A remote community in Western Australia’s Pilbara would provide a men-free safe haven from family violence as part of an ambitious proposal to mend families and reduce the number of Aboriginal people in jails.
Newman, located 1200km north-east of Perth, is a small town where Aboriginal leaders have big plans.
Federal Indigenous Health Minister Ken Wyatt and Labor Senator Pat Dodson are expected to visit the town in August to see their vision first-hand.
Newman local Devon Cuimara, whose vision for an Aboriginal Male’s Healing Centre as an alternative for jail has the support of WA Chief Justice Wayne Martin and Family Court of WA chief judge Stephen Thackray as patrons, also wants to run a sanctuary for women.
He is asking the WA Government to allow the rundown Aboriginal reserve of Parnpajinya, on the outskirts of Newman, to become a sanctuary where victims of family violence – women, children and the elderly – could live as part of a co-op while the men receive mandatory treatment as live-in residents at the healing centre.
Parnpajinya has 13 houses that are currently in need of repair and are used mostly by a transient population, he said.
Mr Cuimara said security measures would be put in place to protect those living there and it would become a sacred women’s space, with men banned.
He said it would be hoped families could be mended after the men had had treatment, but it may not always be possible and it would be up to each of the family members to decide which path they wanted to take.
“We want to provide that safe space for women and children close to town, assisting to lower that homelessness rate, and the elderly included,” Mr Cuimara said.
“It will also allow the children some normalcy so they can access their school if they are in attendance.”
Making it happen
The WA Government has pledged to fund operating costs for the Aboriginal Male’s Healing Centre once it is up and running.
Mr Cuimara said he hoped the Federal Government would help with funding to build the centre.
So far nearly $1 million worth of pro bono work — including architectural plans for the centre — has been completed.
The Aboriginal Male’s Healing Centre is expected to be open in late 2020 or 2021 at an estimated cost of about $20 million.
Mr Cuimara said he hoped the Newman plans could become a prototype for other centres and communities around the country and lead to a drop in the number of Aboriginal people in jails.
“We’re about justice reinvestment,” Mr Cuimara said.
“It’s all about an alternative measure to incarceration.”
The WA Government’s Pilbara Development Commission said Parnpajinya is one of eight communities in its Town Based Reserves Project in the Pilbara that aims to ensure Aboriginal people living in town reserves receive the same services and opportunities as residents of the town.
“The commission is working together with residents and relevant government agencies to determine the best future for all of these communities,” PDC chief executive officer Terry Hill said.
“The consultation and engagement phase of this project is currently underway.
“The commission has received a copy of the AMHC proposal for merger with Parnpajinya. “The Parnpajinya Aboriginal Reserve, including existing infrastructure, is the responsibility of the Aboriginal Lands Trust.”
WA Aboriginal Affairs Minister Ben Wyatt’s office has been contacted for comment.