Cormach Evans is the founder of Strong Brother Strong Sister (a profit-with-purpose mentorship organisation for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander youth) and Ngarrimili (a non-profit that supports and nurtures Indigenous entrepreneurship and business). He spends much of his workdays offering guidance to young people and new business owners. “You have 80,000 years of excellence instilled in you. You have incredible bloodlines to the oldest living culture. You have Elders and ancestors that have fought incredible fights to ensure that you stand here today,” he says. “If I was talking to my younger self I’d say, ‘Dream as big as you want because everything is possible.’” A proud Yorta Yorta man at the helm of two organisations, Cormach’s admits he didn’t always have that kind of belief in himself. “I never thought that I’d be doing what I am doing today,” he tells us. “When I was a teenager… I thought having a business was really cool, but out of my depth.”
He attributes some of that self-doubt to the rough time he had during his schooling. As the only Aboriginal student at his Geelong high school, he was subject to racism and bullying. He left in Year 10, “School wasn’t a fun or safe place for me, so I chose to leave,” he says. “Looking back, I wish I would have completed it.”
Regretful or not, that decision started Cormach on what’s ultimately been a wildly successful journey. A stint as a teenager working for a family friend at a café – and seeing his boss create his own hours – changed his perception of work. “Every now and again,” Cormach says, “he’d come in and grab me and say, ‘You’re coming with us.’” They would leave work to go surfing. “I thought that was rad,” he continues. “So cool to be able to leave work during the day to go surfing.”
Cormach entered some dark times during his 20s, attempting to work through trauma and transgenerational grief in unhealthy ways. “I was really lucky to have someone pull me up and get me the help I needed. That was when I started on the path towards my own business,” he says. “I worked in community for a long time and saw so many barriers in place in terms of health and wellbeing… That’s when the spark came.” Working as a health practitioner, Cormach found himself challenged constantly; trying to find solutions and being blocked. That frustration reached a fever pitch and he resigned. “I remember this day,” he says. “A thing popped up at work and it really could have been fixed. And it wasn’t. And I couldn’t do anything about it. I quit on the spot. Strong Brother Strong Sister kicked off the next day. Within a week, we set up the business and had 20 kids in the program receiving mentoring.”
Cormach tells us that he owes much of his confidence to the women in his life. “I have been super- lucky; I’ve always been surrounded by women since a young age. I’ve had so many matriarchs who have supported me,” he says. “I think if I hadn’t met my wife Coco, I would have been stuck in a job… Probably be miserable, probably be really angry and probably a really different person to who I am today. I don’t think I would have taken that leap.” And leap he did. Within a month, Strong Brother Strong Sister was up and running and a year later, Cormach founded Ngarrimili in an equally fast-paced succession of realisations and decisions. “We were thinking, ‘Should we go for it?’” he says. “We literally designed the program and two days later the LaunchVic grant round came out. We got that funding and Ngarrimili was launched.”
For Cormach, successfully running two organisations concurrently (and being a present, involved father and husband) means identifying his team members’ talents and flaws – as well as his own. “Everyone brings something different to our team… I have things I love doing and things I hate doing. They have things they love and hate doing too. Spreadsheets aren’t my thing,” he says. “I’ve learnt over the years, meetings suck and they are really draining. When I was doing six meetings a day, it just wasn’t sustainable. I’d be like a zombie at the end of the day.” Realising one of his flaws was a lack of boundaries, he altered his approach to work. “I was doing a lot of work outside of hours; on the phone at random times,” he says. Since then, he has set boundaries and structures in order to ensure sustainability. “Burn out is such a huge thing and we don’t talk about it enough. If I had continued the way I was going, I wouldn’t be available to the team, family and community,” he says.
Now he aims to switch off at 4PM, with the knowledge that more work might pop up, but that it can still be handled during office hours. And, he now takes time out of work days to go surfing. “I can look at the surf forecast on the internet and see at 2PM today the surf is going to be amazing. I can actually block out 2PMpm in my calendar,” he says. Prioritising his mental and physical health translates into him doing more valuable work. “Doing that makes me a better person. Spending time with kids makes me a better person,” he says. “These are things that I know help me and make me stronger. And that helps me give back to the work that I do.”
Being able to live the kind of life he aspired to, but felt was so out of reach, ultimately came from finding and trusting in his self-worth and prioritising his passions. While finding self- confidence can be a rocky road, Cormach believes it’s crucial – and there are people who will help you along the way. “Know your worth,” he says. “Know that whatever you want to do, you can do it. There are so many leaders within the Aboriginal community – whether it be in community services, media, marketing and comms, accounting, or lawyers, musicians, artists. You think of any category and there will be an Aboriginal person leading in that space. There’s so many people to call upon, who will support you and ensure that you can achieve your dreams and goals, because they were you once.”