Mt Theo Outstation
Established in 1994, the flagship of the Mt Theo Program is still the provision of cultural rehabilitation and strengthening of young people through the care of Warlpiri mentors and elders. This rehabilitation occurs at the remote Outstation, 160km northwest of Yuendumu.
The Outstation focuses on young Warlpiri people suffering from the effects of a wide range of personal problems. Alcohol and cannabis misuse, self-harm, domestic/family violence and other criminal or anti-social behaviour (such as drink-driving and property damage) have been articulated by the Mt Theo Committee and the Warlpiri community as constituting the most serious issues currently affecting the health and well-being of their young people.
From its beginnings as a program for recovering petrol sniffers, the Outstation has expanded its focus and expertise to accommodate young Warlpiri people suffering from the effects of a wide range of personal problems. Alcohol and cannabis misuse, self-harm, domestic/family violence and other criminal or anti-social behaviour (such as drink-driving and property damage) have been articulated by the Mt Theo Committee and the Warlpiri community as constituting the most serious issues currently affecting the health and well-being of their young people. The police, Community Corrections or other government and non-government organisations now regularly refer clients to us.
All clients typically spend their day in a blend of cultural and recreational activities. Hunting, tracking, cooking traditional foods, traditional painting, fire-making, story-telling, and 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.
They play football and basketball and participate in workshops that range from music to health promotion. This year special activities included song-writing and recording, landscaping and solar power maintenance.
We are currently developing a partnership with NT Open Education to deliver school at the Outstation, and Warlpiri Rangers to instigate an ongoing land management program for clients.
All clients are case managed during their time at the Outstation, and on return to the community. Case files are maintained by Mt Theo staff and updated through regular contact with the Outstation, participation in youth activities in the community, and Jaru Pirrjirdi mentors. With Youth Workers now in Willowra, Nyirrpi and Lajamanu we can offer better aftercare to clients from those communities, however it is often difficult to provide follow-up for clients returning to Alice Springs. Where possible, staff negotiate with families and agencies to encourage these clients to remain in Yuendumu for several months after exiting Mt Theo to allow appropriate aftercare through the Youth Program and Jaru Pirrjirdi mentors. Our experience shows that this intensive aftercare assists in strengthening clients to re-engage with their families in a stronger, more positive way.
Mt Theo Outstation within contemporary Warlpiri Culture
The distinctive identity of the Mt Theo Outstation within Warlpiri youth culture, and indeed among the broader Warlpiri community, is a significant and contributing factor in the program’s ongoing success. Warlpiri youth widely express a perception of Mt Theo as a ‘life-saving’ place, where young people are safely and appropriately ‘looked after’ in a ‘proper’ Warlpiri way. This can be clearly observed in the way that young people themselves 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 even 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 has so effectively dealt with a problem as significant as widespread petrol sniffing, and facilitated a healthy, petrol-free youth culture.
This pride in and respect for Mt Theo among Warlpiri youth does not negate the deterrent or punitive element of spending time at Mt Theo. Being sent to Mt Theo is still very much a ‘punishment’ in the minds of Warlpiri youth. However the ‘punishment’ of sending a young person to Mt Theo for substance misuse, domestic violence or anti-social and criminal activity constitutes for that young person a community-sanctioned penalty for these behaviours through appropriate and powerful cultural avenues. It has been the experience of the Mt Theo Program that the active censure of these behaviours from within the Warlpiri community is by far the most effective measure for eradicating or positively modifying them. This is the essence of what Mt Theo uniquely and effectively achieves.
The Outstation program is funded by the Department of Health and Aging (Office of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health; Drug Strategy Branch), and the NT Department of Health and Community Services. The Attorney General’s Department funds care of Community Corrections clients through CAYLUS.