‘Us versus them’ Coledale mindset

IT’S the trouble-plagued suburb where you can pick up a block of land for under $20,000 and where crime, unemployment and substance abuse are rampant.

So it may strike you as a little strange when Marc Sutherland proudly calls himself a “product of Coledale”.

The young indigenous leader – charismatic, intelligent and with a strong sense of social justice – was born and raised in the west Tamworth suburb.

Being Aboriginal and from Coledale, Mr Sutherland understands prejudice and disempowerment more than most.

And as debate again flares about how best to cut crime rates in Coledale, the 26-year-old said addressing that disadvantage had to be part of the solution.

“Disadvantage causes social problems and research can back that up,” Mr Sutherland said.

“How can you have a suburb of 3000 people without one shop?

“How can you have a suburb with that level of disadvantage in an affluent place like Tamworth.

“It’s about a lack of empowerment. People need to know they are valued and supported and that’s not being felt in Coledale.”

The former Tamworth Young Citizen of the Year and Peel High school captain said the lack of infrastructure and support from the wider community had forged an “us versus them” attitude in Coledale.

“You can’t solve problems by making more problems,” he said.

“The way to solve things isn’t to take away services. It’s seeing what services are necessary to improve the situation and adding them.

“All levels of government need to support Coledale to help it create its own positive identity.”

He rejected a suggestion last week by local police commander Clint Pheeney to strip Coledale trouble-makers of their public housing privileges, saying it would simply inflame the situation.

He said much of the negative stigma surrounding Coledale was borne out of ignorance.

“There are a lot of exceptional people there,” he said.

“But there are problems and they’re not going to be solved quickly.

“People will always look at ways  to solve problems they’re confronted by and that’s where issues start happening.

“The majority of people in Tamworth only hear the negative stuff and they’ve never actually been there.”

Mr Sutherland, who studied primary school teaching at uni and is currently employed as a youth worker at the Youthie, said it was the support of his family and his peer group that helped changed the path of his life.

“There are 1000 paths a child growing up in Coledale can take,” he said.

“We’re all products of our environment and I grew up in a supportive household.

“We won’t achieve anything unless we empower young people and the community to act for themselves.”

In high school, Mr Sutherland and a group of about 10 mates formed the Gomeroi Dance Company, a nationally renowned Aboriginal dance ensemble that still operates today.

“That empowered me; it reinforced my identity,” he said.

“We supported each other to make positive decisions and because of that support we’ve all achieved what we wanted to.”

He said growing up Aboriginal in Tamworth could be a “fish bowl existence”.

“You’re constantly being analysed and judged by people on the outside,” he said.

Affecting meaningful change in Coledale, he said, would be long-term and complex.

“You can’t make changes in six months, you need to be looking at five years,” Mr Sutherland said.

“It will take a co-ordinated approach from the whole of the community.

“It just feels like the good people of Coledale are being let down by a lack of support and understanding.”

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