Reconciliation News October 2022

Edition 48 of Reconciliation News brings you stories of community-driven success, excellence and self-determination; in Indigenous-led organisations, sports, schools and in Government.


After two years of last-minute disruptions, postponements and pivots, the winners and highly commended organisations of the 2022 Indigenous Governance Awards were finally announced at a Gala Dinner on Wednesday 8 June.

Judged on innovation, effectiveness, self-determination, sustainability, and cultural legitimacy, the winners epitomise Indigenous led excellence. In particular, finalists were commended by the judges for demonstrating profound resilience in the face of lockdowns and restrictions, adapting to protect their communities, as well as continue their work in the toughest of circumstances. 

The following organisations – Aboriginal Health & Medical Research Council Human Research Ethics Committee;
the Koling wada-ngal Committee; South Australian West Coast ACCHO Network; Brewarrina Local Aboriginal Land Council; and Wungening Aboriginal Corporation – were all either winners or highly commended in their categories, and their stories encapsulate self-determination and community control in action.

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Some members of Brewarrina Women’s Business group: L-R Tracy Gordon, Charlotte Boney, Narelle Renalds, Belinda Boney, Courtney Boney, Denise Renalds, Urayne Warraweena and Natalie Boney. Photo: John Reidy


The Koling wada-ngal Aboriginal Committee (Highly Commended, Category 1 – Outstanding examples of
Governance in Indigenous led nonincorporated initiatives) was established in 2013 in response to a lack of cultural support services in the City of Wyndham in the south-west Melbourne.

The Koling wada-ngal vision, an Aboriginal Home in Aboriginal Hands, is what shapes the corporation’s strategic
plan embedded in its six cultural pillars. The pillars – Country, Culture, Community, Individual, Organisation
and Wider Community – provide cultural standards for non-Aboriginal people to help them work with the corporation.

They aim to increase staffing to assist with community programs, including health clinic pop-ups run in partnership with local Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations, Koori Kids playgroup sessions, working with the Victorian Aboriginal Child Care Agency (VACCA), and hosting Treaty Talks with the First Peoples Assembly of Victoria.


The Aboriginal Health and Medical Research Council Human Research Ethics Committee, or AH&MRC HREC, (Winner, Category 1 – Outstanding examples of Governance in Indigenous led non-incorporated initiatives) was established in 1996 to ensure all Aboriginal health research in NSW was conducted in an ethical and culturally safe way, with the aim of improving health outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples across the state.

The committee’s 18 voluntary members – a diverse mix of Aboriginal health professionals, community members and doctors – assess research proposals from around the state to evaluate both the potential benefits and harm to community.

The Committee’s work goes beyond assessing research, however. It also provides cultural training opportunities
for researchers, medical professionals and other HREC’s in NSW. The Committee is also working to establish an online library of all papers they have reviewed, giving Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisations (ACCHOs), First Nations researchers and students access to ethical research that may have otherwise been inaccessible.

Community-focussed governance in ACCHOs around NSW is another area they plan to focus on through cultural governance training sessions.

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AH&MRC HREC Community Representatives, Uncle Danny Kelly and Aunty Rochelle Patten, sitting in front of the ethics committee’s 25th anniversary artwork by Aunty Rochelle. Photo: Abe Byrne-Jameson


Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have consistently fought for ‘land back’: the return of lands and waterways stolen during the invasion of this continent. This has been an unbreakable demand reiterated across generations.

This lack of progress has not daunted the BLALC (Winner, Category 2 – Outstanding examples of governance in
Indigenous-led small to medium incorporated organisations), and it has continued to make significant progress in providing a voice for its community and acquiring land for cultural, economic and social benefits.

Today, an Aboriginal community board once again drives the organisation’s priorities and policies under a community-first approach, and it now has six full-time staff members.

Last year BLALC acquired ownership, with the Brewarrina Shire Council, of the former Yetta Dhinnakkal
minimum-security prison at Gongolgon. In one of the largest acquisitions of land in NSW land rights history, 7,288 hectares of land associated with the former prison was bought for one dollar from the government, and is now owned under freehold title by the BLALC with ownership of the prison complex itself granted to Brewarrina Shire Council.

Among other economic opportunities being explored by the land council is the development of green energy
on their considerable land holdings adjacent to Brewarrina, however given current uncertainty about tax breaks and other financial incentives around the renewable energy sector this idea is still in the research stage.
The Brewarrina Local Aboriginal Land Council and the community it serves have their eyes firmly on economic selfdetermination and a move away from poverty and welfare dependency.


As the COVID-19 pandemic swept across Australia at the start of 2020, and lockdowns became the order of
the day, governments scrambled to find accommodation for thousands of people experiencing homelessness.
Those living on the streets were suddenly found beds in empty motels. Some letter writers to newspapers even
hopefully suggested that COVID-19 may lead to the end of homelessness in this country.

According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare in the year 2020-21, 51% of homeless people in Western Australia were Aboriginal compared to 28% nationally. With a public housing waiting list of 33,000 (up from 9,156 in June 2020), West Australia’s problem with homelessness appeared almost insurmountable. Into this space stepped the Wungening Aboriginal Corporation (Winner, Category 3 – Outstanding examples of governance in Indigenous-led large incorporated organisations), determined to bring an Aboriginal-led solution to providing Perth’s rough sleepers with better opportunities.

Over time Wungening has expanded its operations to reflect the complexity of the challenges they face, and
now include domestic and family violence, incarceration, housing, and family welfare.

Boorloo Bidee Mia (BBM) was set up as part of the State Government’s All Paths Lead to a Home: Western Australia’s 10 Year Strategy on Homelessness 2020–2030 to address the issue of homelessness in Perth
and provide support to rough sleepers to transition through BBM into longer term accommodation.

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Wungening’s Boorloo Bidee Mia program is designed and led by Aboriginal people and informed by the rough sleeping community. Photo: Richard Wainwright/AAP Image


Despite the opportunities offered by the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) to improve the lives of people with disabilities, access to the scheme for First Nations people is falling far short of their needs.

The exclusion of First Nations people from Government funded services is not a recent phenomenon. More than 50 years ago the Redfern Aboriginal Medical Service – Australia’s first Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (ACCHO) – was born in Sydney, driven by the exclusion of First Nations people from mainstream health services. In 2018, the South Australian West Coast ACCHO Network (SAWCAN) was born (Highly Commended, Category 1 – Outstanding examples of Governance in Indigenous led non-incorporated initiatives).

South Australian Aboriginal communities shared these frustrations of lack of access and fought to establish their own ACCHOs. Today there are five Aboriginal controlled health services on the state’s west coast, providing professional primary healthcare to First Nations people in the region.

This new voice in the South Australia disability sector has been critical in improving services to regional and remote Aboriginal communities. With an estimated 45 per cent of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people living with disability or long-term health conditions, this is long overdue. While Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are 2.1 times more likely to be living with disability than other Australians, their access to NDIS services has not reflected this need.

This edition of Reconciliation News is all about the importance of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community control in action. Download the full PDF or read the full edition online.