The Yarrawarra Cultural Centre, established in the late '80s, has offered support and a gathering place for the local Indigenous community over the years.
The Yarrawarra Cultural Centre, established in the late '80s, has offered support and a gathering place for the local Indigenous community over the years.

Juvenile diversion plans for iconic centre spark concerns

THERE are plans to establish a new diversionary centre for young Indigenous males and while many have embraced the need for the facility, there are concerns the arguably 'vague' plans have raised more questions than they have answered.

Grafton jail consortium member Serco has confirmed there are plans in the pipeline to establish the drug and alcohol program Home Strait for young men at risk of imprisonment at the accommodation branch of Corindi's Yarrawarra Aboriginal Cultural Centre.

But with a seeming lack of solid plans yet available, married up with what some say as a less-than-ideal location, the plans have come to some as a shock.

This is particularly the case for CEO of the Coffs Harbour and District Local Aboriginal Land Council Nathan Brennan.

Mr Brennan, who recently held a meeting for concerned locals dubbed Save Yarrawarra, says he's concerned the new program will mean the community will no longer have access to the cultural centre.

He added he was worried it will see Yarrawarra's purpose stray from its original focus as a community-oriented space.

Yarrawarra Aboriginal Corporation was established in the late '80s by Garby elders and has served several purposes over the years, from a women's resource centre to a nursery. Today it houses a a cafe and art gallery.

"I'm not sure what's happening to be honest. It's doesn't seem at this point there's a lot of solid information on how the program it going to look. It's really vague, and very frustrating," Mr Brennan said.

"What does this mean for the Indigenous community? Will the community be able to access the facility? It's intended use was a place where Aboriginal people can come together.

"I'm just really frustrated by the lack of information more than anything. We can't really do anything until we find out more."


Nathan Brennan , Coffs Harbour Local Aboriginal Land Council07 JAN 2019
Nathan Brennan, CEO of Coffs Harbour Local Aboriginal Land Council, is concerned about the new plans earmarked for Yarrawarra. TREVOR VEALE

In a media statement Serco confirmed it was in the co-development phase with the Gurehlgam Corporation who manage Yarrawarra after being in planning and consultation for 'several years'.

"Together the focus has been to ensure the long-term viability of the YACC," the statement reads.

Gurehlgam chair Julie Perkins said it was early days, and the development phase will see Gurehlgam collaborate with government and locals for at least the next six months.

"We know Aboriginal people are imprisoned at a much higher rate than non-Aboriginal people and Gurehlgam are pleased to be a part of something that will truly make a difference," she said.

"While many diversionary programs exist there is a real lack of support programs which target and support Aboriginal people specifically. The concept is still in its early stages and will incorporate in-depth broader community consultation."

Home Strait will offer training and employment opportunities, relapse prevention and a range of 'therapeutic' programs for young Aboriginal men at a lower risk of becoming institutionalised, Ms Perkins said.

The new plans have however sparked outrage among some residents, who have created an online petition calling for Yarrawarra to remain unchanged and be handed back to the local Garby Elders.

More than a thousand people have signed the petition at the time of publishing.

There are concerns the location of the diversionary program will compromise the safety of Corindi Primary School located around 800m away from the cultural centre.

Diana Hinch, who shares a fence line with the facility, said she'd only found out about the plans when she had a flyer for a community meeting stuck to her gate last week.

"There's been not much, if any, public consultation," she said.

"I just have concerns about what ages the young men will be, will they have had convictions, but have received no answers.

"This is a semi-rural area, there are properties here that do have young children and only a kilometre up to the road is residential area.

"I don't want to be selfish, but I'm just a bit worried about the security of our home. Yarrawarra provides a great service to the community as it is, they have school camps, an art gallery and cafe.

"The two concepts just don't marry up to me."

Serco, a leading international provider of public services, operates correctional facilities in Australia and New Zealand and is involved in the upcoming build and operation of the new Clarence Correctional Centre.

Serco currently delivers research-based support services that aim to reduce re-offending to over 10,000 prisoners each year.


The Yarrawarra Aboriginal Cultural Centre is home to an art gallery and cafe. Trevor Veale