Showing up and listening key to building stronger community relationships

Showing up and listening key to building stronger community relationships

Tuesday, 9 July 2019

Our Mildura office has worked with stakeholders and its health justice partner, to build stronger links with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander clients.

Since 2017 we’ve been providing civil and child protection legal services to the Mallee region, in a partnership with Sunraysia Community Health Services (SCHS). Jess Thomson is the Aboriginal Community Engagement Officer and a third-year law student. ‘I love being able to work with my community and hopefully make a difference', she said.

Working with SCHS’s Aboriginal health promotion officer Megan Kelly, Jess has made significant efforts to build relationships with local communities and conducts outreach at two services, the Mallee District Aboriginal Service in Mildura and the Robinvale Resource Centre. These weekly outreach sessions have provided an opportunity to deliver legal advice for the Aboriginal community in a culturally safe setting.

Jess says perseverance has been the key to building trust, ‘There can be a tendency in communities not to trust new things because they have had a lot of people and services come and go over time, so you have to always be there. Sometimes we’d only get one walk-in in a session, but if you hadn't gone that’s someone who would never have reached out to a legal service’ she said.

'It took us a long time to get clients in Robinvale and now we have a lot. The breakthrough was tenancy. People often did not see these issues as legal problems, but we went to events and told people and eventually the word got out. I’ve been working with our Senior Lawyer Hannah Sycamore to have a lot of urgent and non-urgent repairs done and we've had many possession orders adjourned or dismissed. It’s really satisfying to be able to make a difference in people’s everyday lives through the home they live in improving or becoming more stable’, said Jess.

Data from the Mildura office shows 28 per cent of their clients identify as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander. ‘It’s a wonderful effort from Jess and the team at Victoria Legal Aid (VLA) Mildura and our partner at Sunraysia Community Health Services. It’s a sign that through sustained and respectful engagement with communities, we can bring legal assistance to the people who really need it’, said Associate Director of Aboriginal Services Alan Dewis.

‘Mildura is home to the second highest Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population in Victoria, at four percent of the overall community, so it’s always been really important to VLA to try and target people in community, who we also know face larger barriers to accessing services’, said Alan.

Jess is now working towards longer term goals. ‘Building ongoing trust in our service will take time. I hope to work on systemic advocacy for local communities up here. But we're actually getting invited to events now and building up strong relationships with local elders. I'm really busy and I can't complain because obviously we're doing something right!’ she said.

More information

Read more about our health justice partnership in Mildura

Our Mildura office is located at 137 Thirteenth Street – phone (03) 5055 4001. Read more about our office locations

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