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Investing in people's lives

Dawn takes her office outdoors and chats with Joy Richards, a resident at the Short Stay facility.

Yamatji Yinggarda woman from the upper Gascoyne region East of Carnarvon, Dawn Gilchrist is the Community Development Manager of our Short Stay facility in Kalgoorlie - Boulder.

After more than 30 years in the health sector, Dawn joined Red Cross in 2009 starting as team leader for the Personal Helpers and Mentors (PHaMs) program.

Dawn says she was attracted to Red Cross by its seven fundamental principles, in particular 'the principles of impartiality, neutrality and unity.'

"I felt this was a strong and safe place to work from given the complexities in many of our Aboriginal communities. I was also touched by the words 'The power of humanity' and realised that was very important to me. Investing in people's lives is the basis of humanity. This in turn has the potential for people to learn, understand and make their own choices toward their own desirable future goals and outcomes."

Dawn was born on a sheep station called Bidgemia which has a long history in her family.

"In the early days my Nana, Dolly Bidgemia, who we believed lived till she was 121, was a shepherdess on Bidgemia station and she had many stories she shared with us about station and family life.

Nana was a very wise and well respected Yinggarda woman and was also very experienced in assisting mums giving birth out bush (including my mother to me). Nana also assisted the wife of the Bidgemia Station boss when she was about to give birth."

"My family all worked at Bidgemia station but used to go to other stations for seasonal work. Equal pay laws meant that our people lost their jobs and started settling in towns /such as Carnarvon.

Before I was born my mum and my four eldest brothers and sisters were put on a ship from Carnarvon to Fremantle and then taken to the Moore River Settlement.

"Mum soon found her way back to station life around Carnarvon but had to leave her children behind.

Mum then had four other children and I was the youngest child. The three youngest children went into the Churches of Christ Mission for schooling and we were fortunate to go home during the school holidays."

After completing Year 10 Dawn went to Adelaide and worked in an office and then followed her passion to work in health by studying nursing and midwifery.

"I had a desire to work among my own people and nursing gave me the training and experience to be able to follow this path. In 1972 I spent six months in the Yuendumu Aboriginal community west of Alice Springs.

This was one of the highlights of my nursing career.

"By being in community I was able to get connected back culturally after many years living in the city. My experience in Yuendumu was probably also the beginning of the development of my passion for community development work. I have a deep passion for community development and believe that community development is a fundamental basis to begin our work."

A strong belief that Dawn carries through her work today as Community Development Manager of our Kalgoorlie - Boulder Short Stay accommodation facility is an emphasis on the search conference method - where people search for their own desirable futures.

"We support this process with community members who are already utilising our new Red Cross short stay facility in Kalgoorlie - Boulder where I am the community development training manager.

"We have formed a strong partnership with the community members and they have created their own action plans and have taken responsibility for implementing the actions they have committed to.

Among these action plans are rules that guide the management of the facility."

Dawn knows it will take a while to get this right but at least strong steps have been made toward positive outcomes.

"I'm hoping this process will be a conduit for people to restore the years that have been lost and that being committed to the outcomes will ensure this is a safe place to stay. It will also be a place of planning and learning and promoting culture."

Recently, Dawn was acknowledged for her work over many years in supporting improved outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples with a NAIDOC Week award.

Kerry McGrath, Head of Community Programs says Dawn is greatly admired and respected among her colleagues and the community and the award is well deserved.

"It recognises her deep community development expertise, placing communities at the centre at all times. Dawn is humble, considered and a wise leader."

Photo: Australian Red Cross/Blossom Shroff.