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It happened on the way to the forum
Story by John Jackson, Barmah brigade member.
Since the middle of this year, CFA has had a project running out of headquarters that aims to help brigades engage with diverse communities. Around about the same time that the project started, the CFA also committed to writing and adopting a Koori Inclusion Action Plan (KIAP). The KIAP is being developed by representatives from all CFA departments. It will include a range of strategies aimed at creating more inclusive environments for Aboriginal people within CFA.
In support of the KIAP, the Engaging Diverse Communities (EDC) team has been documenting current engagement between Aboriginal communities and the CFA around the state. Coincidentally, we met with some of the EDC team at the Community Engagement Forum which was held in Bendigo 2013.
The Barmah brigade - like many other small brigades across the state - is always trying to recruit more members because the population in rural areas is slowly decreasing. As brigade members, we understood that the actions aligned to the KIAP would help us attract more members from the Aboriginal community. So we raised our hand and let the EDC team know that we were on board. And so our story started at one forum and on the way to another!
Even though the KIAP is in the very early stage of development, its objectives seem fairly defined, but path is yet unmapped. This is what the EDC project members are helping with. By looking at what’s occurring around the state and helping to strengthen and support these initiatives, the EDC team can take this information back to the CFA to inform the way the KIAP is developed. Most of the time the Barmah Brigade has been in existence, we’ve had Aboriginal members. Over the last five years or so the brigade has had a junior’s brigade and since the very early days we have had Aboriginal kids taking part in its activities. So our brigade seemed a perfect case study for the EDC team.
Now it happened, that two celebrity’s form the Lake Tyers Trust brigade down in Gippsland were headed for a forum in Wodonga about Indigenous Use of Fire. Deb Salvagno, one of the EDC Project Coordinators suggested to the Lake Tyers ladies that they might like to make a detour to Barmah and we would organise a BBQ. We could all then sit around the table and talk with Barmah's brigade members and other Aboriginal community members.
As all good CFA people seem to be able to do, we cooked up the BBQ a treat and then sat around the table and talked. The discussions were quite amazing. There was no agenda, no chairperson, no judgement and certainly no minute taking. There was active listening, respect, consideration, informality, humour and only one person talking at a time.
We started off explaining why Barmah had become involved with the EDC and also talked about the aims of the KIAP. As the conversation flowed, the following points of interest were raised by Aboriginal members in attendance.
To ensure that local to local relationships are formed, each brigade needs to make contact with local Aboriginal folk or a peak organisation in their area and of course this can vary across the state. The Barmah brigade learned who they should contact early on, and in our case those people have changed over time.
The ‘Koori’, in the ‘Koori Inclusion Action Plan’ should probably be replaced with either ‘Aboriginal’ or ‘Indigenous’ as Koori refers to Aboriginal people who live on the south coast of Victoria and the east coast of NSW; so the term is deemed incorrect in the Barmah context as it is for other parts of Victoria.
CFA is behind the eight-ball with regard to knowledge about culturally significant sites on Aboriginal country. Some of the other agencies such as DEPI are way ahead of us on this. There needs to be cultural awareness training for CFA members so we get a greater understanding about Aboriginal culture and history.
An Aboriginal elder in attendance suggested that CFA adopt a program in line with Caring for Country. Of all the matters raised, Caring for Country raised the most passion.
Quite a bit of the discussion focussed on youth. As with most kids these days, many young Aboriginal youth have lost their sense of respect for their elders and many around the table though that CFA might be able in some way help youth regain their sense of respect.
After wholesome and lengthy discussions, the conversations and points made were given the tick of approval and deemed a good starting point for the development of further relationships between our brigade and the Aboriginal community locally. Deb from the ECD team also said she’d take the information back to the KIAP Steering Committee and the KIAP Advisory Group so that everyone was kept informed about what local Aboriginal communities are suggesting.
Other suggestions from brigade members included running a large type of Forum in partnership with SES and Police to determine the best way to recruit, retain and recognise Aboriginal members. And also workshops should be run by professionals and lay folk with expertise.
What has started to happen in Barmah could be developed as a Pilot Project. It should be appraised down the track to its effectiveness. Incentives could be offered to Aboriginal participants that joined the brigade after a year's service or so
Importantly, the CFA needs to review its funding of the juniors program, especially when there are Aboriginal participants in remote areas. For juniors to be occupied they need activities and these activities cost money. In the midterm many juniors go on to be seniors so it is a good economic investment.
After all the rich and relaxed conversation had finished, the dishes washed and the BBQ cleaned someone commented, "It happened on the way to the Forum".