• Ash Johnstone is the Aboriginal specialist worker at WDVCAS in Wollongong. (NITV News)Source: NITV News
Ash Johnstone and Nathan Kickett are just two of the workers supporting women and young people on Dharawal country in the coastal community of Wollongong, NSW.
Keira Jenkins

The Point
27 Aug 2020 - 12:30 PM  UPDATED 1 Sep 2020 - 12:20 PM

While COVID-19 has put pressure on services supporting families who are experiencing domestic violence, frontline workers are still helping their communities through the pandemic and beyond.

In Wollongong, NSW, Dunghutti woman, Ash Johnstone works at the local Women's Domestic Violence Court Advocacy Service.

She told NITV's The Point that knowing that she's made a difference to the women she supports makes the hard work worthwhile.

"I love when I can support a woman to get financial support and help her get access to emergency finances that she needs or help her through the court process and help her get an AVO that she really wanted with conditions that she really needed to keep safe,"Ms Johnstone said.

"Those are really good moments for them but also make me feel really good to know that I've had a part in that."

'Everyone is unique'

Ms Johnstone is the Aboriginal specialist worker at the service in Wollongong, so she predominantly works with Indigenous women.

Day to day she calls the women referred to the service, and from there she will find the best way to support each person.

She said there are often needs around housing, employment and financial instability as well as mental health issues that can stem from experiencing domestic violence.

"We’ll call that woman and follow up with her and find out if she’s okay and also find out if there are any other services she needs to be safe or just to support her on that journey," she said.

"As the Aboriginal specialist worker, I'll often call the Indigenous clients, do a bit of an intake process to find out what their needs are and then respond to that.

"That can look really different depending on who I'm talking to. Everyone obviously has a unique case so it's all really different.

"It's just about supporting them with whatever it is they need."

That's where people like Nathan Kickett come in - he runs the Koori Strong program at the Illawarra Aboriginal Corporation. 

The program is aimed at young people who have come into contact with the justice system. Ms Johnstone said she often refers young women to the program.

Mr Kickett, a Barkindji, Wilyakali, Noongar and Wadjuk man said he sits down with each young person who comes to the Koori Strong program to hear their story because their contact with the justice system can be stemming from a wide range of other issues.

"Each person that comes through the door, we have to take the time to sit down with them individually and just try to know their story and where they come from and how to best support them," he said.

"We will attend court with them, attend ALS appointments with their solicitors to understand what they're going through and how we can best go ahead with supporting them.

"I think a lot of it too is connecting back to country. They'll come to us and some of them might not know their country or their people.

"We do want to connect them back to who they are and where they come from as well."

'Brings the joy out'

Mr Kickett said he's proud of the work he does, and loves being able to support young people in his community.

"The best thing I love about it is supporting my people and just trying to help our young people the best way we can," he said.

"I see myself in a lot of them, when I was a young lad and getting involved in the wrong things and getting around the wrong people and it gets you into trouble.

"With my own experience I can best help guide and support them because I've been through some of the stuff they've been through and it just brings the joy out of me to help and support them."

Ms Johnstone said it's important there's an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander woman to walk through the process with each Indigenous woman who needs support.

"Historically there’s been so much damage caused by different agencies, government policies of the past that have led to a lot of Indigenous women feeling a lot of pain and Indigenous families feeling a lot of pain and suffering," she said.

"So for an Indigenous woman now to enter that system and that process, but to know that they’ve got an Aboriginal woman to walk with them through it, I know that it puts a lot of clients at ease.

"It also opens up the door for them to start having conversations around those systems as well."

COVID-19 lockdown puts Indigenous women at greater risk of domestic violence, new report says
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander domestic violence workers say Indigenous women have experienced more domestic violence during COVID-19 lockdowns.