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Boggabilla centre dedicated

July 8, 2024

Yaama.” The word rang out across a large hall located within a small Aboriginal community in Toomelah, NSW. It was being warmly spoken by Aunty Elaine and means “hello” in her people’s traditional Gamilaraay language.  She was bestowing upon us a Welcome to Country, which included a respectful minute of silence.

Now we had truly arrived.

It was 8am on a chilly Saturday morning in June, 2024.

Drug ARM’s Board of Directors and a group of senior staff – 19 of us in total – had travelled almost six hours the day previous to visit Drug ARM’s Goondiwindi, Boggabilla and Toomelah teams in the northern NSW and Queensland border region.

Coming from all over Brisbane and surrounds, the group had set out by bus from Ipswich and followed the Cunningham Highway, coasting beneath vast blue winter skies and through pastoral lands, stopping only once at a service station.

The purpose of the visit was to celebrate the dedication of the Winangalabaa ‘Place of Knowledge’ Centre, a Boggabilla property that Drug ARM’s parent Foundation had recently purchased.

For about seven years, Drug ARM has been delivering supports from the leased centre but its purchase now provides the team with a greater sense of certainty around their program’s future. The acquisition was very welcome indeed.

The early morning Welcome to Country received in the Toomelah Community Hall was followed by a simple yet delicious breakfast.

It was not the first time our team had cooked and served breakfast for a large group.

It’s what they do regularly to ensure children in the community have something hearty to eat before attending school. Winangalabaa’s breakfast program offers a cooked breakfast to pupils at local schools two times per week in Boggabilla and once a week in Toomelah.

Aunty Thora explained, “We do bacon and eggs, fruit, spaghetti – the kids like it.”

Our teams work closely with school communities to provide these practical supports, delivered “outside the school gate”. As well as the breakfast program, activities include provision of packed lunches, shoes and stationery, and family and cultural support.

After breakfast, we were taken on a guided walk to a sacred site. We were met at the outset by a random cattle dog, happy to lope alongside.

Drug ARM’s Reg led the tour along the the river flats to the Canoe Tree – a large river red gum with a scar on its side. We learned that canoes were crafted from its bark and that a video had been made of it. An online reference to this video can be found in this bio here

Afterwards, it was back on the bus to the Winangalabaa Centre for the dedication ceremony.

The centre sits on the edge of a main road in Boggabilla where semitrailers roar pass, oblivious to the wonderful work and compassionate care taking place within its walls.

The small centre has that typical country-style appeal with lavender growing just off its doorstep, a cute swinging gate, freshly painted white façade and a narrow-ramped porch.

The minute you step inside, you feel that sense of welcome, that sense of “yaama”.

Polished floorboards meet walls painted in soft hues of green and blue. A hall takes you from a waiting area, past reception and office spaces to a kitchen and out into the embrace of a huge, peaceful backyard.

It could be anyone’s sprawling backyard in rural Australia – with covered back porch, spread of lawn, impressive firepit, low hanging branches of flowering wattle laden with bees, and tall, silent ancient gums.

One of the guests, found by the firepit (far left in picture below), was Drug ARM Clinical Worker, Wei, who works out of our nearby Goondiwindi office – just 10 minutes’ away.

Wei has been working in the region for seven months, having applied for the role after completing volunteer work at our Drug ARM Ipswich office.

“One of the highlights of working here is the engagement I have with community,” he said. “It took some time to gain their trust but now I feel accepted. I’ve learned so much from them, especially about their traditional culture.”

University qualified, Wei provides free alcohol and other drug counselling, and while he often counsels from his office in Goondiwindi, sometimes he will walk with a client along the banks of the Macintyre River in Boggabilla. If so inclined, the session will also involve a spot of fishing and they’ll drop a line.

Despite the river being stocked with Yellow Belly, Wei said it could be very slow going to catch anything, yet what he’s likely to catch is a long yarn… “they open up and tell you your story and we go from there.”

Back at the event in that backyard, the dedication ceremony was about to get underway.

All settled in, fire pit blazing, refreshments laid out, the ceremony commenced with Aunty Elaine’s Welcome to Country followed by Aunty Dawn’s stirring prayer.

Drug ARM’s Executive Director/CEO Brad Strong then gave a short speech commending the work of the centre’s team. Presided over by three Aunties, Aunty Elaine, Dawn and Thora, he joined them in the official proceedings – a ribbon cutting, a cake cutting, and the presentation of a plaque.

And so, the centre was dedicated and acknowledged for the years of providing a place of healing and wellbeing, a place of support, friendship and yarning and respite to the people of Boggabilla and surrounds.

As the team’s manager (pictured above far left), Greg said at the ceremony: “I’m proud of our team (seen standing to the right).

I’m proud of all the work that they’ve done. If you were to see the difference our teams make, the smiles on the kids’ faces, you’d understand, you’d get it, you’d get why it is so important our work here in this region continues.

Drug ARM wishes everyone a Happy NAIDOC Week 2024.


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