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This article has been reproduced from FAMILY MATTERS no.35 August 1993, pp.48-49

Woorabinda Aboriginal Council

Ian McGregor-Dey
Personnel Manager, Woorabinda Aboriginal Council

Woorabinda (an Aboriginal word meaning the place where the kangaroo sits down) is a thriving Aboriginal community about 170 km south-west of Rockhampton in Queensland's central highlands.

In 1927, when the community was established, the people of Woorabinda had no prospects and no future; the majority of inhabitants collected social welfare. In the mid 1980s things began to change. In 1985 the town's population of 600 elected, for the first time, a five- member local Council. Today the population of Woorabinda exceeds 1600 and is growing.

Woorabinda is emerging from the almost non-existent profile of its time as a reserve into a community with a reputation for development and self-management, much of which is due to its involvement in the CDEP scheme. (See elsewhere in this issue Barry Smith's discussion of the Aboriginal Employment Development Policy.)

Community Employment

In 1987 the Woorabinda Council introduced the CDEP (Community Development Employment Projects Scheme) into the community with 161 participants, the vast majority of whom had never worked before. Participants in CDEP now total 520, divided into some 50 work gangs. Some two years ago Council employed a specialist Personnel Manager, Ian McGregor Dey, to implement and control an Award structure for all CDEP workers.

A long-range Strategic Plan was commenced, to galvanise a dormant workforce into one with a sense of pride and self- esteem, andworks programs were designed for the town's CDEP participants in a way which supports major projects as well as recurrent activities such as the upkeep of parks and gardens, fencing, painting, cleaning and garbage collection.

The installation of two major infrastructure projects - the water-borne sewerage system and treatment plant and the new water supply - have coupled outside expertise with the CDEP workforce. A service road for the pipeline to the new artesian bore 15 km away, plus the construction of a two megalitre water reservoir, used CDEP labour to assist the outside engineers and tradespeople. Although the CDEP contribution to such infrastructure projects is limited to labouring, Woorabinda's apprenticeship system is one way of tackling the problem of skills development.

In the apprenticeship scheme there are ten apprentices undergoing training through CDEP in trades such as electricians, diesel and motor mechanics plus plumbing, carpentry, painting and decorating who work in various maintenance gangs which over the past five years have transformed the community's older housing stock of some 100 houses and maintained the heavy earth-moving equipment.

Other CDEP workers are employed as teacher's aids and various school and pre-school positions, and in market gardening, switchboard and general office positions.

The current big infrastructure project being completed at Woorabinda is the sealing of the town's roads and the provision of kerbing, channelling and drainage. A proposed new Shopping Complex, Hospital, Ambulance Station and the newly-completed Youth Centre and Home Detention Centre for juvenile offenders will contribute to community aspirations as the Swimming Pool, Community Hall, Day Care Centre and the 'Yumba Binda' Aged Persons Hostel have done already. Each of these projects used some of the CDEP workforce.

'Nugga Nugga Designs' studio at Woorabinda, designs screenprints and markets a wide range of articles from cloth bags and T- Shirts to highly sought after Aboriginal paintings for customers all over Australia. The CDEP operation here is coordinated by Sister Nora and Sister Mary from the Order of The Sisters of Mercy. Mrs Racaquel Triffett supervises the running of 'Gumbi Gunyah', a Women's refuge in Woorabinda which also employs CDEP personnel. Sister Annette supervises the newly formed Drug and Alcohol Centre.

As yet, the only real commercial operation in the community is the Woorabinda Pastoral Company which is controlled by the Council and includes Foleyvale, Zamia Creek, Sorrell Hills, and Duaringa Stations properties, plus the recently purchased Stoney Creek property which now gives the Woorabinda Council control of some 42,500 h.a. A large number of CDEP workers are employed on the properties as station hands and boundary fencers.

An illuminating perspective on Woorabinda's CDEP operation is the regular Thursday morning meeting of project supervisors and work-gang leaders. The meeting reviews the progress of each gang, sets targets for the coming week and assesses the need for materials and equipment. It also coordinates the work of work gangs attached to major projects. Grievances are aired, the performance of workers discussed, and new participants are allocated work to one of the gangs. The importance of accurate time sheets is stressed to all participants.

Woorabinda's payroll system is coordinated by Paymaster Rob Sims; the Accounting Section is assisted by four CDEP workers who are receiving on- the-job finance training from the Council's Finance Manager Bob Thomas and Senior Accountant Sef Fatiaki.

Mr Terry Munns, Council Chairman since 1986, states that the future direction and long-term success of Woorabinda's CDEP, which is widely recognised as amongst the best in Australia, will depend on the level of funds which the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC) can attract to support worthwhile projects under the program. Says Chairman Munns: 'We are determined to see that, whilst our Community has CDEP, it will be a success.'

Appendix 1

CDEP

The Community Development Employment Projects (CDEP) scheme is a program provided by the Government for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders living in remote, isolated, rural and urban areas. It is administered by the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC). The scheme provides the opportunity for meaningful local employment in various community development or organisation projects as a positive alternative to continued reliance on welfare payments. These projects allow a community, organisation or group to convert its unemployment benefit entitlement into a basis for productive employment. The nature of the scheme means that employees are predominantly paid only as part- time, casual or contract.

Appendix 2

Their arrival at a place called Woorabinda was inauspicious. The year was 1927, and Aboriginal people from the old Reserve at Taroom were moved to Woorabinda to make way for the building of a dam which is yet to be built.

Those first people who had been transported to an inhospitable area were joined by several hundred other Aboriginal families from Hopevale. During the Second World War, aboard cattle trains and without food for three days, they arrived at their new home. The conditions were different, harsh: 97 died.

These early men and women, and children, formed cheap labour for surrounding properties and even for the Government's own properties. Unemployment was rife and housing was almost non-existent. Few outsiders were aware of the low-profile Woorabinda community.

This changed with the election in 1985 of the Woorabinda Aboriginal Council which identified aims, devised strategies to meet the challenges, and set a path to create a community of which all could be proud.

Woorabinda now has a hospital, community hall, day care centre, primary school and the Wadja Wadja High School. There is a hostel for the elderly and a six-lane swimming pool.

One of the major aims has been to provide an equality in the standard of living conditions for all its 1600 residents.

Another has been to provide full-time employment for all those residents who are seeking such employment . . .




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