By KIERAN FINNANE
Last night’s well attended first public meeting about a proposed 24/7 community youth centre will not be as important as the second meeting when we see who has signed up to take the concept further.
Organisers Steve Brown, Wayne Thompson and Janet Brown had managed to draw into the room many of the right people, who at least were listening.
Minister for Territory Families and Children Dale Wakefield was there, together with people from her office and the Department of the Chief Minister. Members of the Town Council were there. Senior people from Congress.
Importantly, many representatives from the youth sector were present and spoke up. They know a lot more than most about what such a centre would involve, given their daily contact with the young people on everyone’s minds.
Fortunately also, Doreen Carrol nee McCormack had turned up. An Arrernte Luritja woman, mother, grandmother, great-mother, she was angry but she was there. Her anger was around Aboriginal people not being invited into the forum to talk about Aboriginal kids.
Of course, to an advertised public meeting everyone was invited but there had been no specific contact with the very relevant local Grandmothers Group, of which she is a member. They have been particularly vocal around the issues of youth detention.
She revealed that members of the group, including herself, had just been to Canberra to talk to Minister for Indigenous Affairs Nigel Scullion about an idea apparently very similar to the organisers’. They have also spoken with Ms Wakefield. And they too have their eye on the Memo Club premises as a facility for Aboriginal youth.
Left: Doreen Carrol nee McCormack, Minister Dale Wakefield, public servant Leon Tripp who coordinates youth services.
“We’re the Aboriginal people, we need to care for them,” she said.
Mr Thompson avoided becoming defensive: “We would seriously like to talk to you and continue this conversation,” he told her.
More than one speaker later suggested that people should fall behind the Grandmothers Group and support them, take their lead in the process. Mr Thompson acknowledged the obvious “synergies” and hoped to follow up.
The initiative inevitably had its knockers. Immediately following Mrs Carrol, Graham Tjilpi Buckley told the organisers it was a failure before it had even started because there were no kids in the room.
More constructively, youth worker Carly Kennedy suggested another meeting be held with young people.
Mr Thompson said kids have been spoken to, referring to a youth survey in a 2006 report by Tangentyere Council researchers into a previously operating youth centre: “The wheels fell off, I’m here to put them back on,” he said.
That was 11 years ago, Ms Kennedy noted, and young people change.
Youth worker Rainer Chlanda agreed it is crucial to capture the youth voice and this is where the youth sector could help: with “strong trusting relationships” they could survey youth views, prompt the kids to get them involved.
This suggestion was repeated by a youth worker from Tangentyere Council who suggested a team of youth workers could create a bridge to the young people.
Mr Chlanda commended the organisers’ intention to create the centre as the “coolest place in town,” but asked, “Who knows what that is for kids of this background?”
“Let’s keep the conversation going,” he said, but urged that the concept not become “prescriptive”. It should rather “welcome kids in, welcome their freedom to use the space how they will, with adult supervision.”
The centre also shouldn’t compete with existing services that do things well, he said. He was referring, in this instance, to suggestions that retired teachers be involved with educational initiatives within the centre, such as helping kids do the necessary learning to get a driver’s licence.
This is exactly the sort of thing done and done well by St Joe’s Flexible Learning Centre, he said.
A man urged people not to get bogged down in detail, but focus on how to get a facility first.
Another youth worker, Tamara Cornthwaite, although she expressed disillusionment with the way the meeting was going, invited organisers and anyone interested to come down to the Meeting Place this afternoon, where it might be possible to talk to young people “in a place they feel comfortable in”.
Right: Mr Thompson at the microphone, Janet and Steve Brown.
The Meeting Place is the mostly volunteer-run youth centre operating over the last two years out of a shed behind Adelaide House. Ms Cornthwaite said she had seen nothing but “positive impact” from that space “on the youth, the way that they treat it and treat us and each other”.
Its doors will be open from 3-9 this evening.
Dave Price urged an end to the bickering. He said the initiative was “bloody wonderful” – the sort of thing he’d heard Aboriginal people and kids ask for over decades.
“Unless as a community we start thinking about these kids as our kids, we’ll have a problem,” he said.
A woman challenged the meeting on its “philosophy” – was it about reducing crime or about reconciliation? She raised by way of example the issue of the Aboriginal flag being flown from Anzac Hill.
This was the only time Mr Thompson tried to shut a speaker down – he didn’t want the meeting sidetracked. She continued with a question about the lack of Aboriginal housing – a drop-in centre might not be required if that were attended to.
Mr Thompson tried to refocus the discussion: the input he and Mr Brown were looking for was specifically about a drop-in centre, a safe place and a place where children want to come.
The meeting then heard from Tangentyere Council’s Andrew Walder. He applauded the organisers for their proactive initiative. He pointed out, however, that Tangentyere and ASYASS are about to open a drop-in centre at 3 Brown Street.
“Is it 24/7?” asked Mr Thompson.
No, said Mr Walder, and for a very good reason. There is always a need for crisis accommodation for children but he believes in, as does Tangentyere, “the primacy of the family”.
They wouldn’t want a service staying open to midnight or later on a Monday: they want their children at home so they can go to school the next day.
It’s important to consult with parents, families, communities, and hear what they want, he said.
Mr Thompson said he was talking about kids who don’t have family.
Mr Walder continued. Working with trauma affected children is very specialised, he said. Work needs to be from a trauma-based lens, otherwise it is “just a bunch of activities”.
So he would come on board to give advice? asked Mr Thompson.
“Absolutely,” said Mr Walder.
A woman, Stephanie Charles-Bowhary (left), followed up, challenging the speakers of various points of view on why they hadn’t got together to date to build a 24/7 drop-in centre. Finding the building now is the priority, then ask kids what they want, she said.
She criticised the room for being “aggressive” and “oppositional”: “I’m sorry, I’m on my soapbox, you all get off yours and do something!”
Doreen Carrol got to her feet again, responding to “the young lady”, her remarks ending with, “Aboriginal children are our children.”
“Well, look after them then!” hurled Ms Charles-Bowhary. It was likely she was referring to parents who neglect their children; it was unfortunate that the comment was directed towards Mrs Carrol of all people who has looked after so many children – not only her own but many others, as is well known.
Although Steve Brown at the start of the meeting had called for an end to “us and them”, it doesn’t take much for it to come to the surface.
A man attempted to shift onto a more positive note, suggesting that the resources of the room be put behind the grandmothers – “then all of us don’t have to argue because it’s their kids.”
“That’s brilliant,” said Mr Thompson, “It’s what we need, to be collaborative … but not just the grandmothers because it’s not just Indigenous kids.”
As the meeting closed, he and the Browns were warmly applauded for their efforts. They had spoken of the initiative being community-led but run like a business. They called on Territory businesses and instrumentalities to get behind them – from Centrecorp (to make available the Memo Club premises) to Power and Water (to provide power and water).
Mr Thompson, who runs a bus company, said he would be donating a 21-seater bus to the initiative. He also said his company was looking at providing an opportunity to a young person leaving juvenile detention. He hoped other businesses in town would look at doing likewise.
The trio have “trademarked” their concept “This Way”. It won’t be an easy way, it will probably be a long way, but there seemed to be enough positive energy in the room to make it, hopefully, a good way.