Kitchen tables to leading employer
For more than 40 years, the Wathaurong Aboriginal Co-operative has established itself as a leading service provider and employer for Indigenous people living throughout the region.
While servicing more than 85 per cent of the local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population, the Co-operative offers health, children’s, family and community strengthening services, as well as its social enterprise, Wathaurong Glass.
Chief executive officer Simon Flagg said while the co-operative was now the largest employer of Aboriginal people in Geelong, it originally started as a conversation held around a kitchen table.
“In the late 1970s, local Aboriginal community members met in their homes discussing their shared vision of forming an organisation that could be a place for the Aboriginal community to come together,” he said.
“Wathaurong Aboriginal Co-operative was born out of necessity: a place for all Aboriginal people to come and receive care, support and services in a culturally safe environment and connect with community, culture and country.”
As part of its mission, the co-operative has set out to address inequality in the health status of Aboriginal people “from the first to last breath,” offering services to assist throughout all stages of life.
“Wathaurong Aboriginal Co-operative continues to support the social, economic and cultural development of Aboriginal people, building the capacity of our community to achieve self-determination,” Mr Flagg said.
The co-operative is also a member of the Geelong Chamber of Commerce, where its contributions to the Aboriginal community can be showcased through workshops, networking and mentorships.
“Being a member of the Chamber of Commerce means that you’re part of a bigger family that helps to promote Geelong,” Mr Flagg said.
Since those early kitchen table conversations, the co-operative operated out of several sites around Geelong before finding a permanent home in Morgan Street, North Geelong in 1996.
As the organisation has grown, the co-operative has added a second building to house its health and children’s services, while also expanding into the Federal Mills, and an additional office space in Albert Street, Geelong West.
Work is now under way for an additional community space in Norlane which will become a Healing Sprit Youth Hub, and the Morgan Street site has shovel-ready concept plans to redevelop the site and bring more the more than 150 employees back under one roof, and bring all services together again.
Wathaurong Aboriginal Co-operative provides services to any Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander people living in the Geelong, Bellarine, Surf Coast, Colac and Wyndham regions as well as providing cultural training services.
For more, head to wathaurong.org.au