Foundation for Rural & Regional Renewal

A grant originally intended to help the Gong-Dal Aboriginal Corporation increase opportunities for the Gapuwiyak community in East Arnhem Land was partially diverted to help the community respond to COVID.

The FRRR Westpac Rural Communities Grant of $10,000 was originally intended for tourism business education and mentoring programs in the Northern Territory, to support the organisation in its capacity and capability as it embarked on a niche tourism venture. However, as 2020 unfolded, the organisation recognised that there was a more urgent need to support the community in managing and responding to the emergency that COVID had created.

General Manager Juli Cathcart said that half the grant was used to employ experienced facilitators to run workshops, develop resources and support community engagement with the Gapuwiyak and Homelands COVID-19 Dhäwu Ganamirr Mala (COVID-19 Both-Ways Community Engagement Group).

The second half was directed toward the original purpose and used for facilitating workshops, recording and documenting the Miriŋu Dhukarr – Warriors’ Walk – cultural tourism project.

The COVID-19 response group was formed by Yolŋu leaders to provide intercultural advice to government agencies and other stakeholders and ensure culturally safe and appropriate community engagement.

The facilitation included education and training for 15 local Yolŋu people about COVID and a Local Pandemic Action Plan and Outbreak Management Plan. It included key materials in plain English and Djambarrpuyŋu, the local Indigenous language, as well as ‘just-in-time’ advice and support for the local police, clinic and other stakeholders.

This work empowered 900 local Yolŋu community residents in Gapuwiyak and Homelands by giving them knowledge and understanding they needed to keep their families informed of COVID and the NT government responses.

“This ensured a highly responsive and culturally safe COVID Local Pandemic Action Plan, and directly contributed to the development of respectful and trusting relationships between local Yolŋu leaders and community members, and our stakeholder organisations and employees in relation to the local management of COVID and safety of Gapuwiyak and our Homeland communities,” Juli Cathcart said.

“Feedback received was that as a result of this work, local Yolŋu community members felt respected, well informed, heard, assured, secure and safe in a time of great uncertainty, which improved everyone’s quality of life. This work was also key in the development of trusting relationships between stakeholders and Yolŋu community members. The very high uptake of vaccinations in Gapuwiyak and Homelands (80% of eligible community members) compared to other Aboriginal communities and the rest of Australia in 2021 can also largely be attributed to this work. This is a potentially life-saving outcome in a community where chronic disease placed at least 60% of our population in extreme danger if they should contract the coronavirus.”

The second part of the funding supported the development of a museum and a Yolŋu cultural tourism initiative comprising a series of heritage trails across Arnhemland. They follow the foot patrols of the Miriŋu (Yolŋu warriors) who formed the first Northern Reconnaissance Unit with Dr Donald Thompson and defended the Northern coastline during WWII. A high-quality documentary about the Miriŋu Dhukarr Project will also to attract funding to enable the development of this Yolŋu cultural heritage trail and tourism initiative that is of huge local cultural and historical importance as well as of National historical significance.

It is also funding ongoing workshops to enable Yolŋu Elders and Leaders to work with both Yolŋu and Balanda soldiers and veterans, as well as young Yolŋu people to ensure the intergenerational transfer of important and endangered Miriŋu cultural traditions, stories, knowledge and skills.

In the East MacDonnell ranges of the Northern Territory, The Harts Range Amateur Race Club (HRARC) hosts a 73-year tradition – an annual bush sports weekend that attracts more than 2,500 visitors to this very remote community. It is one of few events that brings this extremely disadvantaged community together, to connect socially and facilitate community wellbeing.

The Club’s facilities are also used for Central Land Council meetings, consultations, and community events. But the canteen, which is run by Isolated Children’s and Parents Association, was in much need of repair. The Club received $10,000 through the Strengthening Rural Communities program, thanks to the support of the Tim Fairfax Family Foundation. They used the funding to purchase two domestic rangehood exhaust fans plus fittings, and for a roof spinning ventilator for over the BBQ area. In addition, they were able to attract in-kind support from other organisations, members and volunteers in the community, enabling a full upgrade to the canteen. Mark Coffey, the Club’s Public Officer, reported that the project brought together volunteers, most of whom live more than two hours away, local businesses and the Atitjere community for a project that will provide an improved working environment for the community for many years to come.

“For everyone, COVID-19 has made this year a challenge, so it was great to be able to form such a good partnership between HRARC, Scope and FRRR, which made this project so much easier to deliver especially for our volunteers. “We are proud that this kitchen upgrade will ensure a modern and more functional kitchen for years to come.”

Mark Coffey, HRARC Public Officer

The challenge of attracting volunteers to support charitable organisations serving the community is universal, but exacerbated further in remote communities where the potential pool from which to recruit helpers is that much smaller to start with.

This was the challenge NT Friendship & Support Inc (NTSF) faced when they received a grant from FRRR to help them with their volunteer recruitment drive. The group’s mission is to provide professional care and promote an accessible, inclusive and supportive community.

The organisation has a waiting list of vulnerable Katherine region seniors seeking to be paired with a volunteer to assist them, from attending medical appointments and support services, to simply joining them for a cup of tea and a chat. Community members access the service via a referral from a regional assessment team and to be eligible must be 65 year or older, or 45 years or older for Indigenous community members.

Katherine currently has three aged care facilities, all of which are at capacity, with the only other alternative residential aged care facility located 330 km away in Darwin. NTFS has 25 people on the waiting list, five of whom are a high priority for the service. These identified seniors are at risk of isolation and loss of independence. Research suggests that, whenever possible, it is important that people have the opportunity to remain in their communities, connected to country, and independent as long as possible.

NTFS had hoped to recruit and train ten new volunteers, and used the $4,090 grant from FRRR’s Small Grants for Rural Communities program, funded by The Yulgilbar Foundation, to run an advertising campaign to increase their volunteer numbers. Katherine has a transient population which includes the RAAF base at Tindal, and the town relies on families from Tindal to be able to fill vacancies of volunteer positions.

Sadly, the recruitment drive wasn’t nearly as successful as they were hoping, due largely in part to the low turnover of families at Tindal. Of the initial 13 people who registered their interest in volunteering with NTFS, for various reasons, this translated into only two new volunteers.

Part of the grant was supposed to cover the cost of National Police clearance, Ochre Card Cultural training and First Aid certification for up to ten people (the magic number they were hoping to recruit). NTFS found themselves with surplus funds, so after seeking approval for a variation to their grant agreement, they applied the funding to another of their initiatives, the Seniors Community Bus, to ensure Seniors are supported through the COVID-19 crisis.

With no public transport available in Katherine, this service enables the organisation to support Seniors in getting to and from local services and various medical appointments, unhindered by the cost of high fees on taxis when they are available. The bus adheres to social distancing requirements (5 passengers as a maximum in a 14 seater bus), with rigorous hygiene and disinfection control measures in place.

So while the NTFS team and volunteers are stretched to their limits, they continue to provide valuable and necessary services to marginalised and vulnerable members of their community.

A Strengthening Rural Communities (SRC) grant from FRRR, funded with the support of the John T Reid Charitable Trusts, helped enhance the availability of fresh fruit, as well as create more inviting, welcoming and cool streets in the remote Indigenous communities of Peppimenarti and Nganmarriyanga in the Northern Territory.

Home to the Rakpeppimenarti people, the region is inaccessible for five months every year due to annual flooding, and faces extremely high infrastructure costs due to geographic scale and terrain. It was independently measured to be the most disadvantaged in the Northern Territory, and the second most disadvantaged in Australia.

The West Daly Regional Council provides basic housing maintenance and essential municipal services to 13 homelands across 14,070 km2. While they work hard to provide high quality services to support the community, operating in a remote service delivery environment with limited financial resources is a challenge. However, they’ve identified that working with partners to improve service delivery and the quality of life for people in the West Daly region presents great opportunities.

In such extremely remote communities, food security is paramount – many of the homeland communities do not even have a shop and must travel vast distances for basic supplies. Fruit trees are a great resource in any community, as they contribute to support lifelong learning and education from Elders to young children, and promote individual and community health benefits in the form of delicious natural fruits straight from the tree, while enhancing and expanding the communities’ natural food resources.

They developed a project designed to engage community members in growing food and also create shady areas on the two homelands. In total, around 160 fruit trees and 45 shade trees were planted in designated public spaces near parks, ovals, and the local schools. The fruit trees selected included: lilly pillies, medlars, mulberries, custard apples, jaboticas, guavas, mangos and soursops. Shade trees included: native hibiscus, red coondoo, bloodwood and gum trees.

The Council used their $4,946 SRC grant to cover the costs of fruit trees and propagation powder, as well as contribute to freight – which accounted for more than 40% of the total cost of the project.

In Peppimenarti, the tree planting was done in collaboration with Peppimenarti School. About 50 trees were planted around the community with the assistance of Council Staff, CDP, Rangers, community students and teachers, totalling approximately 50 participants. A community barbeque was held after the tree planting to thank the participants for their support on this meaningful community project.

The Nganmarriyanga tree planting day was held in late December and was also a great success, with approximately 50 local men, women and children attending the activity. Trees were also provided to the residents of surrounding homelands such as Merrepen, Nemarluk, Nama and Wudapuli. 

The Council provided significant in-kind support via staff labour and travel costs, and also purchased hormone rooting powder, so that cuttings can be taken which will allow further plantings. They have also assumed responsibility for ongoing plant maintenance to ensure the sustainability of the project.

Through this project, community members will gain access to healthy food grown locally, experience increased food security, and improved local plant knowledge. Further, the engagement will bring a positive impact to community spirit and local shade amenity.

“West Daly Regional Council would like to acknowledge the significant contribution of Foundation for Rural and Regional Renewal and its Donor Partner – John T Reid Charitable Trusts for the grant funding for our tree planting in Nganmarriyanga and Peppimenarti; a meaningful project that highly benefits our Indigenous Australians in our remote communities.”

Kristine Matienzo, Grants Manager, West Daly Regional Council