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The unlikely partnership that’s inspiring Indigenous youth in tech

11:58am July 10 2024

David Liddiard with the Ethan Indigenous team. (Supplied) 

An unlikely alliance – and friendship – between a footy legend and information technology veteran is shining a beacon of hope and opportunity for Indigenous youth across Australia. 

David Liddiard OAM is a Ngarabal man from northern NSW and a passionate advocate of Indigenous Australians. Troy Thorne is an ally and Program Director of Ethan Indigenous – an arm of the successful Australian-owned technology service provider, Ethan.

Initially, their career aspirations couldn’t have been more different: Liddiard was a rugby league professional, most notably for the Parramatta Eels, in the 1980s and 90s while a young Thorne jumped on an opportunity to work in the fledging, yet fast-moving tech industry. 

Fast forward several years and a singular mission has cemented a friendship and business partnership.

“Everything Ethan Indigenous does is linked to David's vision for a brighter future for Indigenous kids,” Thorne says. 

“Whether it's employing young Indigenous people, getting them into IT that can later turn into a professional career or whether we're providing laptops to students to help them better engage with their education.”

Liddiard has visited many remote Aboriginal communities around the country and seen first-hand the need for technology.

“We have a program in Dubbo, where we mentor 1,500 Aboriginal students from year five to year twelve, and they didn’t have a single laptop. I said to Troy, 'What’s the chance of us getting some laptops?' And he just makes it happen.” 

Founded with a vision to empower Aboriginal communities through education and employment in technology, Ethan Indigenous has not only bridged gaps but also challenged stereotypes, making significant strides towards a more inclusive workforce via their social impact programs. 

Their Indigenous Technology Cadetship Program is point of pride for both men. The program is designed for youth without technical skills or tertiary education, and not only teaches them those skills, but also how to apply them in a professional capacity, opening up doors and opportunities many are not privy to.


David Liddiard with the Ethan Indigenous team. (Supplied) 

“Participation in the IT industry for Indigenous people is really easy to measure: there is none,” Thorne explains.

“With the emergence of successful partnerships between corporates and Indigenous business in the last three to five years, such as Westpac’s Mob Tech program, we’re hoping for a change and a chance to allow for opportunity and exposure that there historically hasn’t been before.”

Last year, Westpac started its first Indigenous technology cadetship program, creating a new pathway for the bank to recruit culturally diverse talent

"We wanted to overcome barriers people may face when considering a career in tech - specifically education, expense, time, remote and regional locations, and cultural awareness," says Jessica Magro, Executive Manager, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Technology, Human Resources.

The program allows people with little or limited tech experience from all over Australia to be placed on a full-time salary with full benefits. They are provided with tailored 12 to 18 weeks technology training in either cyber, cloud, web development, or data analytics. 

"We then embed our cadets in tech teams with culturally trained team leaders and mentors. Thanks to the dedication of the cadets and their leaders, the program has been so successful that we are doubling our intake for this year’s Mob Tech," Magro says.

Liddiard and Thorne recall their very first cadet – an Indigenous woman from Queensland named Louise.  After completing a certification through the cadetship, and subsequent traineeship, she went on to work within the cyber industry. In a full circle moment, she now works at the very company that started her on this journey, at Ethan Indigenous.  

Thorne considers himself lucky to have started in the industry with no formal education and to receive on-the-job training – an opportunity he is determined to pass on.

“I got a job with no technical skills, and that’s why I’m inspired to give the same opportunity to others… I think all Australian companies should provide pathways to those who aren’t perhaps naturally going to find their own way there,” he says.

“The IT industry has evolved – it used to be that you learn on the job. Now, the wave of education programs have changed the landscape, and corporates largely only accept university graduates.”

“There’s a shortage of 60,000 to 80,000 IT professionals. We need to find different solutions to meet these demands. Now it’s my turn to give back,” Thorne says.


Marina Gainulina (she/her) is a Content Producer for Westpac Wire. Before joining the team, she was a commercial and editorial content producer and marketer for global luxury brands including Hugo Boss and Tiffany & Co and has almost a decade of experience in marketing and communications.

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