The Mamabulanjin Aboriginal Corporation is one of CoAct’s busiest Green Army project hosts, currently running five projects in the north of WA. We asked Operations Manager, Matt Wagner, a few questions about the impact Green Army is having on the environment and local community…
Please tell us a little about your organisation…
Mamabulanjin is a local Yawuru word which means ‘meeting place’. The Mamabulanjin Aboriginal Corporation started in 1985, and is one of the oldest aboriginal resource agencies in the Kimberly. It was originally established to assist a people in their dealings with Government agencies and the public. Since then, we’ve transition into multi-purpose agency, providing support services to Indigenous people from the area. This includes a gardening and landscaping business which is WA’s largest Aboriginal-owned native tree nursery.
Please tell us a little about your Green Army project…
We currently have twelve Green Army projects, which I think makes us one of the largest project hosts anywhere in the country!
We’re doing a whole range of things, like working with the State Water Corporation at Crab Creek where we’re using reclaimed water to grow rare and unusual natives for a live seed bank. We also have a crew at Skuthorpe, which is the home to our nursery and supplies all of our Green Army projects as well as other local revegetation projects and even local landscapers. One of the trees we’re growing is a native fruit tree which produces gubinge (also known as the Kakadu plum) which has the highest natural source of Vitamin C of any fruit. These trees are being used at Balu Buru where we’re working on a savannah enrichment program. And we are working with the Yawuru, who are the traditional owners of Broome, to restore monsoon vine thickets in Minyirr Park, which is an area of ceremonial significance to the local people.
All the projects were borne out of a collaborative partnership approach where we looked at organisations in the area who would want to be part of environmental projects, and approached them to get involved.
Why did you decide to use the Green Army?
As a conservation, land management and horticultural organisation the Green Army fitted easily in with what we were already doing. When we spoke with Fiona, one of CoAct’s Green Army coordinators, she thought that there was plenty of opportunity on the ground here. And with the amount of weeds encroaching on everything, having more hands come in makes a real difference!
But I guess one of the major reasons why we wanted to use the Green Army program was because we wanted to help the young people in the area. The kids here are mostly aboriginal, and many have a criminal record or interaction with the justice system, or come from lower socio-economic backgrounds. The Green Army gives them some really valuable experience in a work-like environment, and helps them see a way towards moving into work and careers.
What are some of the benefits you’ve seen so far?
The environment is obviously benefitting from these projects, but it’s the local community where I feel we’re getting the most out of the Green Army. We’ve got these kids engaged, which ultimately makes them better community members. They’re expected to show up 30 hours a week, and pretty much all of them do. We’ve been getting around an 85% completion rate, which is practically unheard of up here. We’re really proud of that. I think we’ve been successful because the type of work we offer suits the kids, and because everyone is treated as family. We’ve kept a lot out of the justice system, where they would have ended up with nothing else to do.
Our organisation runs day and night patrols, so we see first-hand the harm that is caused to the community by those that are welfare-dependent. This gets them off welfare, and gives them a qualification. Obviously not all the participants will go onto work in specific, environmental roles, but the skills and the knowledge they get are a real benefit for all kinds of work.
Did you face any challenges?
Well, getting approved for five new environmental projects obviously presents challenges in itself! It’s been one of the biggest things to happen to our organisation in a number of years. We had a huge influx of new staff and participants, which meant our HR had to really improve. Our Workplace Health and Safety practices were relatively up to date, but we did have to review them and think about a few new things – CoAct helped us to develop those.
I guess the biggest challenge was getting our first intake of participants. We actually really struggled to find 18 young people to join our first two crews. But once they started, the word of mouth around town led people to come and knock on the door and ask if they could be part of it, and suddenly we were flooded with participants.
We also had to work hard to get the Shire Council and the other stakeholders to understand what we were doing and why. But once we put it on the ground and people could see the outcomes then everyone wanted to jump on board.
What would be your advice to other organisations considering running a Green Army project?
I would say definitely make it a full community approach. Get as many agencies, local not-for-profits and service agencies involved as you can. We’ve been able to provide some wraparound services to our participants which makes a tremendous impact on them. The local medical service gives them free health checks during the program. We have social workers and mental health workers from the local youth service working with our participants. We’ve even managed to find some of these kids sustainable and safer accommodation. And we’re partnering with the Workforce Development Centre to build career plans for our participants to keep them moving forward.
If you get in and really work hard at implementing the programs they will pay huge dividends socially, for your organisation and for the community that you’re working in.