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"I love working for Red Cross and caring for all of our people"


Red Cross Aboriginal liaison volunteer Leslie Lowe says a lot of his people are uncomfortable seeking support after an emergency but when they see the Red Cross emblem worn by an Aboriginal person it "gets a big smile on their face".

Leslie - an Environmental Science Student at Central Queensland University - says he decided to volunteer with Red Cross after witnessing first-hand the devastation of the 2013 Bundaberg floods.

"I wanted to get out and help and looked for an organisation that provides training in emergency services, particularly focused on supporting people from diverse and different cultures," he says.

After category five Tropical Cyclone Marcia hit central Queensland in February 2015, Leslie volunteered to work particularly with the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community impacted by the disaster.

He worked at the community recovery centre where people were queuing up to receive emergency relief payments, support and information.

"I talked with people on the line, getting information about what services they needed. A lot of our mob there accessed emergency relief. We were making sure they felt welcome and were looked after."

Leslie says Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people sometimes don't feel confidant to approach an unfamiliar face and ask for help.

"Whereas if they see the Red Cross emblem they are reassured we will be neutral, impartial and non-judgemental. Some of the Aunties were walking up to me which reflected these core values," he says.

To encourage more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to become involved in emergency services and reflect the diversity of all those impacted by disasters, Red Cross ran training in Bundaberg, especially for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander participants.

"There were Aunties and Uncles representing half a dozen different mobs there," Leslie says. "People came from the Taribelang Bunda group [Bundaberg area] also Goerang [Central Coastal Queensland], Pitjantjatjara [the Central Australian desert], and Bundjalung [Northern Coastal areas of New South Wales] people to name a few, so it was quite a successful course.
"We had Aunties and Uncles from the age of about 60 down to the younger ones. It was deadly training ensuring positive outcomes in future disaster zones for all our people."

Leslie encourages other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to sign up to volunteer with Red Cross.

"It's what our people are all about - helping others. Red Cross is a great vehicle for that expression. It's all about helping mob and that includes all our new brothers and sisters that call Australia home. It's a good way of reaching out to other cultures as well, show them the deadly culture that we have and the beautiful people that we are, so it's a good way to get out there and show off our Aboriginality.

"Our people are here and we stand proud together."

Leslie says he feels the community benefited from having an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander liaison officer working on the ground with First Peoples affected by the disaster.

"They were saying they had no tucker. A lot of our people are from low socio-economic groups, so we are living from week to week. With the power off for so long, two weeks in some cases, families with little kids were finding it hard to cool them in the soaring temperatures and provide basic food and hygiene. The hospitals were not coping, affecting the very young and old alike.

"They were looking stressed, people hadn't been sleeping well, many forced from their homes due to storm damage. They had no fans or air-conditioning going so there was just an accumulation of heat stress. They couldn't afford petrol for transport - that's if the servos were operating; ice was scarce for keeping food cool with no refrigeration; it was a bit of a mess.

"Our people in the line, once they knew that you're from mob, you respect the culture, they opened up and yarned freely. They were actually starting to smile when we told them 'We are here to help. How can we assist you and your family?'

"They always know when there's a brother or sister there; they're a lot more open to talk about mob. They will tell you what's going on. On the first day I probably got three or four addresses from different Aunties saying, 'Are you going to be around for a few days? Can you come out and visit us?'

"We can then go out and look in on them and see if they're alright and if they need assistance to access any other services."