I worked at the Utopia Study Centre before there was …

Comment on Bush community learning centre to close by Rodney Mitchell.

I worked at the Utopia Study Centre before there was even a study centre there, 1998 to 2000.
I went back in 2011 and stayed to 2015 when the Federal government through MY Pathways tried to turn it into a work for the dole program with obvious results.
It was a holistic community led study centre that took in horticulture, land management, arts (including music), computer literacy and access to the internet. The centre also ran a nine bed accommodation which went some way to helping with costs.
In 2011 it was a project funded by Barkly Regional Council and BIITE in partnership. Barkly walked away because they ran out of money.
BIITE tried to hang on through 2013/14. It was refused funding under Abbott and Scullion’s Indigenous Advancement Strategy and then fell under the influence of the work for the dole initiative and has been unraveling slowly ever since.
This is a well loved centre that was always well supported by the community. It was a lifeline for young people and gave a welcome place for parents and school aged kids to get a chance to learn together in the evenings.
If this centre was to close it would be a travesty of justice and an indictment of the government that presided over its demise.

Recent Comments by Rodney Mitchell

Sit-down money: Pointless jobs for the dole
And those ethical providers of VET training and third stream solutions are scared off because they are required to report on attendance (including personal details / excuses etc.) and thereby are co-opted into a punitive system based not on evidence, but on punitive ideology. Most of those ethical operators have long gone. Leaving the field to the MY Pathways [style of operators]. Their line of command leads right back to Queensland.

Royal Commission’s broad inquiry: ‘the way kids live their lives’
I worked coordinating a Study Centre at Arlparra on the Utopia Title for four years starting in 2011.
In close collaboration with the traditional owners and a representative group of people of all ages who used the facility we were able to collaborate with NT Justice to work to keep at risk adolescents and others out of detention on several occasions. We were being used as a diversionary program.
We provided a client directed and family friendly internet literacy program, targeted training in land management, Indigenous language and culture, English language and social enterprise around art making and marketing, and the construction of collaboratively designed and technologically appropriate earth buildings.
It was very difficult for an RTO to fund this program under VET funding arrangements so we impaled ourselves on the Abbott Indigenous Advancement Strategy with predictable results. We were punished for our efforts. The government seemed indifferent to our success.
A community driven program that was engaging large numbers of Indigenous people for young people and that included a hands on music production workshop that ran continuously for four years was axed under the gaze of the Prime Ministers Department, the NT Government and the many agencies we helped.
When the government axes programs without doing their homework good programs go down and we all reap a bitter harvest.
But after four years of living and working alongside Indigenous people, to suggest that I recast my role and become a surveillance agent and snitch for the ill conceived work for the dole program that was threatening to plunge my “clients” into deepening poverty was a bridge too far for this education worker. I couldn’t do it.
I look forward to returning to the NT and working with young people again when the fog has cleared and the government gets real about change.
This is too important to be orchestrated by career middle management from their comfortable desks in Alice Springs or Darwin. The Canberra politicians are wilfully ignorant of what is required and how to build trust with traumatised populations in remote settings and, when you think of it, how could it be otherwise? They live on another planet.
The system needs to listen to and trust Indigenous people and support programs that work. Those programs can be found if there is a will to find them.

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