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Heal Country! 4 - 11 July 2021

The NAIDOC 2021 theme – Heal Country! – calls for all of us to continue to seek greater protections for our lands, our waters, our sacred sites and our cultural heritage from exploitation, desecration, and destruction.

Learn more about this years theme on the NAIDOC website.

Celebrating NAIDOC Week with our AASW Members

To celebrate NAIDOC Week, we sat down with some of our Aboriginal and/or Torrest Strait Islander Branch Management Committee (BMC) Members, to discuss their lives, careers and what NAIDOC means to them:

Karina Maxwell - Queensland Branch Management Committee

How long have you been a member of the AASW?  I have been an AASW member off and on since 2007 when I graduated from a Bachelor of Social Work at UQ.

Field of practice?  Initially, child protection then policy and cabinet work, then moving into case management, firstly with asylum seekers, then intensive family support with both non-Indigenous and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families, group facilitation, crisis accommodation and now in the area of mental health with a particular focus on psychological injuries in the workplace.

Why did you choose Social Work as a profession (what were your first influences)?  My first influences that attracted me to Social Work would be in the area of child protection, wanting to advocate for children who have not had a great upbringing.  As I believe every child has a right to a safe and supportive upbringing.  Also, personally I have always wanted to support and help others and am definitely a people person.

What motivated you to become a volunteer with the AASW?  I want to be part of improving and providing good support to the amazing profession that I love so much.  I see such potential for the AASW to provide this.

What do you enjoy most about being a volunteer with the AASW?  The robust conversations, being around like-minded people, and working with amazing teams of people. As well as being at the forefront to building better networks and supports for Social Workers.

What have been your career highlights to date (professional or volunteer)?  The biggest challenge of my career was working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and children in crisis accommodation as the sole Social Worker.  The most amazing experience of my volunteer career was to be the Deputy Chair on the Murri School board and I learnt so much from my fellow board members.

What do you believe is the importance of Social Work in the broader and Aboriginal / Torres Strait Islander communities?   Social Workers have the potential to improve the lives of others via a holistic approach.  In Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, Social Workers can be the supports and advocates needed to ensure better outcomes for community and also to change the historical stigma of Social Workers within community (Social Workers were known to take children away).  Social Workers are trained to work with people to meet their goals rather than tell them what their goals should be, by working from a Community Development perspective and strengths-based approach.

What are the most important issues facing Social Work and the Aboriginal / Torres Strait Islander community today?  Consistency and trust.  Unfortunately, due to a number of factors including government funding constraints, Social Workers do not stay with members of the community through their journey, often moving on to other jobs, time constraints or the service closing down among many other reasons.  For community the best way forward would be to have a consistent Social Worker that can then build rapport and trust to ensure the best possible supports are received.

In my opinion the biggest issues facing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people is the high incarceration rates, high removal of children rates, racism, and structural constraints,  let alone the number of poor health outcomes prevalent in community.

What does NAIDOC week mean to you? NAIDOC is about recognising this beautiful culture and celebration.  Also, with so many negative aspects portrayed in the media, NAIDOC is about highlighting the positives of these beautiful cultures hopefully changing the mainstream negative narrative. 

It is about spending time with family and friends, sometimes the only time of year that I get to have a yarn with the amazing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people I have gotten to know over the years.  Its about having a good laugh while celebrating culture.

Yaleela Torrens - Queensland Branch Management Committee

What motivated you to become a volunteer with the AASW? I am currently a registered Accredited Social Worker and I have been a member with the AASW since beginning my Master of Social Work (Professional Qualifying) in 2016. As a self-directed and pro-active learner, I have been strongly engaged with the AASW through my involvement with the Queensland Branch Management Committee and First Nations and Allies sub-committee, formerly known as the Reconciliation sub-committee.

More broadly, I have actively engaged with the AASW through the submission of my own reflections and articles to the Social Work Focus membership magazine as well as through continuous contribution to First Nations events and significant occasions throughout the year. I highly value my membership with the AASW and encourage First Nations, and all Social Workers more broadly, to become members and actively involve with our national association.

What has been your professional work journey to date? I am currently employed as a Senior Social Worker for Nhulundu Health Service, located in Gladstone Central Queensland. Prior to this, I have worked as an Academic Advisor for the Social Work unit of Central Queensland University and maintain experience in Domestic and Family Violence, Early Intervention, Crisis Response and Private Practice.

What have been your career highlights to date (professional or volunteer)? I have recently experienced a career highlight after being appointed a Unit Co-ordinator role with CQUniversity. This role enables me to teach and assess mandatory Social Work units across CQUniversity and promotes the teaching of First Nation’s perspectives in Social Work practice.

What does NAIDOC week mean to you? NAIDOC week presents us with time to reflect and share on both the struggles an achievement of our people. It is also a time to envision and work towards creating spaces where our mob can be self-determining, to create a future that honours First Nations peoples and culture.

Social Work Focus

Read our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander editions

Tom Calma AO: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander social workSocial Work Focus: The First Australians: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples

AASW - Australian Association of Social Workers