Small but mighty, Deadly Connections: Community and Justice Services is a Sydney-based organisation that is creating positive change in big ways.
Founded by wife and husband team, Carly Stanley and Keenan Mundine, Deadly Connections is working to dismantle cycles of intergenerational trauma, disadvantage, grief and loss through holistic, culturally safe, place-based initiatives for First Nations people.
The organisation focuses in particular on those who have been affected by the child protection and justice systems.
Born and raised in Sydney, Stanley is a Wiradjuri woman whose family hails from Wellington and Cowra in New South Wales. The Deadly Connections CEO faced her share of struggles as an adolescent.
"I had my own challenges growing up as a result of intergenerational trauma. I was disengaged from school, the typical disengaged at-risk type young person. I had drug and alcohol issues which I hid for quite a while. I got pregnant very young, I had my daughter who is now 22-years-old," she said.
"I decided I needed to do something, I needed to break this cycle. I could see what was happening ... I knew I had to do something different, so I went back and completed my Diploma in Aboriginal Studies in the early 2000s."
"It opened my eyes so much ... I didn't understand why my grandmother was the way she was. Why my Mum was the way she was; why our family were the way they were. I didn't understand it until I did that."
In her studies Stanley found her calling. She began working in health, moving into community services not long after.
"I worked in a large organisation in out-of-home care. It was an adolescent program ... a lot of my clients had justice involvement. I had already had exposure to the justice system through family members," she said.
"I remember visiting ... Newtown Cells, I remember police raiding. I just accepted it as normal at that time."
Stanley continued her studies throughout her career.
"I ended up doing another five diplomas and I went to university and did my undergraduate degree in criminology. And then I got my Masters of Criminology. I was one of first people in my family to achieve a university degree, and Masters at that. That continued to fuel my passion for change," she said.
"I was nearing the end of my masters when I meet Keenan. Being exposed on a different level ... from his experience opened my eyes more.
"We got married and had two babies, and I thought I can't make the change I need to make from the inside out. I got into a very senior level, executive position and I still couldn't make the change I wanted to. My husband, Keenan, pushed me to want more for us."
Mundine had faced his own struggles, exiting the justice system and returning to work to find a lack of support from non-government agencies. Mundine began public speaking, which led him into building his own consultancy organisation.
"From there we started a street-based youth outreach program, in partnership with another not-for-profit organisation, Street Industries. That was where Deadly Connections [was] born," said Stanley.
Now with three casual staff members, two volunteers, and Stanley and Mundine at the wheel, Deadly Connections is running place-based programs in their local community in Sydney.
"Rural will be different to remote, remote will be different to urban, there are so many different things going on about our communities that have been going on since colonisation," said Stanley.
"That is what people understand, they see colonisation as something that happened in the past. It is continuing to happen, and it is continuing to perpetuate our disadvantage and our trauma. Those two factors are major drivers in justice involvement and child protection involvement."
"Aboriginal people are not inherently criminal; we are in this position because colonisation has pushed us into a position where we have to fight for everything. We have to fight for a seat at the table."
"Place-based is important because it means each program is developed at a local level and it is targeted towards the challenges that that community is facing."
In the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement in Australia, Deadly Connections has received a swell of support.
"Our existence is resistance. We will keep fighting. And that is why Deadly Connections is so important because we want to show the human face of those statistics. They are people," said Stanley.
"People are seeing the value in what we are doing. We are being validated for doing the work we know needs to be done. We don't get government funding, we don't get government support, yet we work with government agencies."
With the surge of support, Deadly Connections is dedicated to making change.
"In ten years' time, we would hope to see a community access point; a cultural and community hub where people could connect with their culture but other people who are non-Aboriginal could come and learn," said Stanley.
"People will have all of their needs met under one roof. They can come there for support when it is required, get the right type of support in the right way.
"Once someone is connected with us, they are family."
To support Deadly Connections, visit: https://www.deadlyconnections.org.au.
By Rachael Knowles