The Ungooroo Aboriginal Corporation have proudly opened the doors of their new home, welcoming all the community inside. We took them up on the opportunity to find out more about this wonderful organisation. 

Since 1994 Ungooroo have been working to empower the Upper Hunter Indigenous community. As a not-for-profit organisation, all income streams generated by Ungooroo are returned to the Indigenous community through a range of constantly evolving programs and services. In this way the community as a whole benefits from the work done at Ungooroo.

They’ve come a long way over the years, with their services expanding to include health, business development, social services and employment and youth support and as they’ve grown so did the need for new premises.

“We’d outgrown the old premises and they were no longer suitable,” says Taasha Layer, Ungooroo’s Chief Executive Officer. “Here we have ample car parking, easy accessibility, and we now have 8 consulting rooms as well as 8 offices for programs and staff. We are delighted with the new premises and are so happy to be opening up our doors to the community.” 

“These new premises have only been made possible through support from MACH Energy, Ministry of Health and Glencore, who all supported the fit out of our Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (ACCHO),” Taasha acknowledges. “We cannot thank our industry partners enough for their support. The positive impact on community members with this industry support is immeasurable.” 

Thanks to that support, Ungooroo’s doors are open to the whole community. Although their core passion is Aboriginal health, the general practice is open to everyone. “It’s about being inclusive to all,” says Taasha.

As we sit down for a chat in the bright new premises, decorated with traditional Aboriginal artwork and warm earthy colours, Taasha reflects on the Ungooroo’s journey over the years and what they have achieved. 

“In 1994 Ungooroo was set up a community organisation to offer predominately health services to the Upper Hunter Indigenous community. Our core business was cultural heritage site work, working mainly on mine sites in the region. That was the main source of income and it supported providing a space for health provision and services.”

Then in 2007 Taasha came onboard. Her core objective was to build different income streams that would help the organisation be sustainable and grow. Taasha explained that with the downturn of the mining industry looming and the loss of their cultural heritage work imminent, it was time to look for other ways to sustain the business. 

“Initially we had Dookal which was purely a labour hire service, but we then diversified it to incorporate workwear and PPE and merchandising. Dookal was supported at the time by Coal & Allied and still continues on today,” says Taasha.

Another program that Ungooroo established around that time was Wupa. Wupa is a fantastic art and cultural program that gives local Aboriginal artists the opportunity to showcase their work. This initiative has had long term partners such as MACH Energy and Glencore.

“WUPA became a great vehicle to help support local Aboriginal artists and to create an economy for local artists around that process. It started off with just two artists over a weekend 10 years ago and it has grown immensely since then,” says Taasha with a proud smile.

This free Aboriginal art trail runs for 6 months of the year and takes you on a journey through almost a dozen venues in the Hunter Valley, showcasing more than 100 pieces of contemporary and traditional artwork produced by experienced and emerging Aboriginal artists from the local Wanaruah people and surrounding areas. The 2018/2019 event finished in May and they are already at work on making the next one even bigger.

One of the most vital services that Ungooroo offer are their health services. “We recognised there was a lack of health care that was culturally appropriate in the Upper Hunter,” explains Taasha.

“We had always provided a space for Awabakal medical services to come to the Upper Hunter, but sometimes it would be months or years between visits. And so, we commenced the lengthy process to become an Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (ACCHO) and by 2017 we were endorsed and accredited. Our health services continue to grow, and we will soon have even more services available as we are increasing our footprint with NDIS.”

Another important part of the work Ungooroo does is their social service programs like Special Homelessness Services for Youths. Through it they deliver services, programs and initiatives that support young people who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless. It’s grown to involve the Upper and Lower Hunter.

Then there are their employment programs that assist members of the Indigenous community to obtain and retain long term employment and Indigenous entrepreneurs to start, develop and grow their business.

But there’s still more. The newest program is the Wattaka Café. Located across from Ungooroo’s new premises in The Singleton Centre, this unique patisserie offers fresh, modern pastries and light meals that are infused with Indigenous flavours. Wattaka Café is an inclusive employer and will not only provide supported employment opportunities, but also educate and inform the community on Aboriginal food and culture.

So how does a small local organisation whose main focus was cultural heritage work, diversify and grow into such an invaluable organisation with so many wonderful programs?

“One of the biggest things I think made a difference was having the board all do their Cert IV in Business & Governance. This created a good foundation for the organisation and sets a benchmark for good business ethics and practices,” says Taasha.

“Then there is the support we receive. Over the years we’ve received a lot of support from the mining industry which we are so grateful for. We’ve been funded to open a Welcome Centre, there’s our Muswellbrook Outreach Clinic which MACH Energy is currently funding. Glencore have also funded different programs, such as training and employment.” 

“It’s been a fantastic journey and we have achieved so much. To see the potential back when I started and now to see how many people are benefiting every day. It’s such a great team here who are passionate about community services. I’ve seen the support that industry has given and the outcomes from it, people working in partnerships. But most of all to see community coming together and being inclusive.”

Taasha says sometimes it’s the smallest things that make a difference.

“I’ve learnt that it doesn’t take much to make a positive difference in someone’s life. Things most of us take for granted. If we are talking about the Muswellbrook Outreach Clinic, it’s about providing a service that simply was not available. For someone to have their health concerns addressed for the first time in years in a culturally appropriate setting might not seem like much from the outside, but to that person it makes an incredible difference.”

“Seeing someone find the right long-term employment or helping someone go from transition housing to sustainable private rental and independent living. These are all the game changers that are impacting on people’s lives. These are the things that make you want to come to work every day.”

“It’s really about empowering people. If you are genuine, if you are keen, and if you really want to make a difference in your life then we have the people here to support you with that process. Our doors are always open.”

If you want to know more about Ungooroo, contact them today on 02 6571 5111.

www.ungooroo.com.au
www.facebook.com/UngoorooAboriginalCorporation/