Sixteen years on, the heart of the Mt Theo Program remains cultural rehabilitation/ respite and strengthening of young people through the care of Warlpiri mentors, carers and elders. This occurs at the remote Mt Theo Outstation located 160km northwest of Yuendumu, focussing on young Warlpiri people suffering from the effects of a wide range of personal problems such alcohol, solvent and cannabis misuse, self-harm, domestic/family violence and other criminal or anti-social behavior.
Many of our clients are now referred to us through the justice system or by the Northern Territory police, Community Corrections, NT Family and Children’s Services and non-government organizations.
The total of 43 clients cared for at Mt Theo Outstation marked an increase from the previous year due primarily to an increase of young clients from the wider Warlpiri region. Within Yuendumu we have found that as our community based preventative, diversionary and aftercare projects strengthen many clients can be cared for appropriately within the community context. Twenty-three percent of all client referrals were from the greater Warlpiri region – 9% from Alice Springs, 7% from Yuelamu and 7% from Tennant Creek.
Of the 43 clients referred to the outstation 30% were alcohol related, 16% cannabis related, 16% petrol/solvents, 7% Domestic Violence, 9% assault/violence, and 74% breaking in/ criminal activity.
It is significant that there were no recorded incidents of petrol sniffing in Yuendumu, Willowra, Nyirrpi or Lajamanu this year we’re Mt Theo runs diversionary programs. All clients referred to Mt Theo for petrol sniffing/ solvent misuse were from other Warlpiri communities.
Forty-eight percent of clients were referred to the outstation by Yuendumu Police, through youth diversion, 4% by CAYLUS, 25% by the Department of Community Corrections and 14% family/community/self. Not included in this data is that the outstation has also been used by several young men who voluntarily go to Mt Theo for several days just to ‘cool down’ or seek temporary respite.
Outstation activities blend culture, recreation, health and maintenance. Hunting, tracking, cooking traditional food, traditional painting, fire-making, and story telling as well as trips to significant sites provide an environment not only for cultural strengthening, but also a non threatening forum to engage in discussion about the problems they are working through. Other recreational activities including basketball, football and music happen on a daily basis.
Clients are offered a range of workshops run by external agencies from both Alice Springs and Yuendumu to assist in their recovery. This year workshops were held on nutrition, no-smoking/ health promotion, art (by visiting volunteers from Warlukurlangu Art Centre), and a day long Legal education workshop run by CAALAS (Central Australian Aboriginal Legal Aid Service).
Three day country visits organised by Yuendumu School included our clients. Elders, teachers and young people spent time at significant sites and helped prepare clients for re-engaging with school. Yuendumu Police visited the outstation on one occasion continuing their support to and relationships with referred clients.
Clients participated in a week long Warlpiri Ranger Camp at Mt Theo, learning to monitor and record information about threatened species and fire management to promote habitat growth.
Two dancers from Incite Youth Arts spent a weekend at the outstation teaching hip hop, providing opportunity for clients to express themselves through dance.
Relationships with agencies and services in and outside of Yuendumu have continued to strengthen this year. Of particular significance is the development of a solid connection with Tennant Creek. Many young Warlpiri people were engaging in solvent misuse (petrol sniffing/ glue/ spray) in the area, and several have now participated in the outstation program. ADSCA (Alcohol and Other Drugs Service of Central Australia) is the main liaison point for this relationship along with Tennant Creek Police and client families. Peggy Brown, outstation carers and community elders visited Tennant Creek and Ali Curung this year to strengthen both client and agency relationships.
Whilst at the outstation all clients are case managed and case files are maintained by Mt Theo Outstation Coordinator and updated through regular contact with the outstation. As part of an individual’s exit strategy, participation in youth activities in community is recorded, and Jaru Pirrjirdi and Warra-Warra Kanyi mentors monitor their well-being. With youth workers in Willowra, Nyirrpi, Lajamanu and now with strong relationships with agencies in Tennant Creek, we can offer better aftercare opportunities to clients returning to those communities. Our experience shows that consistent aftercare assists in strengthening clients to re-engage with their families in a stronger, more positive way.
A significant factor in the Outstation’s ongoing success is the unique identity of the Mt Theo Program within Warlpiri youth culture, and the broader Warlpiri community. Warlpiri youth refer to Mt Theo as a ‘life-saving’ place, where young people are safely and appropriately looked after in a ‘proper’ Warlpiri way. Young people will strongly encourage their at-risk peers to go to Mt Theo as a safe and supported environment for dealing with their problems, and occasionally refer themselves to Mt Theo for respite care. Furthermore, young people from Yuendumu, regardless of their own personal issues, are enormously proud of the fact that their community have effectively dealt with a problem as significant as widespread petrol sniffing, and facilitated a healthy youth culture where sniffing is not acceptable.
Despite this pride in Mt Theo, the deterrent or punitive element of the Outstation remains strong. The ‘punishment’ of sending a young person to Mt Theo constitutes for that young person a community-sanctioned penalty for at-risk behaviour through appropriate and powerful cultural means. Our experience shows that the most effective measure for eradicating or positively modifying at-risk behavior is the active censure of these behaviours from within the Warlpiri community.
The Outstation program is funded by the Department of Health and Ageing (Office of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health; Drug Strategy Branch),and the NT Department of Health and Families. The Attorney General’s Department funds care of clients through CAYLUS.