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Corrections staff hope to connect First Nations people with their culture – not US gang culture
A new artwork at the Murray Bridge Community Correctional Centre acknowledging Ngarrindjeri heritage is more than just a token gesture.
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An acknowledgement plaque with artwork by Ngarrindjeri/Kokatha artist Harley Hall and words by Ngarrindjeri woman Pauline Walker has been unveiled at the Murray Bridge Community Correctional Centre.
The centre provides community-based supervision for people under court orders, about a quarter of whom are Indigenous.
The artists behind the plaque, along with Correctional Services staff, hoped the plaque would make Indigenous clients feel more welcome, giving them hope that they could make a better life.
In particular, assistant manager Jane Fry hoped the plaque would make First Nations males feel more connected to their own culture and identify less with US gang culture.
“At Murray Bridge Corrections, we supervise a lot of young Aboriginal males on order here, and I see that there’s a disconnect from their own culture and an over-identification with the black gangs in America and that gangster mentality,” she said.
“Having these words and the painting there gives us a casual topic of conversation to say, ‘Hey, did you see our sign? Did you see the Ngarrindjeri language? Do you know the language?’
“It’s an entry into a conversation about connecting back to their own culture.
“Hopefully that artwork will help them just identify and be proud of their culture and who they are because they’ve got so much to be proud of – this is beautiful Ngarrindjeri land.”
Ms Walker and Mr Hall agreed that the plaque could play a valuable role.
“They’ll feel like if the people working here are willing to put up something like that on their wall and do an acknowledgement, then you know straight away that they’re people who have a sense and care for people regardless of what colour they are,” Ms Walker said.
“If you’ve got young people that are having to use these services, they’re not always sure or feel comfortable where they sit outside of their families.
“To come in and see something like that, you would hope that it gives them a sense of ‘Maybe this mob’s not too bad’.”
Mr Hall also hoped people using the centre would feel reassured by his art.
“They’ll feel a connection … it leads the way for walking together in harmony,” he said.
“Connection’s the biggest thing to me, like through my artwork around communities coming together … and (this plaque is about) connecting lines together and animal footprints and stuff to connect the land and animals, and obviously the river going though the middle.
“The colours represent our ancestors and stuff ... because we’re river people down here – we’ve got the river, lakes, Coorong – I like to work with a lot of blues; with the black and white, I want to represent our ancestors … the stars and the Milky Way and Ngurunderi, our creative spirit, who created life.”
Acknowledgement is one small step towards reconciliation
Regional director John Strachan said similar plaques were being installed at every prison and community corrections centre across South Australia as part of the Department for Corrections’ reconciliation action plan.
In the 2020 plan, the department committed to ending the over-representation of Indigenous Australians in the criminal justice system.
Just 3.2 per cent of Australians identified as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander at the last census, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics; but they make up almost a quarter of the 80,000 Australians serving community-based corrections orders.
Similar efforts to help Indigenous people feel more comfortable with government services exist in other departments, including SA Health, which commissioned an Aboriginal mural at the Murray Bridge hospital in 2021.
More information about reconciliation in the Department for Corrections: www.corrections.sa.gov.au.