Speech by The Hon Jenny Macklin MP

Western Suburbs Gathering Place 5th Anniversary

Location: Western Melbourne, VIC


I wish first of all to thank Caroline Briggs for her welcome-she is a Bunnerong elder and a traditional owner of the land on which we are meeting today.

Tonight we celebrate a special anniversary – five years since the Western Suburbs Indigenous Gathering Place opened its doors.

Colleen, your’s is a remarkable story.

Raised in Augathgella, in southwest Queensland you moved to Melbourne in 1971, raising five children on your own.

As well looking for your family you were determined to look out for others, especially young people – working at Baltara Detention Centre as a youth worker for many years.

Then back in 2003, you realised that around 3,000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in western Melbourne were missing out on services and support.

Instead of waiting for someone else to do something, Colleen decided to do something herself.

But like many entrepreneurial people, she had a big idea but no money.

That didn’t stop her. She went directly to mainstream agencies and after some very persuasive talking they came on board.

Five years later, 700 people across Maribyrnong, Hobson’s Bay and the shire of Melton, Brimbank, Wyndham and Moonee Valley regularly use the Gathering Place.

They have access to a wide range of projects and programs . For example, the Reconnect Youth program-an eight-week program in secondary schools for Aboriginal students to reconnect to their culture through art, dance, music and games.

Then there’s the Parenting program- run by Centacare at the Gathering Place to help new and not-so-new parents develop and improve their parenting skills.

The Save the Children Mobile Playgroup has been a great success for the 0-5 year olds-an early intervention program used by hundreds of parents and carers.

And the medical and allied health and counselling services deliver a range of services including a diabetes educator, an audiologist from Australian Hearing, a speech therapist, and physiotherapist.

Also the integrated mental health services for children and young people, which targets young people up to the age of 18. That project is about to kick off next month, in partnership with the Royal Children’s Hospital.

Remarkably this has all been achieved in just five years.

Not only did the Gathering Place see a gap in services and fill it, it has set a new benchmark for Indigenous service delivery.

Central to your strength is your capacity to build relationships. Within and across communities, with government and with other Indigenous groups.

These relationships were cemented last year, with the signing of an agreement between 30 service providers, my own department, the Victorian Government, local councils and Indigenous peak bodies.

It’s aimed at achieving better health and wellbeing for Aboriginal people and their families in the area.

The goals you are working towards here in Western Melbourne reflect the ambitious targets the Australian Government has set to close the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.

And just as disadvantage is not confined to remote Australia, neither are our targets.

Seventy-six per cent of Indigenous Australians live in our cities, regional centres and country towns and many of their health and well-being indicators lag behind.

Compared with other Australians, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in Victoria are:

  • 13 times more likely to be incarcerated
  • 3 times more likely to have diabetes
  • much less likely to remain at school to year 12 with a retention rate of around 38 per cent compared with 80 per cent for non-Indigenous students.

That’s why it’s so important for governments to work in partnership with organisations like yours.

So we can work together to make a difference.

Like the difference the Gathering Place made for a mother who hadn’t seen her kids for nine years.

She left because she’d had so much trauma in her life and couldn’t cope.

The children stayed with their father. Nine years later she came back. But she had nowhere to live, no support network.

Colleen’s staff worked with mainstream services and found her a place to live.

Now she is reunited with her children and at last, life is back on an even keel for that family.

All of you who work to support the Gathering Place deserve our thanks for seeing a need and doing something about it- with an innovative, practical model that gets things done.

Congratulations to all of you.

Your first five years have been remarkable. I’m sure the next five will see you grow from strength to strength. I look forward to returning in another five years to share a decade of achievement.