First Australians are among the most disadvantaged people. They have a lower life expectancy, poorer health, lower education levels and lower employment rates. In fact on most life-affirming measures they are near the bottom, while on negative parameters like domestic violence and rates of imprisonment they are near the top.

For many years governments both state and federal have been funding a range of programs aimed at improving the lot of Aboriginal people. Though well intentioned these have often been short-term and not always well supervised. The outcomes, at best, have only been small improvements in well-being.

Finding reasons to explain the poor outcomes for the descendants of the First Australian requires looking at the history of European settlement in Australia – or should that be invasion? The decision by the British in 1788 to locate a small settlement on the east coast of Australia was influenced by pressing issues at that time. Britain had recently lost the American colonies and was intermittently at war with the French. An economic depression had sent the crime rate up, and they were looking for somewhere to send petty criminals – those guilty of more major crimes were hanged – and they wanted to claim new lands that were suitable for free settlers, before the French.

Under very little consideration were Australia’s original inhabitants. To the British these appeared to be backward and primitive people who still used stone tools, were nomadic, made only flimsy dwellings and had no agricultural skills or domesticated animals.

The rest of the tragic story is well known. Europeans brought new diseases, occupied the best hunting lands, and used firearms to murder countless Aborigines – something that still happened well into the twentieth century. The rich and complex culture Aborigines had developed over 50,000 years was shattered by the deaths of many and the dislocation of the rest. Adding further to the destruction of their cultural life were the Christian evangelisers who were given carte-blanche to run missions and control the lives of the Aborigines in some of the more remote parts of the country.

In recent decades some headway has been made in assisting Aboriginal people to help themselves. This has been achieved by having Aboriginal people run the programs specifically for their own mob, as they would put it.

One such organisation committed to improving the lives of Aboriginal women and their families is the Aboriginal Family Violence Prevention & Legal Service Victoria (FVPLS). They have been running programs and providing legal advice since 2002. While they receive funding from both the federal and state governments these can be variable from year to year, making forward planning more difficult for the officers at FVPLS.

HSV has therefore recently committed support for a program, Koori Women’s Hub, being run by the FVPLS aimed at improving the lives of Aboriginal women. The committee hopes members will endorse this action and also independently make personal donations to this worthy cause.

The FVPLS has been running programs and providing legal advice since 2002. While they receive funding from both the federal and state governments these can be variable from year to year, making forward planning more difficult form the officers at FVPLS.

HSV is supporting a new program, Koori Women’s Hub. The long-term vision of this program is:

  • to be a cultural retreat offering Aboriginal women the opportunity to have time out in a culturally safe environment;
  • to be a centre for networking and community activities, hosting events, strengthening relationships and developing referral pathways;
  • to be a one-stop shop for Aboriginal women to access legal and support services across a range of agencies;
  • to extend our capacity as a resource centre providing cultural awareness training and advice for the sector;
  • to provide new opportunities for employment and traineeships of Aboriginal staff, and
  • to be a state-wide resource, building on the FVPLS Victoria model of the head office in Melbourne which currently resources regional offices in Warrnambool, Mildura and Bairnsdale.

Rosslyn Ives

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