Queensland: From trouble in paradise to a thriving, resilient community

Palm Island is an Aboriginal community within Great Palm Island on the Great Barrier Reef in North Queensland. Its natural endowments and breathtaking beauty make it a classic ‘tropical paradise’, but it is not without its problems.

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Palm Island is living proof that local communities hold the keys to solving local problems. And that with a little bit of guidance and support they can flourish, against all odds.

Since its creation as an Aboriginal reserve, Palm Island has been considered synonymous with Indigenous disadvantage and violence.

The tragic and disturbing death in custody in 2004 devastated the entire island community. The high profile case opened the nation’s eyes to the plight of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people on Palm Island. The resulting national outcry and political activism sought to improve the conditions and treatment of Australia’s Indigenous peoples and redress injustices on Palm Island and beyond.

Palm Island’s troubled past has also served to inspire resilience and resourcefulness among local residents, who have taken bold steps to build a brighter future for themselves.

Since 2008, the Palm Island Community Company (PICC) has been providing community and human services that are specific to the needs of the Palm Island community, primarily through its commitment to build a workforce comprising local Palm Island people.

Diversionary services provide a safe and monitored environment for people who are recovering from intoxication, to reduce the risk of people being held in police custody for public intoxication related offences.

The community is seeing and feeling the benefits of these services first hand. PICC also runs a family support hub and safe haven which are helping create a safer community for local children. And there’s a place for day time activities where people can socialise and learn new skills, including cooking classes for local men.

Continued funding for PICC’s Diversion Services and Patrol depends on compliance with funding agency requirements, so PICC approached ICV for help with developing effective reporting capabilities.

ICV volunteer Bruce was selected for his extensive volunteer experience in remote Indigenous communities and his philosophy to put back in society. Bruce travelled to Palm Island on three occasions last year and worked closely with PICC staff to establish appropriate information collection tools and implement clear record management systems.

“From this project,” Bruce shared with us, “I have learnt that generally the local community know the problem and the solution. An outsider can often bring the players together and help them implement their solution.”

“It was good to have ICV come out to the community face to face, it shows the honest and genuine support for future capacity building in the community.”

Palm Island community member Vaughn Charles