By JULIUS DENNIS
In a town where discussion of crime perpetrated by youths often seems to be the only reason to have a conversation, a program that has a proven track record of succeeding with troubled kids is having trouble getting the full support of council.
Jason Lord, the founder of the Arrernte Community Boxing Academy (ACBA) says that despite ongoing discussion, the council has yet to find the boxing club a building to operate from, despite having an agreement to do so.
The ACBA sees roughly 300 participants weekly through the doors of their current ill-equipped location.
That location, down a thin driveway on Kennet Drive, is in an industrial area. The only indoor area is cramped, and while they make do with what they have, Mr Lord says that the training spot is too small and “hard to find.
“If we get good numbers, we can only have so much inside and you’ve got to take most of your training outdoors where there is no shade.
“We want to be like a type of a hub, we are a hub at the moment — we get a lot of kids that come down that aren’t engaging in the fitness program as such — we do provide that ‘home’ style feel.
“If we were in a bigger complex, they were thinking of giving us something that could house 50-plus, that was the deal, that in itself would make things a lot smoother.”
The ACBA also says that in a larger, indoor location, more flexible hours for workouts and training could be easily organised. With a bus, they could provide transport to and from the gym for participants.
The deal Mr Lord refers to was struck with council when Kim Sutton was Director of Community Development, and would see the ACBA move to a larger location on Speed Street.
“That looked like it was going to move pretty fast. We were meeting back then with Kim Sutton, she was the person in charge of the youth development area,” says Mr Lord.
Around that time, on November 23, 2020, the News reported that Ms Sutton recommended council enter an MOU with the ACBA and find a suitable council-owned base in time for the summer holidays.
While the deadline of school holidays was never on the cards, Mr Lord says that negotiations were in full swing by February before Ms Sutton’s sudden departure from her council role after less than six months.
“We met with her one day, kind of formally / informally, we had a meeting at the council and I emailed her a couple days later to say ‘we’re happy to take the space they kind of offered us,’ and I got an email bounce back saying she no longer works there. So that was strange.”
Overall, Mr Lord still maintains that “the council has been really good” to the ACBA, but that “if you don’t bring things up and let them fall by the wayside, they’ll fall by the wayside”.
So the onus falls on Mr Lord and the ACBA to keep council engaged, meanwhile he is busy running a volunteer driven program that requires seven days a week attention while also working a salaried job.
Mr Lord says: “If the town or the council wants things to happen, or things to move in the direction that they’d like, they need to be a bit better for the programs that are really trying to give it a fair go.
“With the issues in town, and I think that’s something we’re willing to provide as much support from our end with the youth diversion side of things, we want to be that program that they utilise.
“We’ve got the skills to talk to these kids, we’ve got the knowledge, we’ve got the background. If it’s an Aboriginal issue at the moment, utilise Aboriginal people. So, we’re happy to step up to that mark.”
With interest in the program coming from all over Central Australia as well as engagement from the Territory Government and NT-wide services, it is unclear why one of the most successful, affordable and — perhaps most importantly — already operational programs, is being let go by the wayside by the council.
“We’re ready to roll, we want to get more deeply involved,” says Mr Lord.
Council has been contacted for comment.