Forum’s focus on ending suicides

Daryna ZadvirnaNarrogin Observer
More than 60 people attended the Narrogin and Surrounds Aboriginal Community Consultation.
Camera IconMore than 60 people attended the Narrogin and Surrounds Aboriginal Community Consultation.

Narrogin’s Aboriginal community came together last month to voice their concerns, discuss mental health, and call for change in the region.

The Narrogin and Surrounds Aboriginal Community Consultation hosted more than 60 people at the John Higgins Community Centre, including elders, community members, and representatives from health organisations across the State and Australia.

The four-hour forum heard the community’s concerns, among which were poor health and support services in the region, and ongoing high rates of suicide, with many making emotional pleas for change.

South Regional TAFE Aboriginal development officer and Noongar man Laurence Riley organised the event and said there had not been a meeting like it in years.

“Basically it was held in response to the inadequacy of services, particularly related to suicide prevention, mental health and primary health care services,” he said.

“A lot of the services that exist in town, are not able to cater for that long, progressive counselling and support for families or people that are going through mental health issues and suicidal ideology.”

Mr Riley said part of the issue was being managed by three State regional boundaries, and government agencies not responding or being accountable to each other.

“It’s been trickling on since our first suicide 20 years ago and then we had the suicide spike in 2007-2008, when those seven or eight young men within Narrogin, Pingelly and Wagin took their lives,” he said.

National Indigenous Critical Response Service case manager Tina Hayden, who attended the meeting, said there was a funeral almost every week from someone taking their life in the area.

“We’re all related so it’s not just their loss — even though it’s their son or their daughter or grandson — it’s our loss because it’s still our family and they would have made an impact on our lives in some way,” she said.

Elder Nolda Williams, who was also present at the meeting, lost her son to suicide when he was 18 years old.

“It’s something you’ll never get over,” she said.

“I don’t want to see any more kids lose their lives.

“I want to see something happen, something they can do, somewhere they can go.”

Mr Riley said an Aboriginal medical service was the best opportunity for a wraparound service for families within these communities.

“They can provide social and emotional wellbeing and access to counselling, and their care management is done more effectively,” he said.

Mr Riley said the Aboriginal Health Council of WA had been given the lead role by the WA Primary Health Alliance to look at a transition of State Government services.

“We’ve all made the agreement and established thereference group now through Thirrili,” he said.

Thirrili and the National Indigenous Critical Response Service provide direct emotional and practical support to families and communities affected by suicide or another traumatic event.

NICRS chief executive Adele Cox said she was delighted with the number of community members who took part in the forum.

“I think that confirmed the absolute support and commitment from the community to look at taking these issues into their own hands and finding local solutions,” she said. “As a national service, it was heart-warming to come see such a turn-out and hear those conversations.

“While they were not always pleasant and some of the conversations that had to be had were hard, I think there was a showing of respect from everyone that attended.”

Ms Cox said it was great to see the Shire of Narrogin, including chief executive Dale Stewart and president Leigh Ballard, at the forum, and she hoped they had taken the opportunity to listen and take active initiative.

“We heard many ideas and very simple and practical suggestions from the community, which don’t take a lot in terms of resources,” she said.

The forum was led by Laurence Riley.
Camera IconThe forum was led by Laurence Riley. Credit: Daryna Zadvirna

AHCWA, WAPHA and NICRS were also joined at the meeting by the local Kaata-Koorliny Employment and Enterprise Development Aboriginal Corporation, as well as Life without Barriers.

KEEDAC chief executive Leanne Kickett said the community was frustrated as the same issues had been addressed for the last 20 years but there had been no real outcomes so far.

“Funding has been allocated to certain services but we haven’t seen a result, there hasn’t been a different outcome,” she said.

“I think it has made us realise that we need to work together to make this change.”

Mr Riley said he spoke to the Commonwealth in 2015 about the opportunity to establish new Aboriginal medical services in the Narrogin region.

“Government’s response was ‘We don’t have the dollars so at this point of time we won’t be establishing any new Aboriginal medical services’,” he said.

“So what they’ve been doing is using existing resources and dollars to be able to expand into different regions.

“But since then (Minister for Indigenous Australians Ken) Wyatt has accused metropolitan services of neglecting rural and remote Aboriginal communities, hence why we’re kind of taking the lead to try to establish some services.”

A report on the forum held earlier this month was planned to be drafted and released to the community for a review, Ms Cox said.

“I’m hoping that as a part of this process we can get commitment from the State Government and I know that Minister Wyatt has certainly highlighted that he’s certainly for community-driven approaches and solutions,” she said.

“So hopefully, the report that comes out of this will be something that is listened to.”

Mr Riley said although change would be slow, it was definitely in progress.

“I think people are ready for change,” he said.

“People are ready to combat this division and just start moving forward as a community.”

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