Now More Than Ever: Reflecting on a visit to Grassroots Action Palmerston

Jody Mummery (Grassroots Action Palmerston Operations Manager) with Serena Dalton (Grassroots Action Palmerston CEO). Photo: Tara Harvey/Caritas Australia

In the run up to Reconciliation Week 2024, Caritas Australia Media Lead Tara Harvey, visited Grassroots Action Palmerston, a First Australian program partner in the Northern Territory. 

This year the theme for Reconciliation Week is Now More Than Ever, a theme that reminds us that, no matter what, the fight for justice and the rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people will – and must – continue. 

Caritas Australia supports six local partners in Australia, and one of these is Grassroots Action Palmerston (GAP) who run The Grassroots Youth Engagement project (GYE). 

GYE offers new opportunities to disengaged young Aboriginal people - aged from roughly 12 to 25 - by working collaboratively with local community members, businesses, and government to create positive outcomes in key areas that young people have identified as important to them. GYE also delivers justice by empowering young people to reclaim the dignity the legal system has often taken from them.  

The GAP Aunties spoke to me about the role of intergenerational trauma, and how it sits at the core of the emotional and behavioural issues facing Aboriginal communities. Unless we support programs to address that, it will not simply evaporate. In fact, generational trauma has been shown to accumulate.

Tara Harvey, Media Lead at Caritas Australia, reflecting on the theme of Reconciliation Week

Studies show that a minimum of a third of Aboriginal Australians are affected by intergenerational trauma as descendants of the Stolen Generations. Children of survivors of the Stolen Generations have been found to be at twice the risk of significant emotional and behavioural difficulties.  

Alcohol and substance abuse is also a common outcome of trauma, and as a result Aboriginal children also have higher rates of Foetal Alcohol Syndrome Disorder, which makes people 19 times more likely to end up incarcerated. Aboriginal Australians represent 33% of the prison population, despite only making up 3.8% of the wider population. Worse still, they also make up 56% of detained youths.  

Grassroots Action Palmerston helped connect Barry (left) and Joshua (right) with employment opportunities. Photo: Tara Harvey/Caritas Australia
Grassroots Action Palmerston helped connect Barry (left) and Joshua (right) with employment opportunities. Photo: Tara Harvey/Caritas Australia

One of the young men GAP supports, Barry Devery, is 21 and employed through a GAP partner. He spent time in the Don Dale Youth Detention Centre and appeared on a Four Corners episode looking at human rights abuses of youths there.

He is now working full time for a demolition company, getting his certifications, and has said his aim is to live a happy healthy life and to be a good father to his 18-month-old daughter.  

"Intergenerational trauma is still happening today"

Hear from the aunties at Grassroots Action Palmerston (GAP) who run Grassroots Youth Engagement (GYE), an Indigenous-led program that partners with local businesses to employ young people in a supportive environment.

The GYE program responds to the significant challenges facing Aboriginal young people just like Barry by being participant-led. Young people get connected to employment opportunities that help build their skills and confidence, and this is paired with activities and mentorship to strengthen connection to culture. The aim is to support a generation of culturally aligned, confident young people, who can step into leadership roles in their communities. 

All of this is supported by the enduring love of the GAP Aunties, and the creation of a home away from home in Aunties Place. Their HQ, Aunties Place, is a residential property complete with a kitchen, living room, and sensory areas. Young people can go there to learn how to cook or self soothe and get support in applying for jobs or securing a place to live. 

When asked what works for the young people GAP serves, founder and CEO Serena Dalton said, “Respect is on the top of the list, because they don’t get that often. Love because what kid doesn’t want to be loved and understood. Helping them find who they are in a world of chaos is essential.” 

Serena described the program participants as some of the most “loving, loyal, and respectful” kids she has ever worked with. “I’m always getting texts and phone calls from kids saying ‘I couldn’t have done this without you, or thank you so much, and thank you for never giving up on me’” she added.