NSW Aboriginal Safe Gambling Service and Australian National University have joined forces to reduce gambling harm in Aboriginal communities.

Launched on Monday, Talking About Gambling (TAG) is a community-driven program which works to start conversations about gambling and offers confidential spaces for support.

NSW Aboriginal Safe Gambling Executive Director and Gamilaroi man Ashley Gordon was instrumental in designing the program.

“There is still a reluctance to tackle the issue of gambling in our community. There is a stigma associated with gambling,” he said.

Gordon built the program from several consultations with community.

“I ran a number of focus groups to talk about how we could use technology … Everyone told me that the best way to get to our people was through Facebook,” he said.

“When you do this sort of work you have to be guided by the community.”

Gordon then began collecting video footage of various community groups speaking about gambling, he created resources and even worked with the Aboriginal Comedy All Stars for content for the TAG Facebook page.

“We’re going to post these videos of people talking about gambling in the hope that [it] works within those 10 communities. We can then monitor each video, who shares it, where it goes, who likes it,” he said.

The page will also offer the user opportunities to talk privately regarding gambling and collects participant surveys to understand the program’s success.

TAG was launched in Taree on Monday but will be rolled out in 13 other locations across NSW in the following days. These locations include remote, regional and metropolitan areas.

TAG project logo by artist Thomas Croft who originates from the Barngala clan in consultation with Ashley Gordon. Photo supplied.

Dr Megan Whitty from ANU’s Centre for Gambling Research noted the importance of consultation and conversation in the program’s success.

“We do know that Indigenous people are less likely to seek formal help or find services for this addiction … It’s known as the ‘hidden addiction’ as it can be quite secret and we want to remove stigma to help people and communities have productive conversations about gambling,” she said.

“We’re also using a health promotion approach which is very much based on empowering people who are involved to make informed decisions so it isn’t so much prescribing what you should be doing or advocating for abstinence.

“It’s really more about getting people to think about gambling in their community … and in what ways they, or people they may know, experience harm and suggesting solutions.

“We really think that community need to be involved in these decisions and these discussions. It needs to be community driven if it is to have real impact.”

For Gordon, the program had to be designed around getting people to talk about gambling.

“If we talk, we can then acknowledge and ask for help,” he said.

“If our community take ownership, they become part of the process of change.”

He also said that for Aboriginal communities, holistic support is required.

“Obviously in Australia we are backwards because the only solution for someone with a gambling problem is usually a gambling counsellor. It’s not good enough,” he said.

“For Aboriginal people we need to look at other alternatives and other choices. Whether that is working with local Aboriginal Medical Services, whether working with local Aboriginal mental health workers, drug and alcohol workers, domestic violence workers and more.

“What I am trying to create hopefully will empower Aboriginal people to decide themselves what they want to do to address gambling.

“We want Aboriginal people to come up with ideas for Aboriginal people.”

For more information about how to get involved, head to the TAG Facebook page.

By Rachael Knowles