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Susan Moylan-Coombs is a woman of our time

Susan Moylan-Coombs is a woman of our time

To say Woolwonga and Gurindji woman Susan Moylan-Coombs is a person of many parts is an understatement, as she traverses business, design, diversity, family and heritage with aplomb.

The world is full of amazing people and every now and then we are fortunate to meet them. One such person is Susan Moylan-Coombs, a Woolwonga and Gurindji woman from the Northern Territory, who is a leader in every aspect of her life.

Her work covers business, design, diversity, family and heritage. Today she is perhaps best described as a cultural curator – someone who brings to her work and life the value of culture as a voice for Indigenous people.

Outdoor Teaching Space, Talking Place, Welcome to Country and Gai-mariagal Totems installation. For the Gaimaragal Group left to right: Jenny Moylan, Susan Moylan-Coombs and Andrew Carraro.

Her journey has been far from easy, however, through determination, grace and a single-minded vision, she is true to herself and helps others to realise the importance of the first cultures in Australia.

Moylan-Coombs is familiar with how architecture and art can influence perspective and provide a gateway to a deeper understanding of culture.

When advising architects and designers with their projects there is the added dimension of Place, country and cultural viewed through the lens of First Nations People. Susan assists to bring to the table a heritage that enriches design and gives it deeper meaning.

“So, it’s the way in which my brain works to understand what I’m doing at any given time. Whatever sector I’m working in and how can I share and embed some of our cultural principles that will make a difference for how organisations see us as First Nations People,” says Moylan-Coombs.

As background, Susan’s mother was part of the Stolen Generations and had been removed, sent to Garden Point Mission on Melville Island run by the Catholic Church.

Outdoor Teaching Space, Talking Place, Welcome to Country and Gai-mariagal Totems installation.

Susan was born in Darwin and was also sent to the mission, separated from her mother, who was then indentured into domestic service in Darwin, and her father, who was sent away to become a labourer.

A young Susan stayed on the mission until 1967, the year of the referendum that changed the constitution to address the inequalities in law as it applied to the “Aboriginal people”, and at this time the missions and institutions started to be closed down.

Susan was then adopted by the Coombs family who lived on the northern beaches of Sydney. As the only Indigenous child in the neighbourhood, it was a different life, however with her adopted family and a grandfather who just happened to be Dr Herbert Cole “Nugget” Coombs, there was support, care and love.

After leaving school Moylan-Coombs wanted to work in film and television and accepted an internship at the ABC, initially working as a trainee in production planning.

Showing great promise, and as a fast learner, she quickly rose through the ranks of the broadcasting commission, firstly as a production assistant, a director, producer, series producer and then eventually an executive producer.

Susan Moylan-Coombs, adopted age 3.

With two ‘tours of duty’ at the ABC –10 years the first time, working her way up to a Producer she worked half of her time in mainstream programming and then with the ABC’s Indigenous Programs Unit, leaving for a period of time to have children – returning again for another five years.

After her time with the ABC Moylan-Coombs was headhunted by NITV, a then private company funded by the Government. NITV subsequently transitioned to become a division of SBS with Moylan-Coombs as Head of Production. Once the channel became free to air, she was satisfied she had contributed all that she could and left broadcasting altogether establishing her own company, The Gaimaragal Group.

“I’m really proud of my contribution to Indigenous broadcasting with a career bookended by directing the historic Paul Keating Redfern Park speech, launching the “Year for the Worlds Indigenous People” as baby director. And then at the other end of my career, when I became executive producer of the Indigenous Program’s Unit, I was the Executive Producer of the live broadcast of the National Apology to the Stolen Generations. So that was pretty huge, very impactful on my life in a good way, and also a bad way,” says Moylan-Coombs.

Sharing culture, country and a cuppa with landscape architects.

As founder, Moylan-Coombs brings to The Gaimaragal Group her expertise working with organisations to build cultural competency through immersive sessions, workshops and time on Country, and with communities raising up the voices of First Nations Peoples and communities to advocate for rights as enshrined in the UN Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

She translates her experiences as part of the Stolen Generations and her knowledge of business, production and co-ordination into real life business and community consultation, connecting and assisting national mainstream organisations to understand and realise the significance of the rights of the Original People of this land we today call Australia.

“I really like that I can work across multiple sectors and bring voice, expertise and adapt business as usual, to these different sectors. I find that really interesting. It’s really empowering,” reflects Moylan-Coombs.

Haworth Wellbeing Circles.

Over the years this intrepid individual has encountered racism and still does today, however, she is seeing movement for the better and an understanding develop of who First Nations People are and what they bring and have always brought to the table – it just hasn’t been fully realised.

Moylan-Coombs can turn her hand to anything, she is involved with many boards and is heavily involved with design and culture as she sees this as a pathway to greater understanding. This woman is a role model for us all, and it is through people such as Susan Moylan-Coombs that Australia will become a better, stronger nation with inclusivity for all.


Photographs courtesy of Susan Moylan-Coombs.


Jan Henderson

Jan Henderson is currently an Editor and Program Director of the INDE.Awards at Indesign Media Asia Pacific. Her previous roles have included Acting-editor of Indesign magazine, Associate Publisher at Architecture Media, Editor and Co-editor of inside magazine and Interiors Editor of Architel.tv. As Principal of Henderson Media Consultants she contributes to various architecture and design magazines, is a regular speaker at events and has participated as a juror for industry awards. Jan is passionate about design and through her different roles supports and contributes to design in Australia.