An Aboriginal Men and Youth Program position at Blue Mountains Council is set to be scrapped this month after state government funding has run out and no alternative funds appear in the offing.
Newly elected Greens councillor Kerry Brown, who raised concerns about the position going at her first council meeting in September, said it would be “tragic” if the role did not continue and council may need to step up to fund it.
“It was a great step for council to find three years of funding for a project dedicated to the well-being of local aboriginal men and boys who are a vulnerable section of our community.
“But it would be tragic if council does not secure ongoing funding, even if that means maintaining the part-time position from within its own resources while it seeks external sources,” Ms Brown said.
Jamie Murray, 46, who has 20 years experience working in mental health,had given his all to the three day a week position, regularly working longer hours than expected.
“I’m the only active Aboriginal youth worker the Mountains has had for the last three years,” he told the Gazette.
Projects have included multiple Aboriginal youth forums, a job expo, a three day Indigenous film festival attracting 500 attendees, a Boxing for Life program, art programs, wellbeing days on Country, a Black Lives Matter forum, photography workshops which led to an exhibition at the Blue Mountains City Art Gallery at the cultural centre and much more.
With his own tough background, Mr Murray has also worked closely with young offenders, trying to keep them out of jail after repeated brushes with the law.
“Every kid deserves a chance, some of them don’t have Dads [in their lives], have experienced domestic violence … they need someone to look after them. This was a program that understood that, it’s not to judge them and instead walk with them.”
Ms Brown said there was “irrefutable social and mental health benefits from the work Jamie Murray has done to build self-esteem, confidence and skills in Aboriginal youth and men. In the process, the project has provided opportunities through public events and festivals for the entire Mountains community to share and learn about the oldest living culture on earth. We are all enriched.”
Family and Community Services minister Brad Hazzard has indicated there is no more money for the role, which was created in 2012 after a funding application by council to assist Aboriginal men and male youth understand their social and cultural roles, improve their self esteem and resilience and work on developing role models through inter-generational mentorship. It also took into account the higher levels of incarceration and suicide in young Indigenous men in the region.
A council evaluation report from late August showed the program which had run for four years had “provided a number of successful projects over the duration … to produce some significant impacts”.
“The position helped address the needs of the Indigenous community by focusing on inclusive dialogue between support services and clients .. a major strength was the stability it provided for the co-ordination of service networks,” the report stated.
The report also stated there was a need for “ongoing cultural awareness and cultural training” to meet the needs of the Mountains’ Indigenous community and the need for a key Indigenous position to drive community engagement.
Australian Bureau of Statistics figures from 2016 show there are 1,324 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people living in the region, which is 1.7 per cent of the total population.
The matter is expected to be addressed at the next council meeting on October 25. Funding for the role ends on October 27.