Lorina Barker (third from left) is pictured with key drivers of Backburn. She explains how this new organisation plans to work with Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal mentors to help build skills the Aboriginal community desires.
How long have you been in Armidale, and where are you from?
I am a descendant of the Wangkumara and Muruwari people of Bourke, Weilmoringle and Brewarrina in north-western NSW. I went to primary school at Weilmoringle (which means ‘old man salt bush’ in the Muruwari language), a remote community an hour’s drive north-east of Bourke. I completed my HSC at Bourke in 1991.
What brought you here?
I didn’t think I was brainy enough to go to university, but I completed the forms because fellow Year 12 students did. To my surprise and my parents’ enjoyment, I gained admission to a Bachelor of Arts at UNE in 1992. Once in Armidale, I discovered I was enrolled in a Bachelor of Arts and not Teaching. I cried to staff at the Oorala Centre, “I’m not an artist; I don’t know anything about art.” They explained the misunderstanding and, after completing my BA, I worked at the Oorala Centre while I studied part-time for a Masters of Letters. I took a year off before graduating with a Graduate Certificate in Education in 2002. Today, I’m a part-time student doing a PhD, researching my family/community history and the oral traditions of the Weilmoringle community. Education for me has been a journey of self-discovery, filled with many challenges, a few successes and many opportunities. Education is like a tool. Once you have mastered it, the possibilities of what you can do with it are endless.
How did Backburn come into being?
After watching the powerful and evocative documentary Our Generation with friends Kristal Yee, Shelly Atkins and Brendan Blacklock, I realised the impact of the NT Intervention on the Yolgnu people’s daily lives and the ways in which it threatened their cultural way of life. We all felt compelled to tell the Yolgnu people we had heard their story and also to try to address some of the issues affecting Aboriginal people in our own community. We sat around with a group of friends and talked about what we might do. We just grew from there.
What is the focus of Backburn?
As a community enterprise, Backburn intends to support – and participate in – sustained change in our community. We intend to identify areas of disadvantage, break down stereotypes and misunderstandings, increase Aboriginal people’s access to public facilities and services, support Aboriginal people in the achievement of their goals and work with Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal mentors who can help build skills the Aboriginal community desires. A lot of our focus is about helping Aboriginal people become, and remain, engaged with their own community. Kristal came up with the name Backburn. I suppose we see ourselves as a line of people fighting little fires with the intention of reducing the risk of the ‘big one’, or back burning as a way of promoting future growth.
How is Backburn different from other organisations that do similar work?
Backburn is a group of friends and acquaintances that works on issues from the ‘inside’. The issues, concerns and projects we are involved with are initiated and driven by local Aboriginal people, based on their concerns and the things they are passionate about changing or improving. We’re conscious that a lot of money is made available to support Aboriginal people, but this does not always result in sustained change that is meaningful to recipients in the longer term. Over time, our work will involve the facilitation of deeper levels of personal and professional exchange between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people. Naturally, this will involve education and increased levels of understanding which break down stereotypes and inaccurate preconceptions.
Tell us about the projects Backburn is involved in …
In September, Backburn held a screening of Our Generation at Kent House and filmed the audience’s responses. We will send this to the filmmakers, Sinem Saban and Damien Curtis, to be presented to the Yolgnu people. A second screening, also sponsored by Armidale Dumaresq Council, was held on 26 October to a larger audience. We have found the documentary is a vehicle for prompting thought about our community, as well as learning the Yolgnu story and showing support for their fight to end, or review, the NT Intervention. We’ll show it as many times as people want to see it. Storytime with the Rainbow Serpent, a project initiated by Jusinta Collins, is held one Saturday a month, 11am in the Armidale Dumaresq War Memorial Library. Ian Greenhalgh, the manager, and other staff support this project, because young mums and their children will be able to hear Aboriginal stories told in a traditional style. The Listen project was initiated by Christine Lockwood, who has since joined with Brendan Blacklock to run their first music and digital media workshop for kids who would not normally have the opportunity to play musical instruments or use film and editing equipment. Andrew Gahan is coordinator of Driving Dollars, which came about because we know financial stress can occur as a result of non-criminal traffic fines. We are working on a pilot for an alternative sentencing, ‘diversion’ program that will break the circle of disadvantage that sometimes grows from a simple fine. If successful, this project will benefit not just Aboriginal people, but others who are financially disadvantaged.
So who runs the Backburn projects?
Our projects are driven by the people who have the passion to drive a particular change. One of our objectives is to provide a forum for people, in particular Aboriginal people, to apply their skills and expertise in ways that benefit the Aboriginal community and bring people together. We want Backburn to be flexible enough to allow people to come and go and to work to the level of their commitment in the way that best suits them. For example, one storytime a month is what Jusinta can manage with seven children, a full-time job and a partner who often works out of Armidale. But she’s created something new and is making a contribution that’ll forge constructive change.
How are you funded?
Our group of friends and associates met for the first time on 1 July this year. So far we have limited funding, but we’ve also had limited outgoings thanks to the support of Anne Pardy, Laszlo Szabo, Armidale Dumaresq Council, David Henderson at the Business Enterprise Centre and Australian Websites, plus some small outlays by members of the group. Future funds will be generated through grants, donations, money from fundraisers and any other source we can dream up!
Backburn is a young organisation. What are your plans?
We are introducing ourselves to individuals and groups who might need our help, or want to initiate projects with Backburn. We want to build the base of people working with us, and the projects we generate and support. The one thing ‘Backburners’ have in common is that they want to ‘make a difference’. Our motto is ‘get stuff done’ – and that’s what we’re planning to do.