Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Welcome to Dubbo, please enjoy your stay...

Earlier this week a scanned copy of a letter started doing the rounds on social media . It was said to be from Family and Community Services, delivered to tenants of the Aboriginal Housing Office in the Dubbo area where the 45th Koori Rugby League Knockout is to be held this weekend.

The letter reads:
As the warmer months of the year approach and with school holidays currently well underway it is timely for Family and Community Services (FACS) Housing Services to remind our tenants about the Good Neighbour Policy, particularly in regard to additional persons and visitors. 
FACS is well aware there are a number of activities scheduled to take place in Dubbo. Some of these are occurring right now, and then there are other activities planned for the remainder of the school holidays. One of these activities is the NSW Annual Aboriginal Football Knockout to be held in Dubbo over the long weekend. 
Please be assured that FACS is very supportive of all activities, in particular the football event. However, we are aware that the football, in particular, brings high numbers of visitors into Dubbo to celebrate the event with friends and family and many stay in social housing properties. 
Having visitors is enjoyable however sometimes it may bring stress particularly if you are unsure of how to manage situations that get out of hand. If we can help in any way please contact your CSO on [number] or if there is an emergency please call the police... 
On the other hand if you are disrupted by neighbours or their visitors please also make contact with your CSO or the police.
Quite understandably, the appearance of this letter raised a few eyebrows at the Aboriginal Tenants Advice and Advocacy Services. Was it real? Where did it come from? And why is it written in such a patronising tone?

We contacted FACS Statewide Housing Services to see if we could get some answers. They confirmed this letter was sent from FACS' Dubbo office to all local Aboriginal Housing Office tenants last week. They also confirmed the local office had received numerous complaints about the letter and had gone into a bit of damage control, liaising with local 'Aboriginal representatives' to explain the thinking behind the letter. We're not exactly sure what this means, but we do know that the Western Aboriginal Tenants Advice and Advocacy Services was kept pretty busy with phone calls from local tenants yesterday.

Local FACS offices have got a bit of form when it comes to sending ill-conceived correspondence en masse to tenants. Long-time readers may recall this little piece of Christmas cheer dropped into the letterboxes of tenants on the South Coast a few years back, which assured local tenants that "rent doesn't stop for Christmas".

Now, it's fair to say that the tone of the letter sent by the Dubbo office is, on the face of it, a little less offensive than the one we saw on the South Coast not three years ago. But given the nature of this particular correspondence - directed at tenants of the Aboriginal Housing Office, in anticipation of an annual event that is run by and for Aboriginal people - we have to look beyond what we see at face value. The Koori Knockout is an annual event, which is held in a different location each year, and this is the first time a FACS Housing Services office has seen fit to circulate such a note to all local Aboriginal Housing Office tenants.

Hopefully it will be the last, because - understandably - it hasn't been very well received. To see just how badly this has been seen by Aboriginal people, check out this post to the 2015 Koori Knockout host's facebook page, and the response it has attracted.

There's a pretty clear lesson for FACS in both of these incidents. If you want to alienate yourself from the communities you're supposed to be serving, just whip up a quick letter and send it around to as many people as you can think of without a second thought.

On the other hand... if you want to engage with local communities to have a genuine dialogue about anticipated concerns arising from events like Christmas or a Koori Knockout in your area, don't just whip up a quick letter and send it around to as many people as you can think of without a second thought. This is true for everyone, but it is especially true for communities who have good reason to be wary of the thinking behind a Government agency's activities towards them.

Instead, consult with key folks in your community about what you want to say, and why you want to say it. Talk to 'Aboriginal representatives' before you send your message out into the world, rather than after the damage is done. They'll tell you if it's going to be wide of the mark, and they might even help you put something worthwhile together.

That's exactly what we did - and we came up with a special edition of the Tenant News. It's published with the Koori Knockout in mind, and it's full of great yarns by and for Aboriginal tenants.

There'll be a few printed copies of the Koori Tenant News circulating around Dubbo this week, so keep an eye out for it if you're in town for the Knockout. And it's available to download from our website right now. Let us know what you think!

We reckon it makes for better reading than that letter from the local FACS office.

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