Aboriginal Elders across Melbourne are staying connected with their culture during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
The Elders Cultural Wellbeing project is engaging Aboriginal Elders across metropolitan Melbourne through phone interviews and yarning circles, to better understand the needs of Indigenous communities and help address social isolation, loneliness and cultural wellbeing.
Aunty Esme Bamblett, proud Bangerang, Wiradjuri and Taungurung woman and CEO of the Aboriginal Advancement League, is leading the project which is funded by the Metropolitan Partnerships.
“Elders play a key role in the Aboriginal community and it’s important that they are able to continue to connect with the wider community. The pandemic has meant that some of that support and engagement is spread quite thin.”
The project aims to improve services for Aboriginal Elders and provide some baseline data on how government services can be improved and allocated in the future.
The project is important on two levels, Esme notes. The first is a cultural level. “Our mob are all about connection and a lot of that has been lost due to the pandemic. It’s been really tough for the Elders, but also for the wider Aboriginal community who value this connection and exchange of dialogue, stories and experiences.”
Secondly, the project addresses some of the fears associated with COVID-19. “The reality is, the life expectancy of our mob is not as long as the general population, and there is a lot of fear around that. We want to know the impact of that fear.”
Esme is working with Wurundjeri Elder Aunty Di Kerr and Gunditjmara Elder Aunty Doreen Lovett to conduct phone interviews with Elders in their networks.
The Elders Cultural Wellbeing project is being staggered into three stages. The phone interviews will be followed by yarning circles and a forum, which will continue to strengthen the voices of Elders in the community.
“It’s important for us to devise programs that Elders want to see, rather than what we think is good for them,” she says.
“I’m proud of the development of the Elders Cultural Wellbeing project. This coordinated effort across all the partnerships will amplify the voices and role of Elders in our communities and ensure we are providing relevant emotional, physical and mental support across different regions.”
Esme has a wealth of knowledge and passion advocating for the rights, welfare and support available to Aboriginal communities.
As the CEO of the Aboriginal Advancement League, she leads one of Australia’s oldest Indigenous organisations, focused on Indigenous welfare issues and the preservation of Indigenous culture and heritage. She also completed her PhD in Koorie Identity and is an elected member of the Victorian First Peoples’ Assembly, which will be the voice for Aboriginal people in the next phase of the Treaty process in Victoria.
Esme was a founding member of the Northern Metropolitan Partnership, dedicated to giving the northern suburbs a voice in government decision making.
“Being part of the Northern Metropolitan Partnership has been such a valuable experience, engaging with communities at a local level to drive tailored support.”
As the Partnership enters its second term, Esme continues to work alongside the Aboriginal Partnership members delivering the Elders Cultural Wellbeing project, which is the first of its kind to be funded by the Metropolitan Partnerships.
Since 2017, the Partnerships have engaged over 12,000 Melburnians to understand community priorities and work alongside government in building a strong economy, a sustainable future and greater social inclusion.
Almost $11 million from the 2021-22 Victorian State Budget was allocated to the Metropolitan Partnerships to support Melbourne's communities as they recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.
To find out more about the Elders Cultural Wellbeing project and the Metropolitan Partnerships, visit the website.
The Office for Suburban Development engages with local stakeholders and communities to identify their needs and aspirations, and deliver projects to improve local community involvement, infrastructure and services.