07 June 2022

Ms TRISH DOYLE (Blue Mountains) (19:33): In the heart of my electorate, on a quiet residential street in Katoomba, is a property that might look a bit ordinary to the average eye. Known as Clairvaux Community Centre, the site—a former government institution set amongst native bush—hosts a collection of old buildings that now house three important community services. One is the Blue Mountains Aboriginal Culture and Resource Centre, locally known as ACRC—a service that formed in 1994 when a small group of local Aboriginal people had a vision of providing a meeting place for First Nations community members. It would be a place to access social support services and share in culture, arts, history and heritage: a place to call home. The vision became reality in 1995 when the Clairvaux site, owned by the Department of Community Services, the predecessor agency to the Department of Communities and Justice, was made available to the ACRC and other community groups.

With Clairvaux providing a stable home base, the ACRC has been able to provide crucial support services to the First Nations community for the past 27 years, from the heart of what is and always will be Dharug and Gundungurra traditional land. This site has played a vital role in the lives of many, becoming a safe haven and providing a long list of services. These include Aboriginal Family Support, which includes Koori playgroup, Positive Parenting Programs, Cultural Camps, Aboriginal Family Fun Days and connection with local schools; an Elders Support Service assisting older community members to continue to live independently and with dignity in their own homes; the Aboriginal Social Support Service, providing meal assistance, outings and day trips, friendly phone calls and visits, referral, advocacy and liaising with government departments; and the ACRC Community Transport Service, providing low-cost transport to access essential services, shopping, outings and appointments, which is reducing social isolation and improving the quality of life for our local Aboriginal community.

Blue Mountains ACRC is a place that gives hope that closing the gap is possible. Crucially, it also hosts cultural and community programs fostering a sense of place and belonging through language, song, dance, art, tool-making and yarning, bringing Elders, young people and families together. This aging site may be in disrepair, but it is place of special significance in my community. It has become a place of healing, recognition, culture and the coming together of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people—and, therefore, reconciliation. It was the site of initial storytelling meetings that led to The Gully being recognised and declared an Aboriginal Place, where annual Sorry Day gatherings happened over many years, where the first NAIDOC celebrations and many more events that strengthened our community were planned.

In light of all this, imagine the horror the ACRC community experienced upon being notified last year that they would be evicted from Clairvaux under the guise of the site needing renovations. Faced with the prospect of losing its permanent home, the entire service has been under threat. Shocked and shaken by this unexpected threat of eviction, the ACRC came to me and my colleague David Harris, the shadow Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, seeking help to have the decision reversed. Local organisations have rallied to support the ACRC, including Blue Mountains City Council, Blue Mountains People for Reconciliation and ANTaR. The Blue Mountains community is one that values and respects its Aboriginal culture and history and it values the work of ACRC. There was a suggestion that another site could be found for the ACRC to move to, but this is not about a new office space. It is about spirit of place. The Clairvaux site, with its significant history, is imbued with presence.

For that reason, I sought a meeting between Minister Maclaren-Jones and ACRC, with an invitation for her to come to Katoomba and see for herself that Clairvaux is not just a property but the beating heart of the First Nations community in my community. Today I am pleased to report that the Minister accepted that invitation and last week took the time to visit Clairvaux and sit down with local First Nations people. She put her boots on country, walked through the site, witnessed firsthand what happens there, and she listened. I thank the Minister for taking the time and effort to do that with an open mind. I am now hopeful and optimistic that, after seeing firsthand the importance of this special place, the Minister will find a way for ACRC to continue to have a home at Clairvaux.

On a day when this Parliament marks the anniversary of the apology to the Stolen Generations, I reiterate my call on the Government to listen to local blackfella wisdom on what is best for their community—to work together and make the investment needed to bring the Clairvaux site up to standard so that ACRC, the only centre of its kind throughout the entire Blue Mountains, can continue its vital work. Today Uncle Richard spoke of Clairvaux, here in this Chamber, as an example of government needing to walk its talk. Go to it.