The Northern Territory Government has poured $4.5 million into a successful remote cattle station program targeting at-risk youth, highlighting the lack of Australia-wide investment into such preventative programs.

Cattleman Frank Shadforth oversees an Indigenous-run work camp for at-risk kids at Seven Emu Station in the Territory, 1,000 kilometres southeast of Darwin.

The Garawa man takes troubled kids under his wing and puts them through a mix of hands-on workplace training and cultural lessons while at his station.

Shadforth focuses on building young people’s cultural knowledge, understanding of consequences, work ethic, and problem-solving skills.

Though he has been doing this work without any public funding for the past 30 years, Shadforth has just received $4.5 million from the NT Government to run intensive youth camps at Seven Emu Station for the next five years.

“As Aboriginal people we understand their emotions and their needs and how best to work with them, and we are confident that we can help young people to take the right path in life,” he said.

Shadforth said while at Seven Emu, kids will “go to bed with a full belly and get up early looking forward to a busy day doing whatever is happening on the station”.

“The first thing we do is get them off sugar. It’s no good for them. I’ve been living on meat for my 64 years and it hasn’t done me any harm,” he said.

Young people eat well at Seven Emu Station. Photo supplied by Office of the NT Chief Minister.

NT Member for Barkly, Gerry McCarthy, praised the work taking place at Seven Emu Station.

“Frank Shadforth is well respected in the pastoral sector and a reference from Frank will support young people who have completed training on Seven Emu Station [in] being able to obtain employment in the wider cattle industry across the Northern Territory,” he said.

Megan Krakouer, Director at the National Suicide Prevention and Trauma Recovery Project, said the funding is a step in the right direction.

“This is excellent and much needed in the region, but much more of these types of investments are needed wholesale for the majority of our people in the Northern Territory who continue to miss out and suffer depleted lives,” Krakouer said.

Krakouer criticised the National Indigenous Australians Agency (NIAA), saying they do not provide funding to make a real difference in people’s lives.

“The Territory Government has just put the Commonwealth and other States to shame, and in particular has made a fool of the National Indigenous Australians Agency.”

“This sham bureaucracy, the white men-led NIAA, needs to stump up mass social investments for the ‘have nots’ … my First Nations Peoples throughout this country,” she said.

Krakouer also called for Federal Minister for Indigenous Australians, Ken Wyatt, to push for more Indigenous representation in the NIAA and increase the funding available to projects like Seven Emu Station.

“The Minister for Indigenous [Australians], Ken Wyatt, who many of us—including myself—know well, needs to kick out the white men who lead the penny-pinching NIAA and demand the NIAA make more funds available than ever before. Crucial lifesaving projects must be funded without delay,” she said.

Krakouer regularly sees the devastation among First Nations communities that do not have access to mentorship and role models like the young people being supported at Seven Emu Station.

“I’ve walked into hundreds of [families’] homes … who have lost all hope as they prepare to bury their children after our governments betrayed their hopes,” she said.

“Small steps, even if in the right direction, are not enough.”

By Sarah Smit