The Mt Theo Program
Warlpiri Youth Development Aboriginal Corporation (WYDAC)
Since 1993, the Mt Theo Program has dedicated itself to developing strength, health, meaningful pathways and leadership in Warlpiri youth. The sustainable, and notable, success of the program is based on the support, strength and character of Warlpiri youth and their communities, and the outstanding dedication of its staff. The program was created by and for Warlpiri people, and is governed by a Committee of 62 Warlpiri people. The program is based out of Yuendumu Community.
The Mt Theo Program is comprised of :
- Jaru Pirrjirdi Youth Development (incorporating Yuendumu Youth Program)
- Warra Warra Kanyi Youth Counselling and Mentoring Service
- Yuendumu Community Swimming Pool
- Yuendumu Mechanic Training Workshop
Mt Theo Outstation
- Mt Theo Outstation Cultural Respite and Rehabilitation
- Willowra Youth Development Program
- Lajamanu Youth Development Program
- Nyirrpi Youth Development Program
The Mt Theo Program was started by Yuendumu Community in 1993 to address chronic petrol sniffing in Yuendumu. The program has since broadened in nature and scope to provide a comprehensive program of youth development and leadership, diversion, respite, rehabilitation, and aftercare throughout the Warlpiri region.
Elders of the Yuendumu Community initiated the program, with additional support from local organisations. The program and community successfully fought petrol sniffing through a dual approach. The first step was the movement of those sniffing petrol to Mt Theo Outstation, some 160km from Yuendumu community. At Mt Theo Outstation, Yuendumu elders cared for the youth, as part of a cultural rehabilitation program. The second step was the introduction of a comprehensive 7-day Youth Diversionary Program in Yuendumu so that the youth would be engaged, interested and challenged by activities outside of school hours.
In 2003 and the advent of no petrol sniffing in Yuendumu (before Opal fuel) the Jaru Pirrjirdi (Strong Voices) Project was also started to extend on the basic services of the youth program. As distinct from the ‘sport, recreation and entertainment’ focus of the Yuendumu Youth Program, the Jaru Pirrjirdi project broadened its focus towards a full youth leadership and development service. It is primarily concerned with the development of meaningful pathways and leadership through strong project focuses on education, training, culture and career pathways for Yuendumu youth aged 16-25.
In 2004-5 the Mt Theo Program began working closely with the Willowra Community and its Elders, after an outbreak of petrol sniffing. As with Yuendumu, this involved sending ‘at risk’ youth to Mt Theo Outstation and the development of a comprehensive youth program in Willowra. This approach managed to end petrol sniffing in Willowra, and the youth program not only continues successfully but has broadened to incorporate more of a development, training and education focus.
In 2007 the Warlpiri elders of Kurra Aboriginal Corporation requested that the Mt Theo Program initiate youth programs in Nyirrpi and Lajamanu communities, through the Warlpiri Education Training Trust (WETT). This began in Nyirrpi in late 2007 and Lajamanu in mid 2008. These programs have been provising consistent, engaging and successful diversionary youth program since that time. The WETT project also provided additional funds for the Yuendumu and Willowra youth programs. As with the Yuendumu progams, these programs were necessarily initially focused on a basic and reliable youth program service that is now being grown towards a broader and more comprehensive youth development and leadership approach. Most notably these Outreach youth programs incorporate a partnership with PAW Media with a particular focus on youth media training.
As of 2008, Mt Theo Outstation has taken over 500 young Warlpiri clients from over 14 different communities, including Alice Springs. These clients are all Warlpiri youth and predominantly from Warlpiri home communities. These clients pass through the cultural rehabilitation program and ideally return to the active community youth programs or Jaru Pirrjirdi project. Clients may present with any ‘youth at risk’ issue, not just for petrol sniffing or substance misuse, and are referred by Community Elders, Police and Corrections.
In 2009 this client service was augmented by the creation of the Warra Warra Kanyi Counselling and Mentoring service. This service is based in Yuendumu Community and grew out of the strength and care consistently shown by Jaru Pirrjirdi mentors in Yuendumu to at risk Warlpiri youth. Their knowledge, and care, for young at risk Warlpiri family has now been harnessed by a professionally qualified team. This ensures a skilled, prevention and client care program in Yuendumu and a crucial aftercare link between Mt Theo Outstation and Jaru Pirrjirdi. This service is currently only available in Yuendumu but as with other programs it is hoped that it too can be extended to the entire Warlpiri region.
The Mt Theo Program has challenged a generation destroying itself through substance misuse. Strong community action created an environment for healthy change, and that same generation now accepts that it is totally uncool to sniff petrol. This work has broadened greatly over the last decade beyond the initial crisis of petrol to the crucial underlying demands and motivations of Warlpiri youth.
The work will never be over and new challenges, risks and opportunities have arisen for youth in Warlpiri communities. The Mt Theo Program works to facilitate the profound strength and capacity of Warlpiri youth to meet these challenges. The key aim of this partnership between the Mt Theo Program, Warlpiri youth and their communities is the facilitation of positive and meaningful futures for them as individuals and their families, community and culture at large.
Johnny Miller and Senator Bob Brown meeting in Canberra 2005
The program is predominantly funded by the Office of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health (O.A.T.S.I.H) and the Warlpiri Education Training Trust (WETT) Kurra Corporation. More information is available on the ‘Supporters’ web page.
This website was a Jaru Pirrjirdi project funded with assistance from the Alcohol Education & Rehabilitation Foundation.