National Reconciliation Week Breakfast

I am very honoured to have been asked to talk about my and Northcott’s journey of Reconciliation, with our community partners Nepean Community and Neighbourhood Services.

It was four years ago that a group of us, from the then Penrith Northcott Office, attended the Reconciliation event here at Kooly. We wanted to show our support for Reconciliation. I think there were 5 of us, including Cindy and Michelle, who like me are still with the now called Nepean area.

My program is ‘Support Networks’ and I had recently joined Northcott to implement this newly funded program. Essentially the program was to promote inclusion of children and adults with disability in our community, building on the work of other workers in other programs.

Following the Reconciliation event I talked with Carolyn about doing something together to try and reach children and families in the Cranebrook community. From this we developed a formal written Memorandum of Understanding which was signed by both agencies.

During the past four years we have extended what we initially agreed upon to do to a wide range of capacity building and social inclusion activities. These include:

  • Monthly Family Fun Afternoons once a month during school term. We started this here at Kooly and moved this to Braddock Primary School about 18 months ago, entering a formal agreement with the school.
  • One off activities including movie/picnic day, music workshops, pamper mornings, night at the Opera House to see Bangarra Dance Company and Christmas parties.
  • Participating in many activities run by NCNS including NAIDOC Week, ATSI Children’s Day, Children’s Week, Sorry Day, Reconciliation Week, Cranebrook Estate Christmas Party, Kingswood Park Easter Parties and I’ve lost count of the number of sensory tents we’ve done!
  • Contributing to the Aboriginal Speech and Language Playgroup with Penrith City Council and NCNS, with particular thanks to Kate Mclntosh, our Speech Therapist.

What I want to really highlight is why I think our relationship has been so positive and truly reflects the intent of Reconciliation: What’s needed?

Commitment: as individuals and as a team, staff at Northcott and NCNS have been willing to actively support all the things mentioned above. Support means the doing, which is, helping out practically and physically being present. Willing to help with what I call the non-glamourous tasks: the shopping; the food prep; the cleaning up; the transport and the general running around.

Seeing each other do these things builds trust and respect and acknowledgment that behind every activity or event is a lot of background work. You also have to love working with people and being willing to reflect on your own, and your agencies, values and judgments about Aboriginal people.

Management Support: I have had a number of Managers along the way including Chris Barron, Amanda Dawson and now Michelle Westwell. All of these Managers actively supported what we were and are doing with NCNS. They were and are interested, where possible they have attended events, allowed staff from other programs to participate, supported my internal advocacy when required and importantly allowed me flexibility with my program budget. I have always felt that NCNS has had similar leadership and management support from Joy.

Flexibility and willingness to try: Along the journey we have tried different activities and approaches. Some have worked, some not, but we always keep going and adapt and review as we do so. We have developed a sincerity and honesty between individual workers that enables us to have frank and open discussions.

Learning: I have learned so much about Aboriginal people and their history and experiences. I believe all of us who work with NCNS and come with an open mind cannot fail to learn. Sometimes this can be confronting, but as a worker and as an organisation, to move beyond the rhetoric you need to listen, learn and adapt practice to meet Aboriginal cultural needs. I feel having a positive relationship with staff at NCNS provides me with a cultural brains trust.

Before ending I want to take the opportunity to thank two Northcott staff in particular, Mat
Cornwell and Rose Smith, Senior Early Linker. During the time Mat was Northcott’s ALO he worked on the ground to support the work we did, attending many activities and working systemically to make things happen. Mat helped build and consolidate the relationships between our organisations. Rose has been along for much of the journey, always pitching in, helping set up and pack up. Without her Northcott’s relationship would be diminished.

It has been a wonderful journey with NCNS, in particular with Carolyn and Zoe, full of fun, laughter, learning and friendship. Reconciliation for me means I have a special place in my heart for NCNS, for all the knowledge and wisdom I have gained there and the friendships I have made. Reconciliation is a continuing journey for me.

Sue Butler

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