Voices Issue: 

Awabakal YOUTHVISIONS is a collaborative strategy developed to give voice to some of the issues facing Indigenous youth in the Awabakal and wider communities of Australia. The Awabakal community is situated in Newcastle, New South Wales on the east coast of Australia. It is a unique community because it has become one of the main meeting places for indigenous peoples from all over Australia.

The Australian government (and its agents and multinationals) are still oppressing our peoples through deliberate acts and omissions that aim to generate profit or greater political power over indigenous communities. At one level this involves the exploitation of our lands, waterways, and resources with little benefit returned to people on the ground. Many youth continue to suffer from the legacies of physical and psychological removal from their communities and families and still face barriers when seeking out cultural knowledge and access to their traditional lands and sites. Indigenous youth voice must be strengthened in order for strategic and effective inheritance of community responsibility to take place. Strategic community collaboration is needed to support this process through the strengthening youth voice and by building alliances within the local community, as well as stimulating the maximization of community resources.

A number of exciting grassroots initiatives are aimed at promoting voices of indigenous youth in Newcastle. Participation at the Second Session of the Indigenous Peoples Permanent Forum at the United Nations (May 2003) was identified as a critical step in building greater understanding of other Indigenous community youth initiatives.

We conducted a workshop as part of the side events within the Permanent Forum. The workshop involved presenting a short documentary titled ‘Awabakal YOUTHVISIONS, Intervention Report Brief’ and facilitating of a talking circle. The documentary provided an overview of the history of the Awabakal community and discussed key Indigenous youth initiatives including the School to Work Orientation Program (SWOP), the Experienced Hands Project and hip-hop music therapy workshops. SWOP was set up to assist Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students from grades eight to ten in transitions from school to work. Class sessions revolve around topics such as "I can do it" and "What is work."

Experienced Hands aims to strengthen the ties between our Indigenous Elders and Indigenous Youth. By dealing with the major issues affecting the relationship between these two groups we have been able to setup and maintain a healthy basis for positive change. The program includes arts and crafts work shopping, fishing groups, mentoring groups and different celebratory events. Indigenous elders, youth, preschoolers and members of community with special needs are all involved in the project as well as non-Indigenous guests. An Awabakal community advisory committee was formed to be the driving force behind many of the Experienced Hands projects. Members on this committee have been chosen from a wide range of age groups, ensuring all age groups are represented. The committee meets on regular occasions to discuss the issues facing the Awabakal community today. The discussions are shared between all members and it is protocol for all present to listen and respect the opinion of whoever is speaking. Working with the lessons taught from the past we are focused on building the much-needed respect our elders deserve. Music therapy involves the use of hip-hop as a medium of expression that develops confidence and a sense of community and personal identity. This initiative has incorporated multiple strategies aimed at enhancing youth expression and understanding of issues involving culture, identity and positive living. These workshops have involved Indigenous youth of all ages and from a number of different communities (often rural/remote) in New South Wales.

A key component of the whole initiative involves taking a message back to the Awabakal and wider community about the Permanent Forum. In the form of a brief documentary as part of a new media enhanced workshop presentation, we hoped that this independent media strategy will form part of an ongoing strategy that enhances community voices and understanding of the outcomes of the Permanent Forum and other Indigenous forums.

Collaborators: Astro Brim (Murri) Arwarbukarl Cultural Resource Association Incorporated, Joel Wenitong, (Murri) Indigenous Health and Education Unit, University of Newcastle,, and Jason De Santolo (Murri) based at Umulliko, Indigenous Higher Education Research Centre, Wollotuka, School of Aboriginal Studies, University of Newcastle,, and Ray Kelly (Goori) from Awabakal Co-Op.