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Saturday, June 19, 2021

Aboriginal homes for the elderly to be built in Dickson

Dickson residents may have noticed plumes of smoke rising from a construction site in Marsden Street this morning. It was an Aboriginal smoking ceremony traditionally held to drive away bad spirits and cleanse the site. By the end of the year, this bare earth, strewn with trucks and diggers, will become five two-bedroom homes for 10 elderly Ngunnawal people.

Housing ACT will build Ningulangu (“Belonging to: home, place”) by the end of the year, and the first tenants will move in shortly after.

“It will be a safe place for them – a strong and spiritually safe place, as well,” said Ngunnawal elder Caroline Hughes.

Vulnerable elders and other Indigenous people will have housing of a standard they deserved, she said, rather than second-rate homes with cockroaches and holes in walls. They will also be able to have visitors without fear of retaliation. The complex is near the Dickson shops, so residents will be close to markets and the tram.

Ngunnawal elder Caroline Hughes. Photo: Kerrie Brewer

The ACT Government has worked with the ACT Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Elected Body (ATSIEB) to ensure the homes will be culturally appropriate. The complex includes yarning circles, fire pits, and native gardens in each dwelling.

“This sets an excellent example of strong partnership in this community, and can only be done when people come to the table with goodwill together,” Ms Hughes, an ATSIEB member, said.

Although plans were revised based on ATSIEB recommendations, Housing ACT’s Peter Perez said the design did not change much. “It was more about gathering, bringing everyone together, and the look and feel of the complex.”

The ACT Government will select tenants based on advice from the Elected Body and elders.

Ngunnawal-Kamilaroi artist Richie Allan conducted today’s smoking ceremony. “We connect to ancestral spirits; we connect to ancestral footprints through the smoking ceremony,” he said.

Housing ACT will collect the ashes, which will be placed under the foundations of the houses.

“These places are not just brick and mortar; they actually have a story from start to finish, that continues when people live here,” said Yvette Berry, ACT Minister for Housing and Suburban Development.

Smoke rises over the construction site. Photo: Kerrie Brewer

Ningulangu will be the ACT’s third housing development for elderly Indigenous people. Gundji Gindilan was built in Lyons in 2020, and Mura Gunya in Kambah in 2016.

Ms Berry said Ms Hughes told her the ACT Government led the way across the country in engaging with the Indigenous community from design through construction to people moving in.

“For us, that’s great that we can lead the way in that work,” Ms Berry said. “It means that we take seriously our journey toward reconciliation together, and take seriously the experience, the connections with land, the needs of the Aboriginal community here in the ACT, in making sure we get it right.”

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