CommUNIty-Led Development in Walgett NSW


Yuwaya Ngarra-li is a community-led partnership between the Dharriwaa Elders Group and UNSW.

The purpose of Yuwaya Ngarra-li is for the Dharriwaa Elders Group and UNSW to work in partnership to improve the wellbeing, social, built and physical environment and life pathways of Aboriginal people in Walgett through collaborating on evidence-based initiatives, research and capacity building. We are also refining and evaluating this as a model of community-university collaboration: CommUNIty-Led Development.

Yuwaya Ngarra-li (pronounced you-why-uh nyuh-ruh-lee) is enabled by community, university, government and philanthropic support.

Yuwaya Ngarra-li community- led development.

Over the next 10 years, the Dharriwaa Elders have identified the following aims for Yuwaya Ngarra-li’s work in Walgett: 

1. Greater Aboriginal community control and capacity 

2. Increased numbers of Aboriginal young people in education, training and employment 

3. Reduced numbers of Aboriginal people in contact with the criminal justice system 

4. Improved social determinants of health and wellbeing amongst Aboriginal people 

5. Increased sustainable management of water and country 

6. Redirection of government funding towards strengths-based, holistic, community-led initiatives  

Five core principles were developed collaboratively between the Dharriwaa Elders Group (DEG) and UNSW and underpin all of the work of the Yuwaya Ngarra-li partnership. These were then further elaborated and grounded culturally and conceptually by Virginia Robinson, Walgett Aboriginal Elder and Secretary of the Dharriwaa Elders Group:

  1. Community-led: Aboriginal Elders and local community organisations are best placed to lead the development of sustainable solutions that empower and strengthen their community. The focus is oriented to self-determination, with Aboriginal people leading, engaged and employed wherever possible.

    Yuwaya Ngarra-li benefits from DEG’s collaborative working relationships with local Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations in Walgett to achieve positive outcomes for the community and implement programs using existing community strengths… Local Aboriginal leadership in the planning, design and implementation of programs is a critical factor for Yuwaya Ngarra-li’s success in Walgett; something that is upheld as a primary operating principle.
  2. Culturally-connected: Aboriginal culture and knowledge is central and vital to strong, resilient and flourishing communities. Elders have a significant role in contributing to family and community life.

    Aboriginal culture is diverse, constantly changing and is a source of strength and healing… For Aboriginal people living in a remote community like Walgett it is vital for them to connect with their culture to help them hold strong to their Aboriginal identity. Culture is important as it is what keeps Aboriginal people strong and happy; and is therefore acknowledged by Yuwaya Ngarra-li as a key strength and source of resilience.
  3. Strengths-focused: Taking a strengths-based approach seeks opportunities to complement and develop existing strengths and capacities. This approach recognises resilience and focuses on potential, interest, ability, knowledge and capacity, rather than deficits and disadvantage. The key strengths of the Walgett community relate to cultural beliefs, connections to Country, family and community loyalty, and strong local community organisations. DEG Speaker Clem Dodd describes the strengths-based approach of Yuwaya Ngarra-li in the following terms:

    We work with the community where change requires the community to push a little and we push back a little – like a bow saw. Sawing together shows our partnership. We give them the tool to see their strengths and identify their resources and then work together.
  4. Holistic: Evidence in particular from the Aboriginal community-controlled health sector supports a holistic model of care that understands individual health and wellbeing in the context of the social, emotional and cultural wellbeing of their whole community (Brown, 1999). 

    Most agencies and organisations cannot possibly meet every need in helping people to achieve goals/outcomes, however, by adopting a holistic approach Yuwaya Ngarra-li will be more in tune with the areas of assistance that people need and can achieve comprehensive and integrated service delivery using a referral network of appropriate local and accessible professionals, services and community groups.
  5. Rights based: Australia is a signatory to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which affirms that Indigenous peoples have the right to determine and develop priorities and strategies to exercise their right to development, to be actively involved in determining health, housing and other economic and social programmes affecting them and to administer such programmes through their own institutions. Australia is also a signatory to Conventions on the Rights of the Child and Rights of Persons with Disability and is a signatory to the Sustainable Development Goals, all of which are relevant in the context of YN’s work in Walgett.

    Yuwaya Ngarra-li acknowledges that it is often due to the lingering effects of colonisation and oppression that Aboriginal people are vulnerable to discrimination and mistreatment and excluded from effectively participating in processes that affect their rights and means that, today, they are more likely to experience poverty, imprisonment, poor health and restrictions on self-determination. The Declaration [on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples] creates a paradigm for Yuwaya Ngarra-li to make sure that issues are addressed by working directly in partnership with the DEG and the Aboriginal community, especially the gaps in health, their lives and imprisonment rates for Aboriginal people today.

CommUNITY-Led Development Logo

Through the development and implementation of the Yuwaya Ngarra-li partnership, we are conceptualising and testing a new model we are referring to as ‘CommUNIty-Led Development’. We are envisaging this to be a model that could be refined and applied in other contexts, in which the needs and priorities of Aboriginal people are centred through the leadership of a respected local Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisation drawing on the expertise, influence and resources of UNSW staff and students to contribute to systemic and sustainable change. The university is embedded in and responsive to the community as part of this process, rather than academic paradigms or metrics. This reflects and seeks to contribute to significant developments in Indigenous rights, participatory research and community development theory.

Current Programs

The Dharriwaa Elders Group and UNSW collaborate on evidence-based programs, research and capacity building. Our process of collaboration and current areas of priority are set out below.

Collaboration Process

“Our vision is that Aboriginal children & young people in Walgett can learn, work, be safe, supported and thrive within a robust sense of belonging to their families, community, culture and country.” (Dharriwaa Elders Group)

For decades, Elders and the Walgett Aboriginal community have watched, worried and grieved as their children and young people continue to be severely impacted by the legacies of violent dispossession, persistent systemic and institutional racism and failures by systems of education, care and justice that are meant to serve and protect them. The DEG identified this as an urgent priority for Yuwaya Ngarra-li.

In 2018, Yuwaya Ngarra-li hosted a Youth Justice Forum at Walgett high school. The aims of the Forum were to:

  • Present data, evidence and information about what is known about young Aboriginal people in Walgett and the justice system.
  • Gather community members (young people. families, Elders) and all the critical services, organisations, and Walgett stakeholders (Police, legal and justice agencies, Walgett high school) together to discuss the needs of Aboriginal young people at risk of entering or who are already in the justice system and possible responses.
  • Facilitate a public forum that is action oriented and focused on positive, evidence-based solutions.

The forum was attended by more than 70 people including young people, parents, Walgett Aboriginal community organisations including the Walgett Aboriginal Medical Service and other members of the Walgett Gamilaraay Aboriginal Community Working Party, and service providers and government agencies including NSW Police, Juvenile Justice, Justice NSW, Aboriginal Legal Service, Legal Aid NSW, the Walgett Community College, Walgett Shire Council and Thiyamali Family Violence Service.

Youth Justice Forum at Walgett high school

Speakers included visiting and local experts, agency representatives, young people, parents and carers on what is contributing to the high rates of young Aboriginal people ending up in the justice system and what local, evidence-based strategies could work to address this and support children and young people in Walgett to thrive in their community.

A report of the Youth Justice Forum can be found here, which includes the many suggestions raised throughout the forum of possible strategies and solutions that could address the problems identified, and help Aboriginal young people to thrive in Walgett.

Building on the momentum from the Youth Justice Forum, Yuwaya Ngarra-li developed an Action Plan for Children and Young People through extensive discussions with young people, community and Walgett services that set out the following three year goals:

  • Aboriginal organisations, government agencies, service providers, UNSW and other partners have made clear and funded commitments as part of a long-term plan agreed with the community to improve education, health, housing and employment outcomes for Aboriginal children and young people in Walgett.
  • Young people in Walgett report higher rates of belonging, safety, support, confidence and wellbeing.
  • Less than 10% of Aboriginal children and young people aged 10-17 from Walgett are appearing in the Children’s Court (excluding appearances related to diversion).
  • Visible progress in the engagement of children and young people in study and work including through improvements in school attendance and outcomes, and new work opportunities for Aboriginal young people.

The core strategies of the Action Plan were to:

  • Build relationships of respect and develop effective coordination and collaboration between relevant people and organisations within Walgett to enable us to achieve the goals of this Action Plan.
  • Significantly improve Aboriginal children and young people’s education, training and employment participation and outcomes, including through increased access to relevant services and opportunities.
  • Create effective options for diversion of children and young people from the criminal justice system.
  • Reflect on our practices and processes, build evidence around our shared knowledge and outcomes, and plan the work that will be required to consolidate and improve on our impact.

Since then, Yuwaya Ngarra-li has been working intensively to progress these goals and strategies.

Bulaarr Bagay Warruwi Burranba-li-gu: ‘Two River Pathway to Change’

Led by Peta MacGillivray, a key focus for Yuwaya Ngarra-li has been to build and embed a holistic, community-led model to divert young people from the criminal justice system in Walgett.  Our Youth Diversion Demonstration Model, named ‘Bulaarr Bagay Warruwi Burranba-li-gu’ by the Dharriwaa Elders Council,,aims to create new, positive opportunities and life streams for current and future generations of Aboriginal children and young people in Walgett. The Youth Diversion Demonstration Model that we have developed and refined through our collaboration process is, like all of Yuwaya Ngarra-li’s work, underpinned and driven by our core principles and built on the integration of community knowledge and priorities, identified needs, existing evidence, and reflection and lessons from our years of collaboration. It is also systems-focused, with its outcomes and impact designed to be sustained over the long-term.

Youth Diversion Demonstration Model

Food and water security are major areas of concern for the Walgett community, and the Dharriwaa Elders Group and the Walgett Aboriginal Medical Service (WAMS) have been working to improve access to fresh food and safe drinking water in Walgett for many years.

In 2018, DEG requested UNSW’s assistance with the testing of Walgett drinking water, after community concerns about its quality since the local Shire Council switched the town water source from the river to bore water due to the drought. The advice from Professor Jacqui Webster from the George Institute for Global Health was that the Walgett drinking water was high in sodium, which is of particular concern for people living with chronic disease. Subsequent advocacy by the Dharriwaa Elders Group saw significant media coverage on this issue, leading to the NSW Government committing to installing reverse osmosis systems to remove salt from Walgett as well as Bourke’s drinking water. The problems with drinking water quality were exacerbated when critical infrastructure failed, and people in Walgett were left without water to drink or operate air conditioning in the middle of summer.

In 2019, Yuwaya Ngarra-li held a Food Forum at Walgett high school. The aims of the Food Forum were to:

  • Provide data and research about what is known about food issues relevant to Aboriginal people in Walgett and impacts on long-term health and wellbeing
  • Gather community members and critical services, organisations, and other stakeholders together to discuss food issues in Walgett
  • Facilitate a public forum that is action oriented and focused on positive strategies and evidence-based solutions

Staff from local Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations, council staff, teachers, gardeners, food retailers and other concerned local residents, including Elders from the DEG, raised issues to do with food supply, drinking water, growing food locally and the effect of food choices on physical and mental health.

Walgett Food Forum


A report of the Food Forum can be found here, which includes the many suggestions raised throughout the forum of possible strategies and solutions.

Since then, Yuwaya Ngarra-li has been focused on a long-term approach to its ‘Food and Water for Life Program’, which aims to address food and water insecurity issues, poor drinking water, costly and poor quality food available in Walgett, and the associated health and wellbeing issues in Walgett. The urgency of this work has been highlighted after Walgett’s only supermarket burnt down and local food shortages during COVID.

UNSW Engineering staff and students from the ChallENG program collaborated with the Dharriwaa Elders Group and Walgett Aboriginal Medical Service (WAMS) in Walgett to develop irrigation solutions and shade for the WAMS community garden. The garden’s water efficient microfarm was launched in December 2020.

Through the Food and Water for Life Program we seek to enable community-led sustainable food and water initiatives that will be run by and employ Aboriginal people, and ensure healthy drinking water and fresh nutritious food produced locally for years to come.  This work has been significantly boosted by a five year NHMRC grant (2021-2025) Food and Water for Life: co-creation and evaluation of sustainable innovations to strengthen food and water security

Aboriginal people in Walgett describe the Namoi and Barwon rivers as the lifeblood of their Community, waterways which generations have cared for and lived on for thousands of years. However, in recent years the rivers have been largely dry with a massive negative impact on community health and wellbeing.

Well the river is our life: it's like anywhere in the world, if you don't have water you don't have life. The river when I was growing up was a good thing for everybody. Not to say we didn't take things for granted but we respected the waters. It was our life through fishing, drinking, cooking but today there's nothing there. It's really sad. I think to me it's greed by people upstream that don't allow the water to come down (Community member, quoted in Yuwaya Ngarra-li Community Data Gathering Report, 2019).

The drying up of local rivers is attributed by the Dharriwaa Elders Group to drought and poor management of rivers and water infrastructure by government, which has prioritised the interests of farmers and irrigators over Aboriginal people. The lack of respect and understanding for Aboriginal knowledge of river systems and the perspectives or interests of Aboriginal people is an ongoing legacy of decades of institutional racism and has had disproportionately negative impacts on Aboriginal people in Walgett in a number of ways. The DEG has long held concerns for the health of surface and ground waters of Walgett. Over its 20 years of operation, DEG has become increasingly aware of the vulnerability of Walgett’s water infrastructure and capacity, and the lack of planning for the impact of climate change, and the low priority that the views of the Walgett community are given in planning for water security.

Collaborators from the Global Water Institute including Professor Greg Leslie and Associate Professor Martin Andersen have been working with Yuwaya Ngarra-li over recent years to provide advice and assistance to the Dharriwaa Elders Group and others in Walgett on water issues, incorporating Indigenous knowledges and responding to local priorities.

DEG Elders, Yuwaya Ngarra-li staff and UNSW Engineering staff and students.
DEG Elders, Yuwaya Ngarra-li staff and UNSW Engineering staff and students.

Advocacy and education efforts led by the Dharriwaa Elders Group around water governance and leadership remains a key area of focus for our partnership. Yuwaya Ngarra-l has also developed a model for a Walgett Ranger Program that would further local Caring for Country efforts and create employment opportunities.

Long-term priorities for Yuwaya Ngarra-li include supporting the capacity, governance, advocacy and leadership of Walgett Aboriginal community controlled organisations, and the redirection of government funding towards strengths-based, holistic, community-led initiatives in Walgett.

As Virginia Robinson, Secretary of the Dharriwaa Elders Group writes:

Since the 1970s, Aboriginal communities have played leading roles in building community-led development in areas such as local government, health, housing, community and welfare services. An understanding of community-led factors facilitates successful Aboriginal community-led programs, and is important for informing programs and organisations. In practice, this means that community-led programs through Yuwaya Ngarra-li are programs where the local Aboriginal community has decision-making control and responsibility for their implementation. …

In this vein, Yuwaya Ngarra-li is seen as facilitator rather than expert as it values the community-led development process and because ultimately, community-led development efforts for Yuwaya Ngarra-li will be sustainable and the Walgett Aboriginal community will learn how to tackle its own problems and use the contributions of others to help them do so. The best forms of insight and capability come from doing, while being appropriately supported.

Having strong Aboriginal leaders associated with projects satisfies several other success factors such as trust and flexibility. Yuwaya Ngarra-li benefits from the DEG’s collaborative working relationships with local ACCOs in Walgett to achieve positive outcomes for the community and implement effective programs using existing community strengths. Thus, there is already a built capacity for the progression of community-led development with a critical mass of people. Walgett ACCOs are involved in and manage a broad range of programs, services and businesses (including, for example, those developed through partnerships and funding arrangements). Local Aboriginal leadership contributing to the planning, design and implementation of programs is a critical factor for Yuwaya Ngarra-li success in Walgett; something that is upheld as a primary operating principle.

DEG secretary Virginia Robinson doing a radio interview.
DEG secretary Virginia Robinson doing a radio interview.

Yuwaya Ngarra-li is committed to supporting Aboriginal community controlled organisations’ advocacy, leadership, voices and priorities for long-term change in Walgett.

Research and Evaluation

A recent article in Community Development by the Yuwaya Ngarra-li team details the development and approach of our partnership, including our approach to research and evaluation.

Yuwaya Ngarra-li’s approach to research and evaluation is a response to harmful and discriminatory approaches to research in the past. Ruth McCausland has developed a specific Research Protocol which sets out the context, principles and processes for research undertaken as part of Yuwaya Ngarra-li. It provides advice and templates for staff and students who are interested in becoming involved in YN’s work and/or developing a specific project, presentation or publication.  

The Yuwaya Ngarra-li partnership was built from a qualitative research partnership between UNSW researchers and the Walgett Aboriginal Medical Service and Dharriwaa Elders Group that was investigating the criminalisation and incarceration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people with mental and cognitive disability. This research was informed by critical Indigenous methodologies, and sought to collaborate with community-controlled organisations and to privilege the voices and worldviews of Aboriginal peoples.  

Building on this research collaboration, and after decades of observing and attempting to influence poor policy and practice by government agencies in Walgett, DEG invited UNSW to work in partnership to better inform and build the evidence base for improved holistic government service delivery, natural resource management and infrastructure planning. Yuwaya Ngarra-li also seeks to continue to contribute to quality research and education across all disciplines that builds Aboriginal community capabilities and control.  

Yuwaya Ngarra-li strives to ensure all research undertaken as part of its partnership adheres to its key principles and seeks to respect and build Walgett Aboriginal community capabilities and control in all aspects. In line with this, researchers wishing to work with Yuwaya Ngarra-li need to understand and commit to the following:

  1. DEG sets the protocols, priorities, timeline and terms of engagement for research and collaboration as part of YN. While the timeframes and requirements of grants, ethics, field work and reporting prescribed for researchers are taken into consideration, the onus is on researchers to manage, adapt and negotiate these to fit DEG protocols and priorities.
  2. The process for becoming a research collaborator involves invitation by the DEG, cultural induction, relationship building and ongoing accountability. This involves an initial meeting with the Elders and other community members once invited, either online or in Walgett; completion of induction; negotiation of research questions in consultation with DEG to ensure they meet community priorities; periods of more intensive collaboration, relationship building and data gathering as required; reporting back on draft findings in appropriate formats, and follow up to ensure appropriate community input and impact.
  3. Respect for Indigenous Knowledges and local expertise. Listening to and learning from local Walgett Aboriginal community expertise is critical, as is giving primacy to Walgett Aboriginal Community collaborators’ voices and perspectives, even if researchers have worked with Indigenous communities and people in other contexts.
  4. Learning from existing knowledge, experiences, methodologies and past research in Walgett. The DEG holds significant research literacy and expertise given the long history of research that has taken place in and about their community, involving both positive and negative experiences. Researchers should inform themselves of past and current research involving DEG and Walgett.
  5. Building control, participation and capabilities of Aboriginal people in all aspects of YN’s work is a core responsibility of research collaborators. This includes developing and employing Aboriginal researchers in Walgett wherever possible.
  6. Data sovereignty and intellectual property are to be negotiated by research collaborators with DEG, including the creation, collection, access, analysis, interpretation, storage, management, dissemination and reuse of data relating to the Walgett Aboriginal community. Community ownership and control of data is prioritised, and the contribution and IP of DEG and other Walgett Aboriginal community-controlled organisations and individuals valued and acknowledged in all presentations and publications. 
  7. Accountability and reporting back to DEG and other Aboriginal community collaborators on research findings, outcomes and impact is a key responsibility of research collaborators through forums and mediums advised by the DEG, such as community workshops hosted by DEG and accessible community-oriented publications.
  8. Co-presentation and co-publication of research methodologies and findings with Walgett YN collaborators. Researchers must seek permission to speak and write about their YN-associated research and collaboration.
Peta MacGillivray surveying young people at Yuwaya Ngarra-li’s community data gathering at Walgett pool.
Peta MacGillivray surveying young people at Yuwaya Ngarra-li’s community data gathering at Walgett pool.

Yuwaya Ngarra-li undertakes regular community data gathering to inform its planning and evaluation and reports back to and takes advice from the DEG, other community-controlled organisational partners, services and community members in Walgett. We are committed to building a reflective learning culture in all aspects of our work.

Yuwaya Ngarra-li's Research Protocol sets out the context, principles and processes for research undertaken as part of YN.

Data Linkage Project

Yuwaya Ngarra-li has a particular focus on increasing the understanding and strategic use of quantitative data to inform our planning and evaluation and progress towards Yuwaya Ngarra-li’s long-term aims. This work is led by Dr Rebecca Reeve and includes a data linkage research project guided by DEG-led protocols and Yuwaya Ngarra-li’s core principles.

Walgett colleagues participating in a workshop with the ABS.
Walgett colleagues participating in a workshop with the ABS.


Collaborative Research Projects

Current research projects that Yuwaya Ngarra-li staff are investigators on include:

Critical to Yuwaya Ngarra-li’s work and informed by socio-legal theory and advocacy regarding Indigenous self-determination, research and knowledge is the development of relationships of trust between DEG and UNSW collaborators, a core component being a process of induction at the university and the community. This is critical for the quality of YN’s work, and to ensure that all research and activities are genuinely respectful of and accountable to community experiences and priorities. The engagement of UNSW staff and students involves intensive processes of dialogue and induction to ensure common understandings and processes for collaboration. After the DEG Elders Council has invited a potential collaborator to work to support the vision of YN, they undertake a day’s program of induction led by trusted Aboriginal scholars at UNSW which focuses on the laws, policies and practices that created the discrimination and disadvantages experienced by many Aboriginal people in Walgett and the context for YN’s approach. Once they have completed this first phase of induction, potential collaborators are supported to visit Walgett to undertake a community induction. This requires a process of deep listening as participants are guided through a program of learning developed and led by DEG, including introductions to nearby Country. This process can be draining for Walgett Elders and staff and is carefully scheduled. DEG assesses if potential staff and student collaborators are prepared to work in a genuinely community-led way, putting aside their own academic priorities and timeframes where necessary to centre community impact and outputs.

Who's involved?

Wendy Spencer 

Wendy Spencer is the Walgett Partnership Manager of Yuwaya Ngarra-li for Dharriwaa Elders Group. She is the founding Project Manager of the Dharriwaa Elders Group (“DEG”), and brings small business and a background in community media to her roles. Wendy first worked for the Walgett Aboriginal Medical Service (“WAMS”). The Founding Chair of WAMS, George Rose OAM, together with other Elders, founded the DEG in the late 1990s and invited Wendy to support their work, which she continues to further through DEG and Yuwaya Ngarra-li. 



Vanessa Hickey 

Vanessa Hickey is the Yuwaya Ngarra-li Project Officer for Dharriwaa Elders Group. She is a Gamilaraay mother of four who began working with the Dharriwaa Elders Group part-time in 2017 in the Elders Support Officer role and joined the Yuwaya Ngarra-li team in April 2018. Vanessa is actively working to improve the education outcomes for Walgett children and has served as a member of the School Reference Group and the Walgett AECG for some years. Vanessa is also an active volunteer for the Walgett Local Aboriginal Land Council’s Aboriginal Culture and Heritage Committee and is very active in the anti-Coal Seam Gas movement to protect Country and wellbeing for north-west NSW communities. 


Kim Sullivan

Kim Sullivan is a Gamilaraay wirring.gaa born and bred in Walgett’s Namoi and Gingie villages. Kim was raised by her grandmother – a well-respected cultural custodian. Kim left school at 16, lived for five years in Sydney and 16 years in Lightning Ridge where she raised 3 children, supporting her family by opal mining. She moved back to Walgett at aged 29 to work as an Aboriginal Healthworker at the Walgett Aboriginal Medical Service. While there Kim honed caring skills and empathy for her clients that she drew from lived experience from trauma in her early life that eventually sent her into alcohol addiction for 10 years. After sobering up, Kim began working for Dharriwaa Elders Group in 2004 as an Elders Support Worker. In 2017 she began work with the newly created Western PHN Aboriginal Hub in Walgett where she provided frontline support for clients struggling with addiction. In 2021 she returned to a full-time role with DEG as Yuwaya Ngarra-li Project Officer in which she contributes to ongoing community engagement and provides project and administrative support. Kim is glad to be back working with a team that is committed to working for and with the community of Walgett.

Trish Tonkin

Trish Tonkin is the Dharriwaa Elders Group Project Officer on the Food and Water for Life program. Trish is a “Walgett girl, born and bred” and after having lived and worked in Sydney for the last few decades she was excited to move back to Walgett to be closer to family. Trish is working across a number of initiatives that aim to ensure that everyone in Walgett has access to safe drinking water and fresh nutritious food produced locally. Trish and staff from the Walgett Aboriginal Medical Service run the Meal of the Month competition, and she also co-ordinates the Walgett Community Garden Network. Trish worked as part of the research team who surveyed community members about food and water security.

Steven "Bungee" Dennis

Steven “Bungee” Dennis is part of the Dharriwaa Elders Group Dealing with Fines team. Bungee supports Aboriginal people in Walgett to work off fines through registering for a Work and Development Order and participating in activities such as art workshops and on Country trips, helping Elders with gardening, maintaining local parks, and running a community café. Bungee has a clear vision for the work he is doing in the Yuwaya Ngarra-li partnership: “I want better quality of life for our mob - better water, cheaper food, more activities for our youth.  I want more gardening programs to grow food, more lunch and dinner programs. There are still people going hungry in Walgett. I want to help change that.”

The UNSW team is focused on research, learning and evaluation and based in the Institute for Global Development in the Division of Equity Diversity and Inclusion.

Associate Professor Ruth McCausland 

Associate Professor Ruth McCausland (PhD, MISD, BA Hons 1) is Director of Yuwaya Ngarra-li at UNSW. Her research focuses on systemic critiques and community-led responses to the criminalisation and incarceration of women, young people, people with disability and Aboriginal peoples. Ruth was a researcher on the Indigenous Australians with Mental Health Disorders and Cognitive Disability in the Criminal Justice System (IAMHDCD) Project that involved collaboration with the Dharriwaa Elders Group and Walgett Aboriginal Medical Service from 2011-2015, and has been involved in building the Yuwaya Ngarra-li partnership at the UNSW end since then. Ruth’s PhD was on evaluation and the diversion of Aboriginal women from prison, and she also has a Masters in International Social Development. Ruth has previously worked as an evaluation consultant for government and non-government agencies, a senior research fellow at Jumbunna, UTS, and policy officer at the NSW Anti-Discrimination Board and Australian Human Rights Commission.

Peta Ivy MacGillivray

Peta Ivy MacGillivray (BA/LLB; Grad. Dip Legal Prac; LLM) is a Kalkutungu and South Sea Islander lawyer and researcher, and the Yuwaya Ngarra-li Senior Research Fellow focused on legal and justice issues based at UNSW. Peta has worked as a researcher on a range of criminology, legal services and community-development projects in NSW and across Australia. Peta was a Field Researcher and Project Manager for the Indigenous Australians with Mental Health Disorders and Cognitive Disability in the Criminal Justice System (IAMHDCD) Project, which first introduced her to the Dharriwaa Elders Group. Peta’s area of legal practice specialisation is the legal needs of children and young people, particularly those experiencing social and economic disadvantage. Peta is passionate about Indigenous children and young people’s participation in community development work. 

Rebecca Reeve

Dr Rebecca Reeve (BEc Hons., PhD) is a Senior Research Fellow with Yuwaya Ngarra-li at UNSW and a specialist consultant with the Social Outcomes Lab (SOULAB). She is an applied econometrician who is committed to using her skills to help improve wellbeing and social justice, through evidence-based research and evaluation.  Rebecca has more than ten years’ research experience in academia and the not-for-profit sector, working on a range of mixed-methods projects.  She has particular expertise in using linked administrative data for longitudinal analyses relating to health, education, and criminology.  In her spare time Rebecca is an advocate for refugees and people seeking asylum.  

Samantha Rich

Samantha Rich is a Wiradjuri Graduate of Architecture, Adjunct Lecturer at UNSW and a researcher dedicated to embedding First Nations worldview into the design of buildings and the broader built environment. Samantha has a focus on addressing systemic housing needs facing many remote and regional communities. She has worked with Yuwaya Ngarra-li for the last few years looking at multiple housing needs in the Walgett community. She is interested in the role that housing can play in supporting reciprocal relationships embedded in Indigenous culture to care for people, communities and Country.



Alinta Trindall

Alinta Trindall is a Thunghutti and Gamilaroi woman, originally from the Mid-North Coast of NSW. She has an associates degree in psychology and a trauma informed approach to the work she does in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. Alinta has worked in roles in NSW Health and Aboriginal Affairs NSW and has experience working with Aboriginal communities and Aboriginal organisations in community-led projects. Alinta brings experience of understanding and applying Aboriginal perspectives in research, and culturally informed community engagement. Alinta joined the Yuwaya Ngarra-li team in 2022 to undertake research for the Food and Water for Life program, and now works in Youth Justice.

May Miller-Dawkins

May Miller-Dawkins is a researcher, advocate and facilitator with over twenty years’ experience working in and with social movements, community organisations, international civil society, universities and foundations with a focus on community leadership, systemic change and action learning. She is an Adjunct Senior Lecturer at UNSW. 

Isabella is smiling for the camera

Isabella (Yssy) Burton-Clark is a Research & Comms Assistant for Yuwaya Ngarra-li and a Project Administrator at the UNSW Disability Innovation Institute. Yssy holds qualifications in Communications and Criminology & Criminal Justice, and has previously worked in stakeholder engagement, communications, administration and customer service, as well as completing a placement in disability research at the UNSW Social Policy Research Centre. They are also currently completing Honours in Criminology, incorporating crip theory and cultural criminology in a critical analysis of pop culture depictions of psychosocial disability. 

Publications and Resources

Davidson B, 2022, Caring for Elders, Community and Culture: A study of the potential impact of changes to the funding of home care on the aged care services provided by Dharriwaa Elders Group (DEG), Yuwaya Ngarra-li Briefing Paper

Dharriwaa Elders Group, 2020, Our Growing Partnership – a 10 year history. Yuwaya Ngarra-li,

Earle N, Spencer W, McCausland R, Futeran P, Webster J & Leslie G, 2023, Yuwaya Ngarra-li Briefing Paper: Walgett’s Drinking Water.

Earle, N, 2022, Yuwaya Ngarra-li Briefing Paper: Sustaining the Walgett Aboriginal Medical Service Community Garden

Flanagan M and Miller-Dawkins M in collaboration with Spencer W and McCausland R, 2022. Creating better futures with contracts, Yuwaya Ngarra-li Policy Paper

Hart AC; Rosewarne E; Spencer W; McCausland R; Leslie G; Shanthosh J; Corby C; Bennett- Brook K; Webster J, 2021, 'Indigenous Community-Led Programs to Address Food and Water Security: Protocol for a Systematic Review', International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, vol. 18, pp. 6366- 6366.

Hickey V, Spencer W, Webster J, 2020, ‘Walgett community unites to tackle pandemic-related food shortages’, Croakey, 8 April,

MacGillivray P, 2020, ‘When public health becomes punitive, rather than supporting communities’, Croakey, 8 April,

McCausland R; Spencer W; MacGillivray P; Robinson V; Hickey V; Baldry E; McEntyre E, 2021, 'CommUNIty-Led development: A partnership to realize Aboriginal Elders’ vision for change', Community Development, pp. 1 - 19,

McCausland R, 2018, ‘Dharriwaa Elders Group launces a vision for young people in Walgett’, Croakey, 6 June

McCausland R; Dowse L, 2020, 'The need for a community-led, holistic service response to Aboriginal young people with cognitive disability in remote areas: A case study', Children Australia, vol. 45, pp. 326 - 34,

McCausland R, 2019, ‘New report documents a community-led response to a health crisis in Walgett, NSW’, Croakey, 26 June,

McCausland, R, 2018, Yuwaya Ngarra-li Youth Justice Report

McCausland R, 2018, updated 2022, Yuwaya Ngarra-li Research Protocol.

McCausland, R, 2018, Yuwaya Ngarra-li Youth Justice Forum Report

Reeve, R; McCausland, R; MacGillivray P, 2022, Yuwaya Ngarra-li Research Report: Has criminal justice contact for young people in Walgett changed over time? Analysis of diversions, charges, court and custody outcomes 2016-2021.

Rich, S (2023) Yuwaya Ngarra-li Briefing Paper: Housing in Walgett

Robinson V, 2020, Yuwaya Ngarra-li Research Brief: Core Principles of our Partnership, Dharriwaa Elders Group

Tonkin T, Deane A, Trindall A, Weatherall L, Madden T, Moore B, Earle N, Nathan M, Young S, McCausland R, Leslie G, Bennett-Brook K, Spencer W, Corby C,  Webster J and Rosewarne E (2023) Yuwaya Ngarra-li Community Briefing Report: Food and Water for Life, Key findings from the Food and Water Security Surveys in Walgett.

Yuwaya Ngarra-li, 2018, Action Plan for Children and Young People

Past thesis projects that were undertaken with Yuwaya Ngarra-li are:

Improving Energy Outcomes for Remote Aboriginal Communities: Walgett NSW as a Case Study

Honours thesis by Aidan Alexander, School of Photovoltaic and Renewable Energy Engineering (2016), supervised by Anna Bruce and Emily Mitchell

For many remote Aboriginal communities, electricity costs place an unacceptably high financial burden on households resulting in a range of negative impacts upon health and education, and generally limiting socioeconomic development. This phenomenon, in which families struggle to meet their basic energy needs, is called relative energy poverty. As part of UNSW’s partnership with the Dharriwaa Elders Group (DEG), this paper scopes possible strategies for addressing relative energy poverty in the remote Aboriginal community of Walgett, NSW. The research loosely follows a participatory action research methodology, combining qualitative insights from interviews with community elders with quantitative data on energy use patterns collected during fieldwork in Walgett. Strategies under consideration are analysed in terms of four criteria for success: (i) capacity to benefit, (ii) appropriateness, (iii) low resource requirements and (iv) lack of institutional barriers.

The result is a suite of recommended strategies, split into 3 temporal phases: Phase one consists of installing energy use monitoring devices, implementing an energy use education program, installing solar panels at community organisation headquarters, consolidating the DEG’s billing arrangement and helping residents switch to more competitive tariffs. Phase two consists of energy efficiency retrofits, which can be divided into three sub-strategies: replacing inefficient appliances, minor retrofits performed by the residents and major retrofits performed by a qualified tradesperson. The third phase consists of installing solar PV and solar hot water at residences throughout the community. Meanwhile, the recommended strategy of switching to a prepaid billing arrangement will occur throughout the three phases because it is anticipated that the process of advocating for the required regulatory and industry support will take some time. The various synergies between the recommended strategies are discussed at length. Finally the researcher offers their personal reflections on the process of working with the community on the issue of relative energy poverty. Whilst the results of the study may help Walgett’s Aboriginal community to design and implement some community energy initiatives under the leadership of the DEG, the reflections on the research process itself may be of assistance to other researchers and organisations attempting to tackle relative energy poverty in other communities.

An ABC article featuring Elders and staff from the Dharriwaa Elders Group drawing on the findings of Aidan’s research can be found here.

Groundwater Interaction with the Surface in the Walgett Region: Research Summary

Honours thesis by Rachel Firmer, School of Civil and Environmental Engineering (2019), supervised by Associate Professor Martin Andersen

Interactions between groundwater and the surface result in ecologically and culturally significant ecosystems and water features in the landscape. In the Walgett region of northwestern New South Wales, there has been limited research into the characterization of such features and their potential groundwater dependence, despite threats to their integrity from agriculture, mining and climate change. Through the Yuwaya Ngarra-li partnership with the Dharriwaa Elders Group (DEG), this thesis comprises a remote sensing-focused exploratory study with the aim of determining the likely role of groundwater in facilitating surface water features and ecosystems in the area. This will provide a basis for their ongoing protection and management. This study uses bi-temporal classifications of Landsat imagery to cluster vegetation by their response to low rainfall periods, in order to infer the likelihood of dependence on groundwater. Key vegetation clusters and additional DEG-nominated sites are further investigated through the synthesis of hydrological data with spectral indicators of vegetation health (primarily the Normalized Difference Vegetation Index) over the period 1995 to 2020. The persistence of surface water features is also assessed using the Modified Normalized Difference Water Index. The results enabled site-specific conclusions about groundwater importance over the study area which were of interest to the DEG. Overall, it was found that a large amount of remnant vegetation is likely to be utilizing groundwater, and gives a strong indication that shallow aquifers remain an integral part of this landscape, connected through diffuse recharge, paleochannels, and active rivers, despite extensive modification from agriculture. iii Finally, this thesis validates the use of emerging remote sensing techniques in making inferences about groundwater connection with the surface in the absence of field data. In particular, the ability of these methods to identify both broad and local scale patterns, and to facilitate targeted field investigations, are demonstrated.


Investigating the Thermal Comfort of Aboriginal Housing in North-West NSW and Opportunities for Improvement

Honours thesis by Angela Begg, School of Photovoltaic and Renewable Energy Engineering (2019), supervised by Anna Bruce and Alistair Sproul

Unbeknownst to many, energy poverty is a problem that over 3 million Australians are facing. While the pressures of rising retail electricity prices are being felt economywide, they are being felt most intensely by low-income large family households in Aboriginal communities. Although very little is known about energy poverty in Australia’s Aboriginal communities, it is believed that the reason why Aboriginal households are those most vulnerable to energy stress is threefold; resultant of poor quality housing, inefficient household appliances, and households having high occupancy rates. In an attempt to improve the thermal comfort of Aboriginal housing in North West New South Wales (NW NSW), the Aboriginal Housing Office (AHO) introduced the AHO AirConditioning Policy. Under this policy, reverse cycle air-conditioning systems were installed in Aboriginal-specific social housing owned by the Aboriginal Housing Office. However, given what is known about energy poverty in Australia’s Aboriginal communities, it is important to understand if this was the most effective approach for improving the thermal comfort of Aboriginal housing, or if other approaches could have been taken. Presently, there are no studies that explore the thermal comfort of Aboriginal housing in NW NSW, or evaluate the different approaches that could be taken to improve this. Therefore, using Walgett, NSW as a case study, this thesis utilises a mixed methods research approach to characterise the thermal comfort of existing Aboriginal housing in Walgett, and investigate how effectively the thermal and comfort of this housing could be improved by: (i) retrofitting the building envelope of existing houses, or (ii) replacing existing housing with new “low energy” housing; and how these different solutions could perform under the AHO Air Conditioning Policy. Combining the findings of semi-structured interviews with Aboriginal householders in Walgett, thermal imagery of Aboriginal housing in Walgett, and FirstRate5 modelling of different housing solutions, it has been found that, when considering a variety of criteria points, the thermal comfort of the existing Aboriginal housing stock in Walgett it is best improved by retrofitting the building envelope of existing housing, rather than replacing existing housing with new “low energy” housing


Talking back to policy: a case study of Indigenous community participation

A key research project that was foundational in the development of the long-term partnership between DEG and UNSW is the PhD thesis by Inara Walden, Social Policy Research Centre (2016), supervised by Dr Jen Skatterbol and Professor Eileen Baldry

Past Australian government policies have controlled, disenfranchised and infantilised Indigenous people, strongly contributing to their ongoing disadvantage and poverty. During Australia’s formal policy phase of self-determination, 1972 to 2004, Aboriginal people emphasised their fundamental desire to define and control their own priorities and destinies. This desire continues today, however the policy landscape is now more ambiguous than ever about the role of Aboriginal people in policy making. This thesis makes a case study of processes taking place when a remote NSW Aboriginal community asserted its right to participate in policy planning and decision-making. The research focused on negotiations between the Aboriginal community and government as a particular policy was implemented. The study aimed to investigate the extent to which Aboriginal people desire and pursue participation in policy making, and whether this is valued and enabled by governments.The methodology is informed by grounded theory and Indigenous research methodologies. Data was collected primarily via semi-structured interviews with Aboriginal community representatives and government officers over a three year period, along with policy analysis and observational data. Reciprocity and relationship building were vital to sustaining the researcher’s collaboration with the community over time. Now enshrined in the Declaration of Indigenous Rights, participation is an emerging concept and site of debate within the scholarship and practice of Indigenous policy making. This thesis makes a timely contribution to that scholarship by applying concepts of participation developed through four decades of practice, critique and theorising in the sphere of international development. Debates about what constitutes participation are salient to analysis of everyday negotiations between Aboriginal people and governments. The research reveals a strong drive and commitment from Aboriginal community representatives to participate as local decision-makers, and a range of imperatives that urge governments to strive to enable this. However structural and resource challenges undermined the level of Aboriginal involvement and quality of participation achieved. The study indicates that Aboriginal participation in policy decision-making may be essential to re-empower those affected by colonization, and enable Aboriginal agency in setting goals and aspirations to improve their own lives and livelihoods.