NAIDOC WEEK 2019: Voice. Treaty. Truth

Let's work together for a shared future

Indigenous Churchill Fellow, and Executive Director, Department of Family and Community Services and Justice, MANDY YOUNG shares some of her Fellowship experiences and achievements to help us celebrate NAIDOC Week 2019 


What was the focus of your Churchill Fellowship?

The focus of my 2006 Fellowship was to look at how to work with Indigenous communities on addressing child sexual assault for individuals, families and communities. I was inspired to apply as I had been managing the NSW Aboriginal Child Sexual Assault Taskforce looking at these issues and came across the work being done in Canadian Aboriginal communities. One of our Taskforce members Aunty Melva Kennedy was a Fellow and really encouraged and supported me to apply to have a better look at how they did things.  


What do you feel you have been able to bring back to Australia?

The Churchill Fellowship experience has helped me in a range of work I have undertaken over the past ten plus years since my return. A lot of what I have achieved is in mainstream justice and child protection and in partnership with Aboriginal communities. It has helped me to better understand and engage with my own communities and consider the successful components of the programs that I saw and how to anchor what we do in Aboriginal communities to culture.


Did you have any personal stand-out moments during your Fellowship? 

Loads. Living in the small community on reserve at Hollow Water (Manitoba, Canada) was amazing, contrasted with the communities in Orillia (Ontario, Canada) who were supported through the community owning a large casino. The way they structured themselves and worked was vastly different, however the key elements were the same and heavily based in the core beliefs of Aboriginal culture. The similarities to our community structures and beliefs were striking so I could easily see how some elements could be used back home.

There are two personal moments for me that stood out. The first was being involved in a sweat ceremony. This traditional ceremony was absolutely one of the most intense and incredible experiences I have had. Watching the healing through connection to traditional practices i.e. sweating it out with healers and community elders in an igloo in the middle of the snow, was amazing. Seeing this real connection to culture and renewing of community and individual spirit emphasised the importance of putting culture at the heart of healing. 

The second was less profound and more of a funny story. I wrote off two hire cars in one day and have an official life ban from Budget in Winnepeg! I will lead with – neither were my fault. This can be verified by the Pine Falls Police, with whom I was meeting that day!


Did you encounter any challenges on your Fellowship, during or on your return to Australia? How did you meet these challenges? 

I found the people I engaged with open and helpful, they wanted to talk about what we were doing, how they were tackling the issues and how we could learn from each other. I did find some of the meetings challenging when asking questions of a couple of organisations who were more metropolitan based and those in New York. I felt they were defensive and not open to discussing their failures and challenges like those in the smaller communities were. This could be a little frustrating as I found these were the things where we could really learn from each other. However, once I built rapport with them, and followed up when back in Australia, they seemed to open up more and provide those perspectives.

When I returned home, I developed a proposal with the support of the heads of Justice and Aboriginal Affairs to test a model. At that time, one of the challenges I had was that there was an election and a range of political issues that meant its consideration by the Ministers was held up for a considerable time. This was very frustrating but I was able to bide my time and wait for the right moment when I was in another role to bring forward some of the successful tenets of the healing models into the review and development of a range of restorative justice programs. This has allowed some of the core practices and thinking to be embedded in some of the existing programs we have in the justice and child protection systems today.


What’s most important for you now and in the future? What is your current focus? 

The experience has made me completely of the view that if we can get it right for Aboriginal people in child protection and justice settings, it will be right for the whole of society. Respect of people and culture (no matter where from or who) is paramount and needs to be embedded in the design and practice of any intervention. This has been an important insight to me.

Currently, I am on maternity leave and am working on raising my son to be kind and respectful of everyone and strong in his culture. Just before my maternity leave, I was heading child protection and social housing services in South Western Sydney and the thinking from this experience helped me to reengage the local Aboriginal community to develop and implement some locally owned solutions to the issues being faced in that area. This included setting up formal and informal processes for Aboriginal people to have a voice at the decision making tables – particularly in relation to the support and care of children who are unable to live with their parents.


This year’s NAIDOC theme is “Voice. Treaty. Truth. Let’s work together for a shared future.” Do you have any reflections on this you would like to share?

This year’s theme really strikes a chord with me, it is about respect and true collaboration for an inclusive future. It is how I have actively chosen to work and live in my community and broader society. I think it is critical the broader Australian community acknowledges and accepts our experience and truth and we land on an agreed way forward together. This not only helps in the healing of our people, but strengthens the role and contribution that our amazing culture can have in this great country. We are more than just art, and we are more than just disadvantage.  We are a strong resilient people with the longest living culture in the world which is based in kindness and respect for people and the land. Let’s use that to strengthen the fabric of broader society.


Do you have any suggestions for other Indigenous Australians who might be considering applying for a Churchill Fellowship? 

Words can’t really describe the experience and the impact it has had on me personally and the way that I work. My learnings from the experience are put into action in my work every day and in how I live within my family and community.  I was encouraged to apply by an amazing strong Aboriginal woman and I can only encourage and support any other Aboriginal people to apply. Your participation and contribution will only make our people stronger through your learnings and being such a positive role model.


About Mandy Young

Mandy Young has worked in the Public Service in the fields of housing, child protection, domestic violence and sexual assault and victims of crime. This includes roles as a: child protection caseworker; hospital Social Worker; Sexual Assault Counsellor; policy developer; policy manager; program manager, senior executive and CEO roles. Mandy has managed the development and implementation of the NSW Aboriginal Child Sexual Assault Taskforce, was NSW’s first Commissioner of Victims Rights, Chief Executive of the Aboriginal Housing Office and has undertaken a range of Executive Director roles within Family and Community Services (FACS) with responsibility for a range of portfolios including managing child protection and social housing systems and service delivery, major systemic reform and policy, commissioning of services and domestic and family violence. Mandy is committed to improving the lives of vulnerable people in our community. She is passionate about working to break systemic and cyclic disadvantage in partnership with the non profit and private sectors.

Mandy received her Churchill Fellowship in 2006. Mandy's Fellowship Report can be downloaded here