Member Profile: Goldfields Indigenous Housing Organisation Inc.

| By Royceton Hardey.

I’ve arrived at a Perth café for my interview with Julia Shadlow-Bath when my mobile phone rings. 

“Apologies”, a lady on the line says, “This is Julia and I’m running late but don’t worry I’ll be with you shortly. You can’t miss me, just look for the bright red hair.”

I was ready for the hair. I had earlier in the day googled Julia’s name and I recall an image I saw of that red hair and Jessica Rowe.

Why Jessica Rowe you might ask?

The popular TV personality was standing next to Julia at a Kalgoorlie-Boulder Chamber of Commerce and Industry ‘Women in Leadership’ Forum. Being a devotee of Ten’s Late News during my university years, I was impressed, and somewhat jealous, she got to meet Jessica.

Julia being photographed at a leadership forum doesn’t surprise me. She has been the CEO for the Goldfields Indigenous Housing Organisation (GIHO) for almost the past ten years. For the past five years she has served as Chair of Regional Development Australia Goldfields-Esperance (RDAGE) as well as on the Boards of the Goldfields Child Care Centre (GCCC) and Curtin University’s West Australian School of Mines (WASM) Kalgoorlie Campus Council.

Last month she was elected to the Shelter WA Board.

Julia’s understanding of Aboriginal housing in the regional and remote Western Australia space is second to none and it’s our first topic of conversation when she reaches my table.

“In the Aboriginal housing space, the voice of power that translates into policy in the regional and remote areas is metropolitan based,” explains Julia.

“That power imbalance becomes tyrannical is when the policy is being implemented in a State the size of WA. It is not like we are in Victoria where Bendigo thinks it’s remote or Sydney where Wollongong thinks it’s forgotten. Kalgoorlie and the Goldfields is seven hours drive from Perth. It is a major City and an economic powerhouse, yet it may as well be on Mars. So, I see the disconnect.”

In 2015 Julia wrote an article for the ABC’s opinion website The Drum which touched on the city-country disconnect of affordable housing.

“So, when we talk about ‘housing stress’ can we please think and talk about housing affordability in terms that don’t just fit the presumed audience of someone living within a 15 kilometre radius of a 2000 or 3000 postcode,” she wrote. “There is lots of life out here in the regions – the real regions – where a farmers market isn’t a pre-requisite for determining liveability.”

As a couple of years had passed since the article was penned, I was curious about whether it was still an issue.

“I think it is worse; particularly in the Goldfields,” Julia said.

Julia Shadlow-Bath

“The State Government has moved many of their key head offices to Geraldton or Albany, not even necessarily Broome. So, the Goldfields-Esperance region has been totally hollowed out of locally based decision makers.

“So, where you once had a breadth of Regional Managers in a variety of Departments working with communities at a State and Federal Government level now it’s centred on police, teaching and health, unless of course there’s a crisis. The voice and the decision making and the feedback from regional communities to Perth or Canberra only occurs in crisis.

“Until the proverbial hits the fan it really doesn’t matter. There is just no sense of urgency because we don’t have camels on beaches, we are not sexy internationally and we are not electorally marginal like Tasmania.”

While the challenge of trying to get Canberra or even Perth to provide more support can seem daunting enough Julia and her team get on with coordinating the work of the GIHO throughout a vast region. The Organisation provides housing and tenancy support services to Aboriginal people throughout the Goldfields region. They create sustainable tenancies by supporting clients to meet their obligations under the WA Residential Tenancies Act (1987).

The closest community served by GIHO is a leisurely five-kilometre drive away just outside of Kalgoorlie. The furthest place, Tjuntjunjtarra, is 800 kilometres, reached by a two-hour ride in a light aircraft. In total GIHO cover an area of over 700,000 square kilometres.

“Tjuntjunjtarra is probably one of the remotest communities in Australia so we make sure we collaborate with other agencies or services to maximise the resources at the time,” says Julia.

“It’s simple things like, we might offer Child Protection a seat or the Environmental Health team might come on the plane. We all go out at the same time, we meet with our clients and they meet with their clients,” she said.

Aside from the vast distances and extreme weather, there are also cultural sensitivities to consider when making decisions on community visits. GIHO staff will liaise with elders or key stakeholders and manage visits, especially during times of Aboriginal initiation ceremonies known as ‘men’s business’.

‘Sorry business’ is another time to respectfully stay away. This period surrounds cultural practices and protocols associated with a death in the community.

“That is our normal,” says Julia. “GIHO is one of the few organisations which continually operates and engages on a 24/7 basis with tenants in regional and remote communities, and we know all the families.”

“Part of our success is the rapport we have built with grandparents, the parents, the children, the great grandchildren. This leads to trust.”

In terms of clients being in line with obligations under the WA Residential Tenancies Act (1987) Julia said it has been a long journey.

“There was a total lack of expectations when I first started. People were not even paying rent. It has been a long process to bring that in, with debt recovery, but the three strikes policy, which is used both in remote and urban areas under the Act, is what we have communicated to our clients. Every household dynamic was different, so staff need to know the personalities and how to communicate the rules to them.”

But in remote communities applying the RTA is not so straight forward.

“If a family is evicted and you are doing it because of debt, where does the family go?” asks Julia. “How do you ever recover the debt and then where are they going to live? If you evict someone in Mount Margaret there is not another suburb down the road they can go to. Maybe that family moves in with another family in a house which you are managing, so it is important to look at these things with a big picture about what you have got and what is achievable.”

Julia Shadlow-Bath believes locally based service delivery in regional and remote communities is crucial.

“Unfortunately, the future is not very bright. It’s difficult enough for families who do the right thing but we still have many aboriginal people who need housing and support. You’ve got depreciating assets that still require the high levels of maintenance and you have increasingly dysfunctional families with the scourge of drugs. The Royalties for Regions funding provided a new courthouse and a great new shiny prison for the Goldfields-Esperance region.

“Infrastructure – soft and hard – is required. GIHO has the knowledge of the communities and will keep working hard to deliver whatever the future holds,” she said

Moving forward, it is for these reasons, Julia hopes to assist Shelter WA in advocating in a broader space for the interior of WA, so it has a strong voice at the table.

For any regional NFP, Western Australia is challenging. We are busy delivering to our clients but it’s equally important we are connected to the bigger picture of what is driving change in the affordable housing space. GIHO’s Shelter WA membership ensures that we can have a connection to the decision making and have our voices heard, even if we can’t be there in person. - Julia Shadlow-Bath, Chief Executive Officer Goldfields Indigenous Housing Organisation Inc.

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