Aboriginal outreach success under threat

Rosalie Crestani and Doug Smith at the Aboriginal Gathering Place. 180843_04 Picture: STEWART CHAMBERS

By Cam Lucadou-Wells

Casey’s popular Aboriginal Gathering Place is weeks away from facing cuts of $205,000 in State funding.

As a result, the Doveton-based facility – hailed as “the perfect model” for Aboriginal community outreach – faces discontinuation of four youth programs from 1 July, Casey Council claims.

The facility’s opening hours would also be cut by about 10 hours a week, “profoundly impacting” on access to the service.

Casey councillor Rosalie Crestani led an urgent business motion at a council meeting on 15 May for a funding extension.

“I’ve seen first-hand the supportive and connected space for our indigenous sisters and brothers.

“It is a positive environment.”

Cr Rex Flannery declared he would be “embarrassed” to meet at Bunjil Place if the programs were cut.

The gathering place offers something for scores of visitors of all ages – groups for youths, gardening, women’s crafts, playgroup children and primary-school aged children.

It serves a substantial indigenous community in Casey and neighbouring Dandenong.

Artist ‘Uncle’ Doug Brown, who attends and helped set-up the centre, said it was a place that people could come and go.

“They can have a cup of coffee or tea and talk about their problems with the workers.

“You don’t have to make an appointment. You can just come in and talk.”

The centre was vital to address social isolation, he said.

“Before it was set up, we didn’t have anything like it around here.”

The $205,000 in ceased funding covers the Building Strong Aboriginal Youth regional co-ordinator and program as well as an Aboriginal Health co-ordinator.

It threatens the gathering place’s before-school sports programs with breakfast and school attendance, Dandenong and District Aboriginal Cooperative youth groups, a kids club and health promotions and weekly events.

Cr Crestani said the Government was halting funding as it transitioned to a new 10-year Aboriginal health, wellbeing and safety plan.

She said there had been “positive negotiations” with the Department but “we don’t want the programs to be lost between now and when the 10-year-plan comes on board”.

Casey Council recently increased its funding for youth homework and school holiday programs in 2018-‘19.

The facility also receives $171,500 in federal funding, which expires in October 2020. Funds for a local justice worker program expire on 30 June 2019.

Cr Crestani said the facility’s success was proven since it opened in 2016.

It has been recognised by the Department of Health and Human Services’ principal Aboriginal advisor as the “perfect model” that should be replicated across the state, she said.

The centre was a finalist at the 2016 LGPro Awards and a case study in the Victorian Aboriginal and Local Government Action Plan 2016.

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