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Creating and celebrating change at the local level


9 June 2021 at 7:52 pm
Maggie Coggan
“It makes me very proud to know that what we're doing, we're doing well.”


Maggie Coggan | 9 June 2021 at 7:52 pm


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Creating and celebrating change at the local level
9 June 2021 at 7:52 pm

“It makes me very proud to know that what we’re doing, we’re doing well.”

Following a year of extreme challenges, a three-day event is drawing grassroots community leaders and policymakers together in one place to tackle complex localised issues with a slightly different approach. 

This year’s ChangeFest, hosted in the greater Darwin region of Palmerston, is covering a range of issues such as respecting Elders, reimagining juvenile detention as cultural healing centres, and the unlikely benefits of the pandemic.  

Now in its third year, the event takes a place-based approach, with local organisations coming together to host the conference and lead discussions reflect on the work already happening in the community, and imagine new ways of doing things at scale. 

Local host organisation’s include traditional owner group Larrakia Nation, Palmerston Indigenous Network, Julalikari Aboriginal Corporation, Darwin Aboriginal and Islander Women’s Shelter, The Smith Family, and Charles Darwin University. 

It is also co-designed with First Nations community leaders, something Pippa Bailey, the co-director of ChangeFest, said was a critical difference to the way most social change conferences are run.  

“For us, walking alongside and taking direction from First Nations people is about really understanding the place,” Bailey told Pro Bono News. 

“So instead of just hosting the event in a conference centre like you might normally see, we are going to host a session in a local school, and do a drive by of the youth detention centre, Don Dale prison.” 

She said that by doing this, attendees would get a true understanding of where they were, the issues the community is facing, and the actions community groups are taking to overcome them. 

“You can come and do the tourist trail of Darwin, but that’s not going to show you how to fix some of the challenges that are here,” she said. 

The Palmerston area has faced ongoing social issues, including high crime rates, racial inequality and poverty.  

Local Palmerston Elder Serena Dalton is one person trying to overcome these issues, providing culturally-grounded mentoring support to young people who have been in contact with the youth justice system. 

She has recently developed the Grassroots Youth Engagement program – an Aboriginal-led initiative that aims to build the confidence and leadership of at-risk Indigenous young people in Palmerston.   

She told Pro Bono News that speaking at this year’s ChangeFest was an opportunity to share ideas and inspire change outside of their local community.   

“It makes us proud, I’m an Indigenous woman from this community, my kids are being raised in this community and it makes me very proud to know that what we’re doing, we’re doing well,” she said. 

“We’re paving the way and helping others to achieve the same goals.”

She said that while not every idea discussed at this year’s ChangeFest could be applied to every community, kickstarting the conversation was important. 

“Not everything that works here will work in other places, but you can certainly take the ideas and adapt them to your community,” she said. 

Letting the people make the change

Bailey said it was important to note that one event wasn’t going to change the world, and it was important to be honest about that. 

“I don’t think an event can make this change, it’s the people who are making the change,” she said.  

“All that we’re trying to do is make sure that we honour the principles and values of the work that local communities are already doing.” 

See more information about this year’s event and previous ChangeFests here.


Maggie Coggan  |  Journalist  |  @MaggieCoggan

Maggie Coggan is a journalist at Pro Bono News covering the social sector.

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