Building stronger relationships

Once a much-maligned township, suffering from one of NSW’s highest Aboriginal youth conviction and incarceration rates, Bourke and its 2,500-strong population are now considered trailblazers, forging a new path towards community strength through a radical approach driven by the community itself.

It’s called the Maranguka Justice Reinvestment project, and it has businesses, social services, philanthropists and all three tiers of government engaged in the community’s plan for their young people’s success.

This approach has come about thanks to the determination, insight and courage of Bourke’s Aboriginal leadership. Maranguka’s founder and Executive Director, Alistair Ferguson is a proud, long-time Bourke local and Ngemba man. He knows well the northwest NSW town’s history of prosperity, first as a wool exporting town and more recently a place of opportunity through its thriving railroad, rural sector and abattoir.

But the past 10 to 15 years has seen the town’s fortunes die off – the closure of the railway and other changes resulted in a lack of employment opportunities for many, including Bourke’s large Aboriginal population. Exacerbated by a history of dispossession and clear lack of support for young Aboriginal families, the result was a spiralling rate of crime, domestic violence and incarceration.

It was always a case of those issues being someone else’s problems so we decided to do something, deliberately setting out to make it everyone’s business,” Alistair says.

Justice Reinvestment

Frustrated by government’s unsuccessful approach of continually funnelling billions of dollars into the justice system, Alistair became intrigued by a concept developed in the US. Known as ‘justice reinvestment’ it argues that in empowering communities to address the underlying causes of crime, savings are generated then reinvested in community-driven strategies that go on to further strengthen communities and prevent crime.

In 2012 Alistair partnered with Just Reinvest NSW, an organisation advocating for the adoption of justice reinvestment as policy in Australia, to trial a collective impact approach that supports the local Aboriginal community to work together on finding its own solutions, improving a range of areas from education, employment and health in order to address various legacy issues, rather than be dictated to by government.

Philanthropic partnership

At the same time the Sydney-based Dusseldorp Forum was exploring ways they could help address issues surrounding the over-incarceration of Aboriginal youth. The Human Rights Commission connected Alistair and the community of Bourke with the Forum, who was impressed by their vision for change.

“Alistair invited me to vi