Community practice work, through its method of collective action, is a process that involves empowering and mobilising communities to drive social change and achieve cooperative objectives. The following essay will analyse the utilisation of community development frameworks and approaches in the case study ‘Dubai on Country Camp’, whilst simultaneously exploring the context, method and outcomes of working within the community of the Wi-abul/Widjabul people.
Through an analysis of the case study, it is evident how imperative the context of the Nimbin Indigenous community was in shaping the various practice approaches. In shaping the practices used, it is fundamental to understand the current context and structural barriers faced by Indigenous Australians, which can only effectively be comprehended through considering their historical and cultural background (Dudgeon, Milroy & Walker, 2014). As outlined by Gillan, Mellor and Krakouer (2017), exclusion, racism, assimilation, oppression and loss of power, land and culture underpins the history of Indigenous Australian’s. The traumatic events of colonisation are still causing negative implications, seen through the current disadvantage of many Indigenous Australians. In this case study, Seccombe (2015) discusses the disadvantages of the local Indigenous community, stating they are more likely to suffer from ill-heath and poverty, have less support around education and mental health and are more likely to be homeless and over-policed. These findings reflect those of the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) (2010), who similarly explore how Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders are disadvantaged in many areas of social concern. Whilst the history and disadvantages of Indigenous Australians is pivotal to the shaping of practice methods, an understanding of the Nimbin community is also important.
Although the events of Australia’s colonisation are affecting the broader Indigenous community, the methods of practice will differ for each community. Ife (2016) supports this through highlighting the importance of understanding each community, in order to see how practice can be applied within the specific local context. Seccombe (2015) highlights Nimbin’s diversity and intersection of cultures, whilst further recognizing the strong sense of community that is displayed through their willingness and drive to help those in their community. Despite this, the Wi-abul/Widjabul people are still not well advocated for, and it is an amalgamation of the disadvantages previously mentioned and these key characteristics of Nimbin that practice approaches were able to be shaped and used accordingly.
Whilst the context is fundamental to shaping practice methods and meeting collaborative objectives, initiating and forming relationships with the Indigenous community is simultaneously essential. This stage of practice, known as the micro method (Lathouras, 2010), involves listening to the stories of individuals (Daveson, 2010), which the community worker effectively carries out through actively listening and forming lasting relations with the local Indigenous people. It is through the process of listening and establishment of these relationships that the community worker could hear the private concerns of the need for children to re-establish ties to culture (Seccombe, 2015). According to Lathouras (2010), the movement from a private concern to sharing with another person, in this case the community worker, represents the 0-1 in the 0-1-3 method. Whilst the concern was shared, it was not until they were discussed with other women in the Indigenous community, that it moved into the public realm, moving from 0-1 to 1-3 (Lathouras, 2010). It is through these horizontal relations and building of relationships that the private issue of recreating ties to culture for children, became a public issue, thus moving from micro, into the mezzo method.
It is through this movement from private concerns into the public realm that the process towards achieving collaborative goals can occur. According to Lathouras (2010) this movement is known as the mezzo method, which is where connections become stronger, shown in the case study where women began talking and established the shared agenda of wanting to re-establish ties to culture through a camp with kids (Seccombe, 2015). It is this bottom up approach, which involves the participation and drive from community members to guide the process, that this social change can occur (Kelly & Westoby, 2018). Maintaining the bottom up approach and avoiding shifting the process to the workers agenda (Kelly & Westoby, 2018), was achieved through consider their private concerns and taking directives from the women to organise resources and shape the process, which included making calls and booking a bus (Seccombe, 2015). This process of organising resources and the process can be understood as the fourth and fifth steps in the seven steps of mezzo method (Kelly & Westoby, 2018), which provided women with the ability to decide and guide the process.
This highlights the workers use of Connie Benn’s power framework, which through taking direction from women, she considered their rights to self-determination and allowed them to have power over decisions and resources (Benn, 19890). The community worker assumed her role within the project in shifting power from herself to these Indigenous women, which reflects step 5 and 6 of the seven steps of mezzo method, which involves deciding how those involved will work together on the project and their roles (Kelly & Westoby, 2018). Through the worker maintaining a bottom up approach and establishing their power over decisions and resources, these women were given the ability to gain confidence in initiating and maintaining projects (Seccombe, 2015), as Lucashenko (2015) outlines, the real gap for the Indigenous community is not in housing, education and health, but in self-determination and management of their own lives.
Through this participatory development work, this project was able to be established and carried out through the drive and guidance of the Wi-abul/Widjabul people. Kelly and Westoby (2018), outlines that although service delivery is beneficial in reaching objectives for some, it fails to recognize the disadvantages and circumstances of all individuals, which in this case study is the Indigenous people of Nimbin. This participatory development method that allowed the Wi-abul/Widjabul women to drive change and strategies that cater to their circumstances, has evidently led to the positive outcome of their increased power and continuation of their project to help children reconnect with their culture. It has further allowed for trust to be built with those outside of their community who are wanting to help challenge Indigenous injustices and disadvantages, whilst further providing them with the skills to maintain and initiate projects.
Exploring this case study and the community workers practice approaches has identified a number of key learnings. Given my lack of experience of working with Indigenous communities, I had little knowledge regarding the influence of their loss of culture on their disadvantages, however, can now understand the importance of their connection to land in shaping their identity, relationships and community (Gillan et al., 2017). Through a deeper analysis of the case study, Kelly and Westoby (2018) highlighted another key learning, which was the purpose of carrying out participatory development work instead of service delivery, as it is essential in considering the individual circumstances of communities, as opposed to providing services that may only benefit some people.
Through the exploration of the case study ‘Dubai on Country Camp’, and analysis of the community workers utilisation of frameworks and practice approaches, it is evident how fundamental the participation of community workers is to the success of driving social change and meeting collaborative goals. Simultaneously, this analysis has highlighted the current detrimental effects of colonisation on Indigenous Australians, which highlights the importance of working alongside these communities to challenge structural barriers and disadvantages.