Strong, proud connections to Country

When it comes to teenagers, the research is clear: community engagement and positive participation make them feel good. And when teenagers feel accepted, seen and supported, they’re more likely to make positive choices. For Aboriginal teenagers, connection to community, Country and culture play a huge role in supporting overall health and wellbeing — as well as positive education outcomes1. 

The Strong & Proud program, or ‘Wumbudin Kool-yee-rah’ is a Noongar-led after school program. For Aboriginal young people, it provides culturally appropriate activities and the chance to connect to culture and Country. 

The Albany program 

Since 2014, the Strong & Proud program has been working with the Noongar community in Albany WA  to empower Aboriginal young people to: 

  • Learn about their culture and connection to Country from Noongar Elders and community members 
  • Build confidence and leadership skills 
  • Increase physical activity — for fun and improved health outcomes 
  • Access positive after school activities  
  • Improve school attendance and reduce anti-social behaviour 

Based on the six Noongar seasons, the program runs during school terms and includes a few different experiences for young people who show a commitment to attending school:  

  • Engaging after school activities are a ‘taste test’ of local environmental, cultural and recreational activities led by local experts 
  • Noongar family camps give young people positive inter-generational and cultural experiences 
  • Weekend activities designed to build confidence and connection — young people have the chance to try mountain biking, stand-up paddle boarding, art, archery and more in a supportive environment. 

Two Aboriginal mentors are always on hand to provide encouragement and support to Strong & Proud participants — and former participants are often given the opportunity to become program mentors. 

The Tambellup program 

In 2020, the Strong & Proud piloted in Tambellup WA. This small regional town is trying to heal in the wake of a violent crime, and local organisations hoped the program might help. 

With uptake from 24 Aboriginal young people between the ages of 12-17, each after school session started with a healthy cook up for afternoon tea, followed by fun activities in the local area. 

For most, the highlight was the weekend camp in Albany at Camp Kennedy. Over the weekend, the young people had the chance to learn about culture and Country from local Noongar Elders and community members: 

  • Vernice Gillies welcomed the group to Menang Country and guided them to explore the fish traps at Oyster Harbour 
  • May Penny led a culture walk and shared her experiences 
  • Larry Blight taught tool making and shared culturally significant sites 

The students also had a go at stand-up paddle boarding, surfing, painting, sustainable fishing, rock climbing, geocaching, archery, and conservation. 

Developing strength and pride 

The students who are part of the Strong & Proud program are showing all sorts of positives. Schools report that attendance among the participants has improved. A few students who were targeted because of long-term non-attendance have been turning up more often because they’re keen to be part of the program. In Tambellup, local police have noticed a drop in anti-social behaviour among young people. But it’s more than that.  

The young people in the program are showing more respect for Elders, more connection to their culture, and more engagement with their community. With the success of the Albany and Tambellup programs, South Coast NRM is seeking funds to expand the program to Gnowangerup. Engaging Aboriginal community leaders on the ground in each town is key — their local knowledge, connections, and understanding allow them to tailor the program to each unique community. 

South Coast NRM coordinates and delivers Strong & Proud through Targeted Participation Program funding from the Department of Local Government, Sport and Cultural Industries in partnership with, the Department of EducationWA Police, Shire of Broomehill -Tambellup, Albany Senior High School, North Albany Senior High School, Katanning Senior High School, Albany Aboriginal Corporation and Tambellup Aboriginal Progress Association and Relationships Australia. 

If you’d like to know more about Strong & Proud, visit our website.