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We don't have 'clients'. We have kinship connections - by Ngwala Willumbong

Ngwala Willumbong Aboriginal Corporation

An Aboriginal flag painted on an old, off-white wall.
We acknowledge the traditional custodians of the lands where we all work and live and pay our respects to Elders past on whose brave shoulders we stand, Elders present, and the emerging Elders of the next generations across the Kulin Nations. We extend that respect to all traditional owners across Country and acknowledge that sovereignty was not and has not ever been ceded. This always was, and always will be Aboriginal land.

The experience of Homelessness across a First Nation’s landscape is not akin to any other community. The overwhelming overrepresentation in the data sets is almost normalised for the wider community of First Nations People experiencing homelessness. There is a distinct disparity for us as Aboriginal organisations working toward ending homelessness within the same communities in which we live and work. We push through despite fearing the loss of our people every winter, of our Elders who become unwell, our youth who do not have equal opportunities for education, and how this will go on to impact our future generations.

We do not have ‘clients’. We have community members, we have kinship connections, and we have family units who engage in our services. The cultural responsibility to the community we serve sets us apart from non-Aboriginal organisations and service providers; this responsibility holds us to a level of account beyond funding agreements and client targets, reflecting a much deeper service that we provide our community. As we all struggle to provide adequate services to those experiencing homelessness, we are reminded of the ongoing impacts colonisation still has on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

Let’s remember Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are warriors, survivors, and storytellers. They are the First Nation people of this land, and Aboriginal culture has survived for over 60,000 years. We are the original custodians (protectors) of these lands where we all work and live. We hold the honour of being a part of the oldest continuous living culture in the world, a culture rich in spirit, song, dance and kinship, where the sisterhood and brotherhood are so strong in that we have a belonging, we have Elders, Aunts and Uncles, who share their wisdom and youth who listen with their hearts. It is calmness and pride amongst the heaviness of inequality.

Street art, Fitzroy, 2023.

So, what can you do?

Our services offer a space where you can be informed and where you can learn from our community. You can be a champion and join with our mob to create spaces for First Nations people to be comfortable in and safe places that promote rest for the most tired within our society. Lend your voice to the community, be a change maker when you see disparity, and lead by example. If your workplace doesn’t prioritise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, then make the change and be an ally. Be a part of history as it is happening.

Annually, we observe NAIDOC week, National Reconciliation Week, Sorry Day, Mabo Day and other community observance days - celebrate with us. Get involved, lend your voice, and join our communities for these important moments. Always commence your meetings with an Acknowledgement of Country and honour the connection between the traditional owners and their sacred lands. Walk gently and respectfully in all spaces.

Next steps,

We have had many successful partnerships with non-Aboriginal agencies across the Homelessness and wider sectors of community services. Many of you have been allies in supporting our people and providing resources to support their wellbeing; for this, we thank you.

There is still a way to go. Remember that we do not hold the lion’s share of resources needed to meet the needs of the community that your agencies do, but it is a work in progress, and we need your ongoing support. With our guidance and knowledge and your commitment to lasting change, we can achieve the outcomes that we have all been working towards. This is one more small step in the right direction. 

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