Our History

Gunawirra was formed in 2008 in a Karawee karawee, a gathering of concerned people  at the Grail Centre in North Sydney. Aboriginal representatives and elders from around NSW and Sydney, as well as 22 professionals from psychiatry, psychology, social work and psychoanalytic therapy pooled their ideas on how to prevent and reduce harm to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island children, their families and their communities.

The group identified the need for a coordinated and multi-faceted approach to break the cycle of physical, emotional ,alcohol and  substance abuse and domestic violence linked to poor mental health. The group saw the involvement of parents and children as a  crucial strategy  for well-being within Aboriginal families. The group focused on  the  importance of:

  • child  development in the first five years and
  • the value of providing intensive, purposeful, high-quality child-focused services. 

Research shows that these  can  promote significant changes in children’s cognitive, social, and emotional development and decrease both illness and criminality in adult life.

Two streams of action

Two streams of action developed over  the next three years. We introduced Gunawirra into country preschools and began  an intensive family program in  inner suburban slum areas for Aboriginal mothers who are pregnant or who have very young chidren. Always  we recognised that the Aboriginal  people we served and their leaders must guide us in nominating our programs.  We moved ahead whenever we could find funding  and we have been blessed by wonderfully generous committed funders.

1. Intensive Family Program

Our Young Aboriginal Mother’s Program  (YAMP) is a  multilayered program  and a replicable model of excellence. We believe our model is a major improvement on existing strategies with Aboriginal families. Tell me more on the Young Aboriginal Mothers Program.

2. Preschools
Here Gunawirra has had three broad sets of innitiatives:

  • Specific programs and assistance to NSW preschools many where the Aboriginal community is isolated and  suffering through deaths in custody and high suicide rates. Tell me more.
  • The Milky Way Website. In 2012 a three day meeting of 27 workers from regional preschools across NSW, with Gunawirra’s specialists, identified the five most critical elements to the success of Aboriginal young people in negotiating their life. Out of this, the Milky Way website was born to combat the isolation that was identified as a major issue for preschools. Over 100 preschools have now joined this website for ideas, programs, resources and support.
  • The Five Big Ideas, an integrated program of resources and support for preschools was  developed from all our experience in 2013. It is being rolled out from 2015.

In our strategic plan for the next three Years, Gunawirra has gathered together learning from  our disparate programs to focus on our work under two banners, Five Big Ideas and Young Aboriginal Mother’s Program (YAMP).

Both areas  are still to be  continually evaluated but are now  ready to replicate in centres and preschools around NSW and, who knows, possibly Australia wide.  Our focus is  as ever on : ground roots, Aboriginal input and advice, specialist professional skills, well studied and thought through innitiatives, born out of Aboriginal communities, answering a central need.