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Narrogin’s strong change

In 2008, the Noongar community in the Western Australia town of Narrogin was devastated by a series of suicides. In response to the crisis, local leaders in the Narrogin Aboriginal Community reference group rallied to help families who had lost loved ones. A community forum was held and Aboriginal psychologist Darrell Henry was invited to come to Narrogin to provide urgent counselling services.

The group also requested government support but no state or federal funding was forthcoming. Desperate for culturally appropriate psychological services, the community turned to Oxfam Australia for help. In response, Oxfam Australia committed emergency funding to provide a multi-layered approach to healing and advocated for better support. An example of this was Darrell Henry working with individuals, families and the community and Tom Calma (previous Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner) advocating for greater support in Narrogin.

Signs of change

There are promising signs of healing. In January 2010, Oxfam Australia was invited by the reference group to conduct a four-day photography workshop for 15 Aboriginal young people. The workshop was designed to teach photography basics and give young people the tools to tell their own stories.

At the photographers’ request, Oxfam Australia helped to facilitate an exhibition of their work. The exhibition, Morditj Warniny (strong change) opened at Western Australia’s parliament house on National Close the Gap Day in March 2010 and has since toured to Perth and Narrogin. This increased the political capital and will of politicians to support issues occurring in Narrogin.

In February 2010 the federal government announcement a $1.5 million grant over three years to fund culturally appropriate mental health services in Narrogin. Oxfam Australia welcomes this commitment. Oxfam is now working with the South Western Aboriginal Medical Service (SWAMS) to provide healing programs to communities in this region and the south-west of the state.

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