Walgett is a remote town in north-west NSW on the Namoi and Barwon rivers, 650km northwest of Sydney. About 2,000 people live in the town and nearby villages of Namoi and Gingie, more than 50% of whom identify as Aboriginal.

The local Aboriginal community has great strengths including the strong advocacy and leadership of local Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations (ACCOs), and also faces a number of barriers which prevent families from thriving, such as water and food insecurity, high rates of youth contact with the justice system, disrupted connection to Country and culture, and a chronic housing crisis.

For the past five years, PRF has supported Yuwaya Ngarra-li, a unique partnership between the Dharriwaa Elders Group, a respected local ACCO, and UNSW Sydney working together over the long-term to improve the wellbeing, social, built and physical environment and life pathways of Aboriginal people in Walgett.

Prioritising the self-determination of the community, striving to make a difference with solutions that they knew would work, was a key factor in PRF’s decision to invest in Yuwaya Ngarra-li.

Following a development grant in 2018, PRF provided $5.3 million over five years to the partnership in 2020 with a specific focus on Youth Justice and Wellbeing, Water and Country, and Aboriginal Community Capabilities and Control. In 2023 PRF awarded a further $6.5 million to Yuwaya Ngarra-li to support their core operations and continue working towards their long-term goals for change.

Centred on the aspirations and priorities of Aboriginal people, Yuwaya Ngarra-li’s community-led, long-term approach is not only creating tangible change for the Walgett community, but also having a growing influence on government policy, university partnerships, place-based initiatives and the practice of community organisations.

“Since 2020, thousands more people have heard of the Dharriwaa Elders Group and our vision for change,” says Virginia Robinson, Secretary of Dharriwaa Elders Group.

“We have spoken up about the state of our rivers, of our drinking water, of governments failing to act to protect our community during COVID, about over-policing and homelessness in Walgett. And we have worked to build community-led and evidence-based solutions that create long-term change and that others can learn from.”

In youth justice and wellbeing, Yuwaya Ngarra-li’s Two River Pathway to Change model has enabled an effective community-led approach customised to the Walgett context that gives necessary simultaneous attention to working directly with children and young people, building and supporting community leadership and family engagement, and influencing and ensuring accountability of agencies and services.

The work to date provides evidence of the effectiveness of an ACCO-led model of diversion, with a significant reduction in Aboriginal children and young people from Walgett appearing in court to 7.8%, and 83 outcomes documented at the individual, Aboriginal community, place-based and systems levels since 2020 from this work alone. (Yuwaya Ngarra-li defines outcomes as actions by or changes for individuals, organisations, groups influenced by Yuwaya Ngarra-li, not activities or actions taken by Yuwaya Ngarra-li.)

“Since the Paul Ramsay Foundation first supported Yuwaya Ngarrali in 2018, each year has seen momentum and outcomes grow in anticipated and unanticipated ways,” says Associate Professor Ruth McCausland, UNSW Director of Yuwaya Ngarra-li.

PRF’s Head of Justice and Safety Dominique Bigras says, “The outcomes of the partnership tell a story of the deepening local and broader impact of Yuwaya Ngarra-li and represent significant progress towards Yuwaya Ngarra-li’s long term goals.”

This story first appeared in our 2023 Annual Review.