Indigenous Law Bulletin
Orana Haven Aboriginal Corporation (‘Orana Haven’) provides a rehabilitation service for Aboriginal people suffering from drug and alcohol abuse in the North West of New South Wales. It is an initiative of the Aboriginal communities of the Murdi Paaki/Orana Region of NSW in response to the need for a safe, understanding and culturally sensitive sanctuary for Aboriginal people whose lives were being destroyed through the consequences of drug and alcohol abuse.
Orana Haven began operating in Brewarrina in 1982 on the site of the old mission. Its first thirteen years of operation were modest in scale due to the difficulty in receiving adequate funding. However, more recently, financial support from State and Federal Government agencies has enabled the expansion and relocation of Orana Haven to the village of Gongolgon on the Bogan River, south of Brewarrina.
Now occupying a 10 hectare property, Orana Haven employs a full-time staff of ten people and provides rehabilitation for an average of 150 to 200 people each year. Although many of Orana Haven’s clients are from the local Aboriginal community, its rehabilitation program is also open to non-Aboriginal people, as well as their partners and children.
Its peaceful location on the river allows Orana Haven to encourage clients to re-engage in cultural activities as part of their rehabilitation program, including fishing, hunting, painting, tool making and other types of art work.
Another important component of the rehabilitation program which clients can become involved in are vocational education and training courses which Orana Haven runs in conjunction with regional bodies, including TAFE and Murrumbidgee College of Agriculture (MCA). By providing a means to break the cycle of unemployment and low self-esteem, the MCA’s Aboriginal Rural Training Program (ARTP) is an important means of reducing Aboriginal incarceration, giving effect to the recommendations of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody. Much of the success of the ARTP courses stems from the fact that they are specially designed and developed to meet the needs of Aboriginal people and provide them with accredited skills that are often the key to subsequent employment.
Although Orana Haven’s primary goal remains to reduce the levels and incidence of harm associated with alcohol and other drug use by residents of the Murdi Paki/Orana Region, it is also seeking to become a self-funding organisation.
Orana Haven is trying to bridge the gap between existing legal and policy opportunities, the real needs of disadvantaged Aboriginal people in remote areas, and Aboriginal peoples’ right to land and self-determination.
In 1998-9 a number of important steps were taken to implement this aim of greater economic independence. Firstly, Orana Haven, with funding assistance from ATSIC, acquired a mobile firewood cutting mill to generate both an income for the organisation and employment for Aboriginal people in the region. Orana Haven is operating the mill in conjunction with the Brewarrina CDEP, and has also commenced a long-term training project with Murrumbidgee College of Agriculture for the mill workers.
The second step was the purchase of the Cowga pastoral station.
Further information about the model and its development can be obtained from the authors, or the Solicitors involved (Patrick Woods and Company, ph 02 9890 8266).
Edward Simpson is the Manager of Orana Haven, the Chairperson of BALLOT, a Councillor of the Brewarrina Shire and a Director of the Western Aboriginal Legal Service.
Vanessa Jackson is an environmental lawyer who has worked with the NSW Aboriginal Land Council and Orana Haven.