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It’s time to come together

REFOCUS practitioner Rommi Pukall. Image: Natasha Jade


It’s time to come together

As the Sunshine Coast community readies itself for NAIDOC Week celebrations next week, My Weekly Preview speaks to First Nations residents about their commitment
to culture and their people.

From July 3 to 10 Australia will recognise an important time known as NAIDOC Week.

The week is a chance for everyone to gain a deeper understanding of First Nations peoples, their culture and traditions and build a more united and accepting community.

NAIDOC stands for National Aborigines and Islanders Day Observance Committee.

Its origins can be traced to the emergence of Aboriginal groups in the 1920s, which sought to increase awareness in the wider community of the status and treatment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians.

The Sunshine Coast is home to the Gubbi Gubbi/Kabi Kabi and Jinibara people where for more than 20,000 years, the traditional custodians hunted in the surrounding ranges, fished the rivers and gathered seafood from the ocean.

This year’s NAIDOC Week theme is Get Up! Stand Up! Show Up! and it calls on the community to rally for systemic change and continue to support and secure institutional, structural, collaborative and co-operative reforms.

On a local level, one organisation working day in, day out to make a difference is REFOCUS. The charity is making a profound difference in the wellbeing of Indigenous youth and their families across the region.

REFOCUS has been delivering wellbeing support services to the Sunshine Coast, Moreton Bay and Gympie regions since 2010.

The charity stands for ‘Redirecting and Empowering Families through Culturally Unique Services’ and provides a range of programs to support children to reach their full potential.

REFOCUS CEO Darcy Cavanagh first began working in the youth and child protection sector in 1998 and knows firsthand the need for this type of support in the local community.

“My interest in this line of work comes from my brief experience of being placed in the foster care system with my two brothers and the life that followed being returned home,” he says.

“A lot of my experience, or so-called expertise, has come from my lived experience and learning from every person that I have come into contact with through my childhood and working career.

“All these experiences led to the foundation of creating an organisation that focuses on the people and creates opportunity for people’s voices to be heard.

“The service is not just about ticking boxes and reaching targets; it reaches the heart of a person and creates meaningful change and a sense of belonging.”

Launching REFOCUS with six staff, and now with a team more than 60, the charity supports thousands of individuals through a variety of programs across its catchment area, with a specific focus on children under 18.

Programs include family wellbeing services, family participation programs, NDIS support services, foster and kinship care as well as Aboriginal medical service Gunyah of Wellness.

Someone who knows how important REFOCUS’ services are is 22-year-old Tyrone Peisker.

Struggling at school and having trouble connecting to his culture, the proud Aboriginal man was able to find a sense of belonging and tap into his creative side with the help of the organisation.

“I was a young teenager who needed a lot of support to help me find my way,” Mr Peisker says. “I struggled at school and understanding [in] my mind what was going on around me.

“REFOCUS team helped me connect to my culture, skills and interests that I didn’t know I had, like writing rap songs about my family and what I was going through as a young teenager.

“I got to produce and film my own rap video, which was fun. I was able to connect with the local PCYC and gained awards for the writing work I did.

“REFOCUS helped me to learn independent skills like going to appointments, cooking, cleaning, communicating with adults and the community, and work through my emotions. I am now able to live independently and make decisions for my life. Without them I don’t think I would be where I am now standing up for my life.”

From a different perspective, youth worker Thomas Gower also found a purpose with REFOCUS.

The 26-year-old Palawa man was born and raised on local land and speaks highly of how wellbeing services can make a difference to others in similar situations to himself, after he left school at a young age to work.

“Due to my lack of education, I bounced through different jobs from manual labour to a deckhand on a fishing trawler. I was living a life without purpose. I had lost my identity,” he says.

“At the beginning of 2018 REFOCUS offered me a traineeship in community services. Since then, I have been able to continue my studies in the field of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander mental health while working within the child and family wellbeing space, redirecting and empowering my community just as REFOCUS once did for me.”

Mr Gower says NAIDOC Week is important not only for celebrating the strength and success of First Nations people, but to help bridge the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous cultures.

“Being a young Indigenous person, I feel a great sense of pride in what our elders and ancestors have achieved – one of those achievements being the creation of Aboriginal Community Controlled organisations.

“I believe people with a background like mine possibly wouldn’t have the opportunity to get involved with helping the community if they weren’t around, like who gives a young fella with a limited education and a manual labour background a chance to explore a career in serving people?

“I think about the future of other young ones and if they can see the pathway I have taken and believe they can be more, our future looks promising and the work we do with our community will be worthy of the acknowledgment – past, present and future.”

As REFOCUS looks ahead, Mr Cavanagh says the organisation is currently part of a significant piece of legislative child protection work in Queensland, accepting to be one of two early adopter sites for Delegation of Authority.

“Delegation of Authority is where the Director-General of the Department of Children, Youth Justice and Multicultural Affairs (DCYJMA) delegates her authority for the CEO of REFOCUS to make legislated child protection decisions for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children on child protection orders,” Mr Cavanagh says.

“This is a first for Queensland and the work each early adopter sites develop lays the platform for the rest of the state around First Nation services and people making legal child protection decisions for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and families.

“REFOCUS, since inception, has practiced this year’s NAIDOC theme Get Up! Stand Up! Show Up! and this is even more evident with the outcomes of the work achieved.”

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Fast facts

  • REFOCUS to date has provided its family wellbeing services to more than 2000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families, comprising nearly 600 individuals.
  • The organisation has supported more than 450 parents/carers through the Family Participation Program.
  • It provides support for 168 children yearly who are in foster care.
  • Primary healthcare services are provided to more than 5000 patients, including 2000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community members through the Gunyah of Wellness medical centre, which is not government funded.

Arts scene

Munnimbah-dja Indigenous culture space is a First Nations-run gallery in Maleny. Meaning ‘welcome place’, it is an Indigenous-run consultancy, art gallery, shop front and yarning place created co-founders Bj Murphy (Jinibara) and Libby Harward (Quandamooka).

Their aim is to position contemporary urban Aboriginal art in the local arts ecology and explore, connect, engage and share with non-Indigenous audiences on their own terms.

Recently receiving Regional Arts Development Funding, Munnimbah-dja will develop visual arts project ‘Ba-Banju-Njam: Come along with us’ – a series of gallery artworks and complementary products to attract mainstream audiences.

Head to to find out more.


NAIDOC Week on the Coast

As part of NAIDOC Week 2022, Sunshine Coast Council will be holding a range of events including flag raising, family fun days and art exhibitions.

“NAIDOC Week is a great opportunity to reflect on and celebrate First Nations culture, heritage and the First Nations community’s proud history of getting up, standing up, and showing up,” Community Portfolio councillor David Law says.

The council has also updated its Reconciliation Action Plan, which Mayor Mark Jamieson says highlights the continued commitment to promoting the self-determination of First Nations peoples.

Mayor Jamieson says the plan focuses on providing equitable economic, employability and education opportunities within the organisation, and ensuring a strengthened working relationship with First Nations peoples and a continued effort to advance reconciliation.

NAIDOC Week celebrations will begin with a flag-raising ceremony at Nambour Forecourt on the corner of Currie and Bury streets on July 4 at 9am.

To find a full list of events visit and search for ‘NAIDOC’.


My Weekly Preview acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of this land, the Gubbi Gubbi/Kabi Kabi and Jinibara peoples. We recognise cultural, spiritual, social and economic significance of the region.

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