• Orana Haven CEO Alan Bennett (kneeling) with group at the rehabilitation centre (Supplied)Source: Supplied
A men’s-only rehabilitation centre in the far west of NSW wants to lease a former minimum-security prison to provide a haven and support services for women and children living with addiction and family violence.
Nadine Silva

6 Jul 2020 - 2:54 PM  UPDATED 6 Jul 2020 - 2:55 PM

Alan Bennett is no stranger to the damages of substance abuse.

The Ngemba man's 32-year battle with addiction has cost him a house, destroyed his relationships and hindered his ability to hold on to a job.

I have three families as a result. I didn’t know how to keep a relationship going cause I was too focused on my addiction,” says Alan.

After a bumpy road to getting clean, Alan says he wanted to help people just like him.

"Having the right support can encourage you to see there is a better way to live without substance”.

Alan is now the CEO of Orana Haven, an award-winning rehabilitation centre for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men in the rural north-west NSW town of Brewarrina.

The centre's riverside facility provides a safe, holistic and culturally sensitive sanctuary for men suffering from drug and alcohol abuse.

But while it accommodates 150 to 200 men a year, Orana Haven’s executives have identified a “huge gap” in the absence of rehabilitation services for women in the region.

Orana Haven chairperson, Ted Fernando, says the centre provides obvious potential solutions to help a broader section of community, as substance abuse and family violence often go "hand-in-hand". 

This is one of the reasons Orana Haven has been lobbying to lease the former Yetta Dhinnakkal minimum-security prison to open a separate rehabilitation facility for women.

If successful, the proposed facility would have the capacity to accommodate around 50 women.


"We often get calls from couples, and I really don’t know where to refer them to, because there’s no centre that we know of that caters for couples - never mind couples with children," says Alan.

“We want to keep them separated because some women go through lots of trauma and domestic violence, and we don’t want to trigger anything by having them together."

Ted says the Brewarrina Shire is willing to lease the former prison for a women’s centre after September. 

He says he has also been in discussions with Parkes MP, Mark Coulton, and the Department of Family and Community Services district director, Jo Lawrence, about the potential handover.

“Because of our reputation, I think we've got a good chance to get this off the ground," says Ted. “The big barrier is getting the funding to actually run the facility."

Orana Haven's drive for a women’s facility is about much more than addressing substance abuse in the area.

"If parents can’t both get into a rehab, they stay trapped in that cycle of addiction before their children get removed," says Alan.

Over the years, Alan says he has noticed a pattern of children who’ve been removed from their families, eventually struggling with drug and alcohol issues.

To break this cycle, Orana Haven also wants to accommodate children at the proposed women’s facility.


"That way we can work with the family unit, have the fathers here, the mothers there and over time the children follow their mothers,” says Alan.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women in incarceration commonly have histories with substance abuse, according to a 2018 report by the Australian Law Reform Commission. 

“There are so many families and lives getting destroyed, and locking them up in jail is not the answer.”

The proposed facility would run with a subcommittee of female workers and create 15 to 20 jobs in the area.

Mr Fernando hopes to get the women’s centre up and running in the next 6 to 12 months.

“At the end of the day, when you really look at it, it’s a matter of life or death,” says Alan.

Why Elders campaigned for NSW's first Indigenous women’s rehab facility
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