24/7 youth centre: bridge between us and them?


p2549 24:7 centre crowd 660
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.
p2549 24:7 centre McCormack, Wakefield OKShe 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.
p2549 24:7 centre Thompson, Brown OKAnother 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.
p2549 24:7 centre Stephanie OK“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.


  1. “Her anger was around Aboriginal people not being invited into the forum to talk about Aboriginal kids.”
    There is the problem, not that people were not invited, as the invite was for everyone.
    The problem is not enough Aboriginal showing an interest in dealing with the issues.
    People with something to say need to get involved – don’t wait for a personal invite to rock up on your door.
    I’m tired of hearing about people not being consulted when there are public forums all over the place.

  2. Once again thank you Kieran for an excellent report, and thank you Janet, Steve and Wayne to their tremendous work.
    It was very disappointing to see that once again the project has been turned around to Aborigines like if they were the only children in town in need of a safe place to go night time.
    Doreen Carrol has all my admiration, but I would like her to tell us if she will be caring for children of different ethnicity, and why the Aboriginal grandmothers never invite the grandmothers of the town to their meetings.
    In the 70s mothers and grandmothers used to talked about children behaviour, but that was before all those different organisations were created. Doreen should be on the committee to represent the needs of her community, but not the only one.
    I also had the feelings that some speakers forget what was the aims of THIS WAY: “Welcome kids in, welcome their freedom to use the space how they will, with adult supervision.”
    And were more concerned about their positions Quote: “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.”
    I would have like to be able to ask him if those traumatised children were getting help on the streets at all hours of the nights.
    Some speakers insisted the children should have been invited to the meeting.Invited to what? to ask them what they want? What would happen then if we do not get premises for the drop-in centre? More hope and more let down?
    No one asked: “Do you love children, would you care for even the most difficult ones? I feel this is the most important requirement, followed by the love of our community – with an ochre card, naturally.”

  3. If this ever gets off the ground without being sidetracked about other issues, may I suggest that when sporting or other events are held in town the kids brought in from other areas are dropped off at this venue first, shown hospitality, taken to the event and then dropped back there at the end.
    Give them some bush tucker or other healthy food, show them what can be achieved by caring for others, show them their real culture, history and traditions and show how these can be part of their everyday life whilst also living within another.

  4. In response to James T Smerk: “People with something to say need to get involved – don’t wait for a personal invite to rock up on your door. I’m tired of hearing about people not being consulted when there are public forums all over the place.”
    Please give some respect to Aunty Doreen. While Im sure she wasnt’ waiting for a “personal invitation” why couldn’t someone give her a call.
    I’m pretty sure Aunty Doreen wouldn’t have access to the internet and read Alice Springs News Online or other forms of social media so how was she going to hear about this meeting?
    A simple phone call to her advising her of the meeting would have been easy and then she could have passed it on to the other “grandmothers” and other people by word of mouth – simple. I think you would have had a lot more “interested Aboriginal people” at the meeting if this happened. Just saying!

  5. @ Kumara :”Please give some respect to Aunty Doreen. While Im sure she wasnt’ waiting for a ‘personal invitation’ why couldn’t someone give her a call”.
    Aunty Doreen is a Luritja / Western Arrente grandmother our councillor Jacinta Price who looks after Aborigines’s issues, could have given her a call.
    Personally I called some of my friends, but they were all gone to The Top End for the memorandum of understanding (MOU) signed at Barunga Festival in the Aboriginal community of Barunga. But they are very interested in the project.

  6. Bridge the gap between the adults, ALL of them. (I include the pollies too but at times they are hardly adults.)
    Once that’s done the adults will at least be united in their approach to the youth issues.
    Fail to achieve that, everything is doomed for failure. Achieve that and great things can happen.


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