A space to break down barriers

CFA’s involvement in a Morwell gathering place has helped build stronger relationships with the region’s Koori community.


Morwell’s community facility, The Gathering Place, is the first of its kind for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the Latrobe Valley.

The concept of a Gathering Place for the local Aboriginal community had been discussed for 20 years and was finally realised in 2017 after the Hazelwood Mine Fire Inquiry.

The facility provides a range of programs and services not found anywhere else in the region.

Managed by Berry Street, an independent Australian charity that supports young people and their families, the facility has become a critical space for community health and wellbeing.

CFA has been involved in the facility for two years and has staff available each Thursday during the facility's community lunch day to chat to people about fire safety.

Funding for the project was provided under the Valuing Volunteers program which provides opportunities for volunteers to identify ideas, initiatives and innovation that contribute to, strengthen and encourage volunteerism in Victoria’s emergency management sector.

Manager Volunteer Sustainability Kerry Laurie said the team shared information on a range of areas relevant to CFA including training, brigade support, volunteerism and recruitment opportunities, and community and fire safety.

“Being involved in The Gathering Place allows us to provide information to the local Indigenous community in a space where they already feel welcome and supported," Kerry said.

“There’s a real opportunity for us to support volunteer growth in Morwell district by engaging with younger Indigenous people, and in doing so improve the capacity of brigades.”

Manager of The Gathering Place, Berry Street’s Carolyn Whalan said CFA had been a great support to The Gathering Place.

“Having CFA people here has helped break down barriers and given our mob a familiar face to be able to approach and ask questions,” Carolyn said.

“Staff join in our community lunch day each Thursday and eat and yarn with community members.

“They were a bit shy at first to join in but one of our volunteers got them out with the mob serving food and talking and they were welcomed with open arms.”

Carolyn said The Gathering Place was a hub of activity and had grown quickly as demand for services increased.

“It’s become a culturally safe and social place for our people to come together, reconnect, source information, meet with different service providers or attend a program,” Carolyn said.

“It has established itself as a place of pride for the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community, and the community actively works to ensure its success. 

"It has led to significant healing for our people.”

This week is NAIDOC Week, held each year in July to celebrate the history, culture and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

Find out how CFA is celebrating

Author: Shaunnagh O'Loughlin