A new joint venture founded by the South West Aboriginal Land and Sea Council (SWALSC) will see up to 180 Aboriginal people housed with access to a range of social services.

The Aboriginal Housing Foundation (AHF) has been “driven by Aboriginal people for Aboriginal people” according to SWALSC CEO Wayne Nannup.

“This venture is the beginning of a new way of doing things,” Nannup said.

Founded by SWALSC, the trust has been set up in co-trusteeship with Equity Trustees and Aboriginal Housing Recovery Centre Limited.

“The purpose of the trust is to hold all or any new or future assets for and on behalf of the Noongar people.”

Nannup said the idea for the joint venture was driven by the SWALSC board, who indicated to him they wanted to make moves to help Noongar people now while awaiting the outcome of the decade-long South West Settlement.

“The board said let’s start looking at new opportunities that we might be able to participate in or partner with,” he said.

“We’re tired of the Closing the Gap report that gets handed down every year, and it demonstrates to us that it’s just a disgrace. We feel like we have the solutions as Noongar people.”

One of the AHF’s first moves has been to acquire the El Caballo lifestyle village in Wundowie, Western Australia, a small town in the Central Wheatbelt region between Perth and Northam.

The AHF has big plans for El Caballo. The property will function as a multipurpose facility, providing housing for almost 180 Aboriginal people and hosting a range of services including domestic violence support services, childcare facilities and a rehabilitation centre, among others.

“El Caballo is about rehabilitation … aged care … and other opportunities including employment and training, and contracting,” Nannup said.

“The beauty of acquiring such a property is that we are in control of that property as Noongar people.”

“The result of being able to implement our own programs is that we will challenge ourselves all the way through to make sure we get the results.”

Nannup said AHF is in the preliminary planning stages after acquiring the property and that they are in no rush to set an opening date.

“We’ve got some remedial work that needs to be done. We need to make sure the plan’s right so that everything works together,” he said.

“We have to make sure what we do is going to be of great benefit to our people.”

For Nannup, the current social outcomes for Aboriginal people in WA are unacceptable.

“The increase of kids going into care is unacceptable. The unfortunate homelessness of our people is unacceptable.

“The way in which our young kids are not afforded … a good night’s sleep, breakfast and school the next day is unacceptable.

“The increasing and alarming statistics around our young people suiciding is not acceptable.

“These are all the types of things we are going to be working on to ensure that our people get a fair go.”

To begin chipping away at these inequalities, the AHF is starting with one thing: housing.

“The primary thing we have discovered within all our work is that people need permanent shelter,” Nannup said.

“Unless you have permanent shelter, you don’t have a base to do all the things you need to do … you can’t participate in the workforce, you can’t participate in education, you can’t get the right health services.”

“That’s the challenge for us … we need to ensure those people who are not accommodated can be accommodated.”

“I’ve never seen the obstacle that the actual house [is] the obstacle … it’s just actually making sure we can get the right opportunities for our people to get into that housing.”

While El Caballo is the first step, Nannup has a much broader vision.

“We know El Caballo isn’t going to satisfy the needs of all our people … we would need multiple types of these opportunities,” he said.

“The reality is, whatever is achieved we would like to think that it could have some impact across the nation.”

If all goes well with the first property, Nannup said—should the opportunities arise—he would be interested in expanding and opening more facilities.

“It’s more about social return than anything else.”

Equity Trustees Executive General Manager of Trustee and Wealth Services, Ian Westley, said he was pleased to be working on this new joint venture.

“It is our privilege and responsibility as a trustee to ensure that trusts established for the benefit of Aboriginal communities enable and empower those communities,” Westley said.

“We have enjoyed a very positive and constructive partnership with Noongar people and organisations through our work with other trusts, and are looking forward to extending this partnership through this new innovative joint venture to improve housing outcomes for Aboriginal people in the South West.”

By Hannah Cross