Peer educators join the Garl Garl Walbu support net

Three young Aboriginal women preparing food in a kitchen

Thanks to Garl Garl Walbu, young people are working with young people in Derby to minimise the harms associated with alcohol and drugs.

Derby, Western Austraila: Garl Garl Walbu Alcohol Association Aboriginal Corporation was incorporated in 1988 to contribute to policy and research about alcohol and drug misuse and related problems among Aboriginal people in the Kimberley—and to care for people affected. The corporation is based in Derby, in the West Kimberley region of Western Australia—a long way from Perth and Darwin.

The effect of alcohol and drugs

One of the corporation’s directors, Nola D’Antoine, describes how problematic alcohol and drugs are for this community:

Drugs and alcohol misuse is an issue in Derby, and the problems associated with it can have huge repercussions on the safety, health and wellbeing of our families—parents, children & elders. The Garl Garl Walbu Alcohol Association Aboriginal Corporation aims to improve community safety and health by reducing the harm and risks associated with alcohol and drug misuse.

The corporation manages three services for the safety and wellbeing of the community:

  • Sobering-Up Shelter (SUS)—short-term accommodation for people under the influence of alcohol or drugs who need a safe place to stay. The service can reduce their risk of injury and harm associated with alcoholism and drug abuse.
  • Derby Night Patrol (DNP)—local Aboriginal people are employed to transport people safely home for the night. The first run is from the youth centre after the evening games. Later runs pick up intoxicated people and take them somewhere safe: home, a relative’s place or the SUS. It helps prevent the risk of self-harm or harm to others while intoxicated.
  • Alcohol and Other Drugs Community Peer Education Workers (AOD-CPEW) project—a support and education service funded through the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet's Indigenous Advancement Strategy, connecting trained workers to other young people at risk of alcohol and drug-related problems.

Young people helping young people

The AOD-CPEW project (known locally as the peer education project, or PEP), is the most recent service the corporation offers, and aims to minimise the harm done by alcohol and other drugs. It came about because the corporation saw the benefits of local young people working on the ground with their peers in and around Derby who have substance misuse issues and are in need of extra support to keep them on track.

Two young Aboriginal women prepare fresh food in a kitchen while a third woman looks on

Caption: Community Peer Education Worker Keryn Ross with two of her young cooks

AOD-CPEW has been running for just over a year and works with Aboriginal people between 10 and 30 years old, mostly those in their early adolescence and mid-to-late 20s. They’re either having difficulties with alcohol or other drugs like cannabis or tobacco, or they’ve given it up and need support to prevent relapse.

Minimising harm

Keryn Ross believes the CPEWs are making an impact. She sees young people in the program beginning to understand what harm minimisation means and, with her support, creating strategies to reduce their alcohol and tobacco use:

My participants tell me that because they see me regularly and can have a yarn about issues, they feel stronger and are beginning to find ways to reduce their drinking, like making sure they have a good feed at the same time they drink, and by including water between drinks. A few are trying to give up smoking but this is hard so they are starting by limiting how many smokes they have over the day.

Keryn works full-time along with two other casual staff. (Another full-time and casual staff-member will soon be employed.) Together they cover the areas of Derby, Mowanjum, Pandanus Park and Looma, and—as long as the roads are passable—other communities on the Gibb River road.

Companions in good health

Education about the effects of alcohol, tobacco, cannabis—and lately, ‘ice’—on the body, mind and spirit is core to CPEW activities. These activities include culturally strong ‘back to country’ ventures like fishing and hunting as well as cook‑outs to demonstrate the importance of nourishing food in the management of alcohol intake. Many of these activities involve younger people who have become disengaged with school and need encouragement to return. They also include older youth who want to find work.

Caption: Conversation and barbecue—Saverio Yambo and Steven Nulgit are two of Garl Garl Walbu’s peers educating peers.

The CPEWs tap into a wide network of health and wellbeing agencies in the area, and partner with schools, Red Cross and community health services to build trust. The outcome is that CPEWs are recognised as approachable, well-informed companions on a person’s journey to regain health, self-esteem and control over decisions about their life.

Caption: Community members enjoying a feed

Looking ahead

Garl Garl Walbu Alcohol Association Aboriginal Corporation is doing difficult but important work. This community-controlled corporation faces many challenges, but nothing compared to those faced by its clients. Already seeing signs of positive change, its dedicated staff and directors are aiming for a significant, long-term reduction in addiction and substance misuse in the Kimberley, and looking forward to a resurgence of community health and wellbeing.