Culturally sensitive approach to cultural centre needed

21 Beach St

21 Beach St

Understandably, the prospect of the former DADAA building at 21 Beach Street becoming available has attracted quite a bit of interest and attention. Fremantle has a number of properties available for community purposes, which are always highly sought after.

How we decide who gets these prized low-cost rental opportunities must be fair transparent and accountable. But we can also seek to meet strategic aims in how these properties are used. What local need is not currently being met? What use would create the greatest community benefit locally?

When I was first elected to council, one gapping hole in community facilities was an Aboriginal cultural centre. Local Elders would often ask, you have an Italian Club, a Croatian Club, a Navy Club but why is there no Aboriginal Club?

Len Collard, an outspoken Traditional Owner, went one step further and argued that we should give land back for the community to use however they wish. He singled out the riverfront as being an ideal location for its connection to nature and the cultural significance of the river.

During those discussions with Elders in 2012 a cultural / community centre was a key achievable priority. What’s more it was a significant act of goodwill. It was a practical and symbolic commitment to action from the Council, rather than more delay, difficulties and disappointment that they were accustomed to.

At the time, the only place available was the house at Arthurs Head. It was widely acknowledged this wasn’t ideal. Len called the Round House “a place of war crimes”. It isn’t great for public transport access, is hard to access for elderly or infirm, and the heritage house layout limits what you can do. However, it was available and meant we could finally do something.

Since opening in March 2014 the Walyalup Aboriginal Cultural Centre (WACC) has delivered over 120 classes and workshops based around the six Nyoongar seasons, attracting over 2,400 participants. The WACC also attracts around 200 tourists a month seeking information on Aboriginal culture (despite negligible advertising or promotion of the facility!).

modelling workshop at WACC

modelling workshop at WACC

Earlier this month, there was a popular modeling workshop for more than 50 local Aboriginal youths. They learned new skills and improved their self-esteem, and are now in the running to travel to London for Fashion Week.

Local Elders have also proposed an intergenerational culture and mentoring program to improve the lives of local Aboriginal people, and share culture with the wider community.

Expert advice says no one family or group should dominate Aboriginal cultural and community centres for them to be successful. The Eldership is working to unite families.

We are in a unique point in time, with many local Elders and Traditional Owners coming together to collaborate for the first time to create the Smoking Ceremony at the Round House to celebrate One Day.

Elders and council unite

Elders and Council unite

There is new respect and meaningful dialogue between the City of Fremantle and Elders from key local families that provides us with a unique opportunity to improve our community services, engagement and outcomes for local Aboriginal people. This work is also being undertaken through the development of a Reconciliation Action Plan.

Recent discussions with Elders have been very positive, with a broad goal to work together to improve the lives of local Aboriginal people and share the rich ancient living culture locally.

However to be effective, we need to have these discussions in a culturally appropriate way. This means building trust and relationships over time. Deep listening and two-way learning is needed, rather than rushing to conclusions as is the white fella way.

Noongar culture has significant protocols about respect and decision-making. I hope the Council can allow those processes to occur in deciding what comes next for the WACC. If successful, this could mean a greater sense of ownership / belonging / involvement in the Centre and wider participation from all the families.

If we do this in the white fella way, by putting it out to a competitive tender, then we will get a ‘business as usual’ outcome. Only established organisations, and those most familiar with bureaucracies and paperwork will succeed. This will put many Aboriginal groups at a disadvantage and mean that a community led management model is unlikely.

However, if we allow some time and provide some support for local Elders to work with their community, their way, they might create a community and cultural centre that will be widely used and loved.

Some have said that we should “make a level playing field” when considering future tenants for Beach Street. I agree, however it is not a level playing field when people subjected to intergenerational disadvantage are competing with well meaning, well educated white fellas.

Substantive equality” recognises that sometimes you need to treat people differently to achieve equal results. It takes into account the effects of past discrimination, and recognises that rights, entitlements and opportunities are not always available equally through our society. By adjusting policies, procedures and practices to meet the specific needs of certain groups in the community, we can achieve greater equality.

This is my aim.

I am trying to introduce a flexible and culturally appropriate process that is also accountable and transparent in the consideration of the Beach Street property and the future of the WACC.

Besides, should the WACC move to Beach Street, it’s expected that the Arthurs Head property will become available. So logically, there will still be a community use property available.