the issues we were back then – this massive disparity experienced by our mob on all fronts. Yet we have this land bank, and we need to remember when the Aboriginal Land Rights Act 1983 was created it wasn’t just to claim land but to use some of that land to unlock economic and social wealth and drive long-term sustainable change from within our communities. While my mum definitely inspired me to be where I am, it is this unlocked potential that continues to drive my commitment to Land Rights today.

I would like to see NSWALC continue to build its reputation as a strong and willing advocate of the mob and Land Rights, and to see our existing relationships with the Land Rights network and the Aboriginal communities across NSW strengthened based upon mutual respect and the belief that together we are stronger politically.

I’m passionate about Land Rights and when I’m older I want to see my four children have the opportunity – should they choose it – to be involved in what I believe is a brilliant network. It’s an amazing representative system, one that I think can be greater than we can imagine and if the passion of our young people leads them to continue to fight for Land Rights and what it has to offer.

I want to be able to witness that success as it flows throughout our communities.