Improving Indigenous Outcomes and Community Engagement in an Atmosphere of Cuts

The Federal Budget will impact minority groups more than any others, according to a leading University of Wollongong researcher. Indigenous Studies lecturer, Dr Bronywn Carlson said indigenous groups. in particular, will be affected.

“I think it is very disappointing to see the most vulnerable people in Australia being targeted in a reduction of funding for programs,” Dr Carlson said.  “It is always interesting to me that many in Australia believe that Indigenous peoples receive large amounts of funding, when the truth is that a significant portion of Indigenous program funding is spent on managing the program or funds and in many cases goes to pay non-Aboriginal people or organisations to administer the funds.”

Indigenous groups have criticised the budget’s impact on Indigenous welfare, such as limited access to legal representation through cuts to the Aboriginal Legal Service, cuts to health care services and language programs.

Treasurer Joe Hockey has justified such cuts stating that there were ‘duplications’, replacing  more than 150 programs, grants and activities with five broad programs called the new Indigenous Advancement Strategy.

However, according to Dr Carlson, these claims are unfounded. “I would like to see how many Aboriginal communities Mr Hockey has visited,”  she said. “The duplication Mr Hockey speaks of is more likely to be found in government run/controlled programs.

“Community initiatives are generally underfunded or funded on short term contracts for a period of 12 months. Many do not receive ongoing funding even when the results are evident.”

For young people in particular, another issue young Indigenous Australians face is racism. “There does not seem to be one day that passes without some racist attack on Aboriginal people,” Dr Carlson said. “The likes of Andrew Bolt and his followers make everyday life for young Aboriginal people difficult.”

Attempting to address the issues that young people face, the Australian Indigenous Mentoring Experience (AIME)’s south coast program are visiting high schools in Batemans Bay today ahead of their program launch this Friday.

The AIME initiative partners university students, indigenous and non-indigenous alike, with local indigenous students in mentor relationships, in an effort to increase and improve, among other things, high school graduation rates.

According to a report conducted by firm KPMG last year, the AIME program returned significant benefits to the economy. “We have brilliant stats that show the dramatically improved rates of progression into senior school and university,” Program manager assistant for AIME, Ashleigh Johnstone said. ” There are annual reports which demonstrate the statistics. For every dollar spent on AIME, seven dollars is returned to the economy.”

Ms Johnstone said strong personal relationships with the local community is essential to the program’s success. “AIME is here to send the message that Indigenous = success,” she said from Batemans Bay.  “It’s something I truly believe in and something I encourage everyone in Australia to support.”

The program attempts to engage students through different activities, to foster a positive sense of community and self confidence for participants. “Every person is different and every kid is going to relate to you in a different way,” ms Johnstone said. “For example, last week we stopped at Narooma to go surfing after school with some of the boys from that area. Basically, if we know some of our kids are going to be there we will try and be there too.”

The South Coast AIME program aspires to facilitate youth engagement with their own Indigenous culture. “When I am in that room talking to these Aboriginal kids, I am extremely aware that they are the elders of the future,” she said. “That is an amazing and very humbling thing to be a part of. Anything I can do to support that is important to me, and it’s the reason I do this job.”

“We want to engage with them in a way that is different to the typical ‘classroom’ environment. They are used to that and we want to be different.”

According to Dr Carlson’s research, the advent of social media is facilitating a new way for Indigenous people to connect and express their heritage. “From my research every participant openly identities as Aboriginal and proudly displays this on their social networking sites in a variety of ways,” Dr Carlson said.  “Sites such as Facebook map kinship and keep Aboriginal people connected even when they are separated by distance.

“Some Aboriginal people are on a journey discovering more about Aboriginal culture and their identity and social network sites provide one avenue where this can be nurtured.”

For Johnstone, encouraging students to connect with their heritage, through her work with AIME, is about providing for the future. “We want to encourage these kids to be involved in their communities and to connect with their heritage and culture,” she said, “because the kids we are working with today are the leaders of tomorrow.”

Multimedia Reporter: Angelique Lu


Gallery: Indigenous Art auction at Wollongong Gallery

Multimedia Reporter: Lauren Markham


Audio: UOW Student Wins National NAIDOC Competition

Harry Alfred Pitt's award winning poster

Harry Alfred Pitt’s award winning poster

Nineteen year-old Harry Alfred Pitt, has just been announced as the winner of the 2014 National NAIDOC Poster Competition. 

His artwork was selected over 100 final entries to represent this year’s NAIDOC theme, ‘Serving Country: Centenary & Beyond’.

Harry is a second year Visual Art and Graphic Design student at the University of Wollongong, and now an award winner of this year’s National NAIDOC Awards to be held this July.

Of Torres Strait and Fijian background, Harry talks about the underlying theme of his artwork, and the experience of reconnecting with his indigenous culture.

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Multimedia Reporter: Roseanne Scott



Multimedia Reporter: Athena Bambaliaros