The South Brisbane Aboriginal Intervention

A critique of the mainstreaming of Aboriginal homelessness services in South Brisbane.

In 2005 the Howard federal government abolished ATSIC following a gradual de-funding and winding down process over previous years. . Two clear new policy frameworks appeared in the post-ATSIC period – 1/ The mainstreaming of Aboriginal services and 2/ An obsessive and exaggerated focus of Aboriginal family violence. These two policies became the basis of the much condemned Northern Territory intervention in 2006, however since 2005 they have been the basis of state and federal programs delivering services to Aboriginal marginalised and at-risk people in South Brisbane.

Prior to 2005 the Musgrave Park Aboriginal Corporation provided support to marginalised and at-risk Aboriginal people in South Brisbane including hostels, medical services, meals, clothes, advocacy and a range of other services and programs. The Corporation was made up of, and managed by, Aboriginal people who identify with Musgrave Park, which, at the time, was the centre of local Aboriginal life. The Musgrave Park people perceived themselves as custodians of the Park. The customary law process of eldership, women’s business and men’s business governed life at the park and was the front line of defence against anti social and dangerous activities in the park. The people who congregated daily in the park acted as an advice and referral centre to Aboriginal people from all over Australia who visited Musgrave Park to track down relatives, get the gossip of what was happening in the Aboriginal community and, if they needed it, to be referred to the support services of the Musgrave Park Aboriginal Corporation.

In 2005 the Musgrave Park Aboriginal Corporation had all its funding withdrawn. The Hope St. Drop in centre was closed down and the hostels formerly managed by the corporation were handed over to Murri Watch to manage. The hostels now managed by Murri Watch, the Murri Watch diversionary centre in Woolloongabba and hostels managed by the national organisation Aboriginal Hostels Ltd. were forced to open their doors to all people, not just Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people as had been the case previously, in order to receive further funding from state and federal departments.

The money that had previously gone to the Musgrave Park corporation to run programs and employ staff was divided up in an ad hoc fashion amongst a range of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal services including Micah, West End Community house, St. Luke’s nursing service, Kummara Indigenous Family Care and Murri Watch.

Funding that had previously been spent on services and programs specifically for homeless people were transferred to programs tackling Aboriginal family violence.

Money that had previously been spent providing meals at the Hope St. drop in centre was diverted to supplying sandwiches and poor quality food to parks.

The St. Luke’s nursing service that used to run a clinic at Hope St. was moved to the public toilet in Boundary St.

In 2006 all services dealing with homelessness in Brisbane came under the coordination of Micah by way of the Brisbane Homeless Service Centre (BHSC), the formalisation of the Southside Homelessness Action Network that had been formed in 2004.

The transition from the self-determination and community development model of the Musgrave Park Corporation to a mainstreamed, centralised welfare model was completed and entrenched in the Micah BHSC. The political control and management of services was transferred from Aboriginal elders to the administrators of welfare bureaucracies. The sole determinant of program policy had become government funding guidelines rather than local Aboriginal peoples own perceptions of their own needs.

John Tracey


4 responses to “The South Brisbane Aboriginal Intervention

  1. Dear John

    I woudl like to correct a couple of facts in your article. Micah does not coordinate all the homelessness services at Brisbane Homelessness Service Center. Services are colocated and independant of each other, and supporting people through referrals and shared support when necessary. Micah Projects has openly tendered for new homelessness money not money that was defunded from anyone else.
    The funding that was provided for Musgrave Park Incoroporation was divided up for a year and all parties supported Murri Watch receiving this funding which it has done for several years.

  2. Hello Karen,

    Thank you for responding.

    The BSHC website says….”Micah Projects Inc. (Micah) is the lead agency at the BHSC,”

    But my main point is that Aboriginal homeless services – which dealt with a lot more than homelessness, they were the skeleton of the Aboriginal community in West End – were smashed and replaced by a white bureacracy that now designs and manages programs – all totally in line with govt policy and funding priorities..

    This coupled with the mainstreaming of Aboriginal hostels represents a white wash of homelessness services.

    The role of Murri watch is an important one but it does not and cannot replace a living community such as the Musgrave Park Corporation was.

    MPCC was a model of self determination. Murri watch is mainstream service delivery. The transition from one to the other – including the chaos of the demise of MPCC – represented a serious step backwards in dealing with homelessness.

    I guess I take liberation theology seriously, not just a pretty plattitude. The basis of liberation theology is that the poor themselves must be the agents of their own liberation.

    The mainstream institutional welfare service delivery mode has nothing to do with liberation theology and, in terms of West End, it has been the trojan horse by which white society has demolished the local Aboriginal community which, in times gone by, did indeed struggle and fight for their own liberation and in doing so built the independent Aboriginal organisations that have now been replaced by mainstream church and government agencies.

  3. Another perspective on West End Welfare services I wrote a couple of years ago….

    “A bit of parochial history – The history of public toilets, community notice boards and welfare agencies in West End (Brisbane)”

  4. Hi John,

    I’m just a disability pensioner who has taken it upon myself to take some food into the homeless in the city and the valley. I came across your blog when looking for information on Murri Watch about which I was told by an indigenous brother in the Valley tonight. Thank you so much for your revealing history lesson. I had no idea about any of that. It’s really sad that people don’t care about those living on the streets. Uncle Garth was going to sleep on the cold hard footpath tonight with just a small plastic bag for a pillow. What kind of a world is it where we can’t take after our brothers and sisters. It brings to mind a quote I’ve often read “A society is judged by how it treats its least fortunate”. Keep up the good work. Please e-mail me as I’d love to learn more from you. Take care.

    Mark Beaton

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