Swimming the River on Horseback

18 October 2022

Our young people. Our community. Swimming the river on horseback together. 

The wet season in Kununurra brings its own energy – erratic, electrifying, and unpredictable – where anything goes. The air is thick and humid, however laden with possibility.

Amidst recent waves of disturbance, a result of the region’s youth crime epidemic, the local Rodeo Grounds became a haven of equanimity, for youth-at-risk of offending. 

At the base of the Sleeping Buddha, a resting rock formation cradling the Kununurra township, youth and frontline workers gathered at dusk, for the Swimming the River on Horseback program. 

The program, delivered by Horsepower Training, with the support of Wunan Foundation, focused on building trusting personal relationships between frontline support workers and youth-at-risk of offending. 

The program draws on the parallels between the stockmanship skills required to work young weaner cattle, and the skills required to work with a group of youth-at-risk. 

The three-week intensive program provided a platform for connection between youth and frontline support workers to get in the dirt and explore the principles of stockmanship, and worked toward building support structures around each participating young person to sustain positive change. 

The initiative was deemed critical to addressing the unresolved social and emotional wellbeing issues that many Aboriginal youth in Kununurra face. Youth justice issues are interwoven with a range of social and emotional wellbeing issues, mental distress, anger, self-harm and school truancy. Both issues are now ‘front of mind’ for the government and community. 

The program name, ‘Swimming the River on Horseback’ has a significant meaning. 

Wunan’s metaphor, ‘Swimming the River’ is used to describe what Aboriginal people need to do to become purposeful, self-reliant participants in society. While swimming the stream, they need to avoid life obstacles (crocodiles) such as alcohol abuse, passive welfare and contact with the legal system to reach the opportunities which lie on the other side of the river.

The program will be followed by systematic and robust evaluation, so that lessons learnt are captured and the project can be replicated in the future.

The program was hugely successful thanks to the many stakeholders involved. The program was made possible thanks to Carlton Hill Station managers Andrew and Brooke for supplying and carting their beautiful cattle for the workshops, Steve Burke of Horsepower Training for working with our young people and introducing them to the principles of working livestock, and our wonderful role models Houston Purdie and Steele Curtin of Glen Hill Cattle Co, Lexine Mourambine of Nyamba Buru Yawaru.

The program received significant support from Tanya, Kara, Marcia and Terry at the MG Corp T120 program, our wonderful Police Officers Jarrod, Sarah, Nick, Lauren and Carly, our terrific horse team, Kristie, Anthea and Kasey, Mike Keighley from Far Out Adventures, the fantastic Youth Justice, DCP and Department of Education staff, Vicky and Ross for capturing the moments so perfectly, NIAA staff, and Green Collar for their generous sponsorship. 

Wunan directors and employees, including the Lily Lagoon Resort team, provided on-going support and were critical to the programs success. 

The program was made possible thanks to KCAF (Kimberley Community Action Fund) Grants Program and the State Government.

Topic: wunan