The Victorian Budget delivered $33.1 million of new funding for Aboriginal justice initiatives which will see the survival and continued success of family violence prevention service, Dardi Munwurro’s Brother to Brother hotline.

The service, which operates in Victoria, introduced the hotline in July 2020 as a service for Aboriginal men needing support for family violence and mental health matters.

Whilst receiving funding during COVID-19, money ran dry in October, however, the Dardi Munwurro team were dedicated to keeping it alive.

The service now averages 250 calls a month and services Aboriginal men from across the country.

The Victorian 2021-22 Budget recently provided the service $4.7 million across two years.

“This year’s Budget delivers a record $448 million investment for Aboriginal people and statewide healing — including $98 million for Victoria’s commitments to self‑determination, truth and Treaty alone,” said a spokesperson for the Victorian Government.

The spokesperson said it’s the single largest Budget investment in Indigenous communities in the State’s history.

“Ensuring Aboriginal Victorians have safe and culturally appropriate access to justice is important — that’s why we’re investing in programs and services across Victoria that build a stronger, fairer and more accessible justice system.”

For Dardi Munwurro’s Alan Thorpe and Jay Estorninho, the funding provides a well-needed lifeline to the hotline.

“The feedback is that the men really feel safe and they feel connected. They just love talking to Aboriginal men and Elders,” said Thorpe.

“It’s been an amazing initiative, I am so proud of it. In that moment where you need to speak to someone, when you’re in isolation and you’re really suffering. It takes so much to reach out, but what we know is that the men appreciate it when they make the call — you can hear it in their voice.”

Estorninho says the men who used the program or have been involved in other Dardi Munwurro programs often give back to community by joining the team and getting on the other end of the phone.

“When guys ring up Brother to Brother, they get someone they can just relate with straight away and who can relate to them.”

Thorpe believes part of the healing process is also having the opportunity to give back.

“I think one of the biggest signs of healing for our men, is when they go through that journey, they make it through, and they want to give back,” Thorpe said.

The funding comes along with a possible opportunity to work with the Department of Corrections, which would see Aboriginal men who are incarcerated have the option to access the service.

For Dardi Munwurro, this is the first State to invest in their hotline.

“Good on Victoria for investing in it, it is used as a national line now and no other State has reached out and invested. Despite us getting those calls nationally,” said Thorpe.

“It shows that the Victorian Government is more advanced than other States, they are leading the way.”

The State Budget also included an investment into Dardi Munwurro’s Ngarra Jarranounith Place program.

Meaning ‘men’s healing place’ in Woi Wurung language, Ngarra Jarranounith Place is a 16-week family violence healing program.

“The service is still under-funded, but this means we aren’t going backwards. If we didn’t get the funding, we would have had to cut back staff, we would not be able to give men the opportunity,” said Thorpe.

Despite operating on limited resources, the service is an immense success with an 85 per cent completion rate.

“I think that it is the community involvement that makes it what it is. That wrap-around focus is grassroots, it isn’t driven by systems or bureaucracy. It is driven by spirit and soul,” said Thorpe.

“It is self-determination.”

The backing from the Victorian Government has provided Dardi Munwurro more opportunities to give back to the community that supported them when they first began.

“Brother to Brother started from volunteers, good spirit and good will. Good people wanted to make good stuff happen,” said Thorpe.

“We know not to let the resources stop us from doing what we know we need to do.”

By Rachael Knowles