CEO Update - From Parliament House to Yolgnu country

From Parliament House to Yolgnu country

Australia is a wonderful country. On Thursday you can be welcoming the Prime Minister to a Parliamentary Advocacy Day, and on Friday you can be dodging salt water crocodiles on a beach in East Arnhem Land!

I left the exciting events of Parliament House last week, and travelled directly to Nhulunbuy, on the traditional lands of the Yolgnu people.  My third visit to the region, I was speaking to the local community about the upcoming Garma Festival - and how social and emotional wellbeing and mental health might be appropriately addressed on the program.

I had previously visited the Miwatj Health Aboriginal Corporation, who run a vast array of health services and programs in the region.  This time I was lucky enough to be taken out to visit the Ngalkanbuy Clinic in Galiwin’ku, on Elcho Island.

The program is a model for local control and ownership nationally. The program provides rich, integrated support for social and emotional wellbeing in the community, by the community.

A local woman, Djamalaka Dhamarrandji (Joan) oversees the program and was kind enough to let me tag along for her “morning rounds”. We drove around the very small town, visited one of the stores, dropped in on other programs, and discussed her approach to wellbeing.

It could not have been clearer to me that so much of what we impose on such communities, with the very best of intentions, at best makes no sense, and at worst perpetuates colonial attitudes and ongoing oppression.

There is so much strength in this local community, waiting to be unlocked by strong local leadership.  But too often, we crush this community resilience and strength with bureaucratic requirements from afar.  Partners in Recovery? Personal Helpers and Mentors? National Disability Insurance Scheme? Really?  You don’t need to spend much time visiting with Djamalaka Dhamarrandji and her team to realise that such program boundaries are largely a fiction.

The community certainly needs resourcing and support, but they need the freedom, and dare I say it the trust, to apply those resources in the best manner determined by the local community.

Laissez Faire? Far from it. Through excellent data collection and a solid grounding in evidence, these programs can demonstrate outcomes that are both more effective and more efficient than many imposed from afar.

I hope to have some exciting news very soon for Mental Health Australia members who may be interested in visiting the Garma Festival in early August, and who may be interested in learning more about these locally owned and controlled programs to address social and emotional wellbeing and mental health.  Not just because they are models of Aboriginal care, but because they are based on principles that should inform practice in every community.

My deepest thanks to Djamalaka Dhamarrandji and Dr Lucas de Toca (pictured below), and the whole team at Miwatj Health for their very generous hospitality. 

Australia is a wonderful country.

Warm regards 


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