Funding cut for elder patrollers
ANYONE who has partied the night away at a pub or club in Maryborough’s CBD over the past couple of years has probably come across them at least once.
Dressed in fluorescent yellow uniforms, Kahwun Wooga’s Aboriginal elder patrollers – “the best thing we’ve got to curb night-time issues in the CBD” – were never hard to spot.
Like angels of the night at 1am on a Friday, when trouble was brewing on Wharf Street, they were just around the corner.
But you’ll be hard pressed finding them about the town these days. Since $66,000 in funding from the Rio Tinto Aboriginal Fund ran out earlier this year they have been working voluntarily.
And while Kahwun Wooga co-ordinator Shane Nelson says the handful of patrollers are happy to volunteer the odd night or two every so often, more proactive approaches need to be taken in the meantime to ensure violence in Maryborough’s CBD is kept to a minimum.
“Our patrollers were effective because of the relationships and connectivity they had with the community,” he said.
“They didn’t take on the role of the security guard. And because they are elders, most of the people they dealt with respected them because they were family or extended family.
“That’s why I think the positive ticketing program could be really effective. It’s better to be proactive about these things.”
Mr Nelson said that before the funding ran out patrollers did the rounds of CBD pubs, parks and footpaths every Thursday, Friday and Saturday night dealing with everything from discouraging youths from drinking in public to diffusing potentially violent situations.
“They had a really good connection with the community – both indigenous and non-indigenous.”
However since the elders had stopped regular patrols, Mr Nelson said “whether coincidentally or not” he had noticed a rise in violent crime in the CBD.
“It’s not petty stuff like public nuisance or drunk and disorderly type offences. It seems to be more serious issues with those a bit older,” he said.
“There’s been no real problem with our Murri kids.”
And that was why the community needed to look at addressing the issue of young people loitering on the streets in case it too got out of hand.
“I don’t really blame the young people – there’s not a lot for them to do in Maryborough at night,” he said.
“With a lot of the local kids in general, their home environment is unsafe so they form a bond with others and that’s often when they engage in drinking.
“If they had regular community-based activities and they chose to engage in anti-social activity then they couldn’t turn around and point the finger at the adults.
“This is a problem we haven’t addressed in the past.”
Instead of fighting for more funding for the patrolling program – which has been described as one of the best ways to tackle CBD violence – Kahwun Wooga joined forces with the Maryborough Safety Network to come up with new proactive approaches such as the positive ticketing program.
“It’s all about good relationships,” Mr Nelson said.