A meeting was held last Friday for the community to express their support for the Clean Slate Without Prejudice (CSWP) program to begin in Narrandera.
CSWP began in Redfern as a joint initiative between the police and the indigenous community.
Through early morning boxing training, the community works together to keep young people off the streets and in school.
A branch of the program also reaches out to people in the prison system.
While it is still early days yet, there was strong support from different groups within the community.
Representatives from Bidgee Boxing, Narrandera High School, the Junee Gaol, the Narrandera Shire Council, the Juvenile Justice Centre, police liaison, as well as interested members of the community attended.
While some at the meeting stressed that they would have to run their commitment to the program past their superiors, Councillor Narelle Payne attended and offered the Narrandera Shire Council’s support for the program.
All who were there expressed support for the program, and some expressed suggestions for how it could be tailored for the area.
The meeting was facilitated by Wesley Patten’s company Visions, with Ricky Lyons acting as host. Michael Lyons gave the welcome to country, and Rick Lyons began by talking about his childhood
“I remember growing up here there wasn’t much for young people. We want to talk to kids about mental health, physical health, spiritual health and sexual health.
“We are reaching out to the mob, black and white, to help us.”
Mr Patten spoke about his reasons for bringing the program to Narrandera.
“My mother’s Phyllis Simpson. I’m from Narrandera as well. We came back to Narrandera a couple of times for funerals.
“Every time we came back here it feels like nothing’s changing and it’s just getting worse. There’s a lot of potential in this town.”
Mr Patten outlined his plans for the program in Narrandera, which involves the CSWP program in the mornings for all ages, a healthy lifestyle program at midday targeting people who are neither employed nor studying, and a rugby league training program in the evenings for ages 16 and up.
The midday program was one that Mr Patten is keen to develop further, as he believes it could be an opportunity to turn adults’ lives around.
“Different government organisations can us these to talk to people. This is where we can start to use suicide prevention,” Mr Patten said.
Mr Patten also wants to start a mentoring program, using his contacts in Sydney to build a group of ‘celebrity mentors’ – athletes and people in the entertainment industry – to help participants in the program. Mr Patten also said he hoped to build up local mentors as well.
“We’re just trying to implement healthy lifestyles. We don’t want kids to be boxing champions or NRL players.
“For me to see the change – the crime rates in Redfern don’t exist anymore,” Mr Patten said.
“You go to the gyms and you see the kids training. Every time you go to the gym you see the kids playing basketball, having fun.”
Mental health was a hot button topic, with many present stressing that children in the town need counselling.
Speaking before the meeting, former NRL player and CSWP mentor Nathan Merritt talked about his experiences with the CSWP program in Redfern.
“The Redfern police and the Redfern community, the indigenous community, come together and they do a boxing session at six a clock every Monday, Wednesday and Friday,” Mr Merritt said.
“Before then, there’s a group of mentors that go and pick young kids up and bring them to boxing, and they do the boxing. Afterwards they have lingo classes, so they learn language, something that’s been taken away from us, and they have breakfast and then they go to school.”
Mr Merritt spoke with a great deal of feeling during the meeting when talking about the next generation of children growing up in Redfern learning their language, Eora.
“To see my little kids and my nephews and nieces talking the lingo, that’s amazing.
“Education is the most important part of being a young kid, drumming that across the young kids’ heads, that going to school and getting an education, that’s a big key to life.
“It’s great to see kids getting up at five o clock in the morning, being disciplined, and going to training, and you see the rewards on the kids’ faces.
Mr Merritt outlined Visions’ plan for Narrandera.
“What we’d like to do is target young kids around the area. We’d want to help implement a healthy lifestyle for the kids; keep them off the streets and bring them into an active lifestyle, teach them the better parts of life instead of being on drugs.
“We just want to be there, and if we can do that, just help one kid, that’s our main aim at the moment. Drugs are a big issue out in country towns. Ice especially, Narrandera I think is up there. The crime rate too, I think there’s a lot of crime.”
The thing that was key, according to both Mr Merritt and Mr Patten, was getting local police on board.
“Hopefully we can get the same sort of structure happening down here. It’s going to be tough, but it was tough doing it in Redfern for a while,” Mr Merritt said.
“We found a good commander that came in and really embraced what Redfern wanted to do, and do with the police force, and with the community itself and bring it together.
“Hopefully we can find someone down here in the police program who is willing to take a stance, and bring the community and the police together, and have a relationship. Where it’s not just
the police looking for kids because they’re doing crime, it’s the police helping young kids and influencing them, and encouraging them to come and do boxing, and get off the streets and live a healthy lifestyle.
“It’s about building a good relationship between police and the community,” Mr Merritt said.