For the people of Warburton, a small community within Central Australia’s remote Ngaanyatjarra Lands, many everyday services other Australians take for granted are a luxury. However, that’s about to change, with new government funding to encourage a small community project-turned-social enterprise: Wilurarra Social Enterprise Salon.
Last week Member for Kalgoorlie Wendy Duncan pledged $266,600 of funding to Wilurarra Creative, the organisation behind the Wilurarra Social Enterprise Salon, the Ngaanyatjarra Lands’ very first hair salon.
“A hair salon is the number one request for people out here,” Silvano Giordano, Director of Wilurarra Creative, tells SBS. “Warburton’s closest town is 1,000 kilometres away. So the closest hairdressers are 1,000 kilometres away.”
Ngaanyatjarra Lands, which is “about the size of Victoria” is home to over 2,000 people. Of the dozen communities that live within the lands, Warburton is the largest with a population of under 800 who are of predominately Indigenous Australians and speak English as a second language if at all, says Giordano.
In addition to providing the community with a service they’ve long been waiting for, the salon will open new vocational opportunities for locals, many of whom are unfortunately “disengaged”, Giordano says.
“High school has a very low attendance here, and for most people their relationship with learning institutions is not a positive experience. It’s delivered in English which not a lot of them speak, and [they find] the things they learn in school aren’t relevant to their lives,” says Giordano.
“And over 40 per cent of the population is in the 16 to 30 age bracket. So it’s a very large percentage, especially when you realise the average life span here is 45.”
Because of that disengagement, Giordano started Wilurarra Creative six years ago when he first moved to the Ngaanyatjarra Lands. Giordano is a non-Indigenous member of the Warburton community.
“There are no other programs that are skills development based. So Wilurarra facilitates a diverse range of creative programs that are both for and directed by young adults here,” he says.
This includes access to a music recording studio and instruments for band practices, design and photography projects, a regularly-published hair and makeup magazine, and their hairdressing courses, which have been running for years.
Giordano says a hairdressing and styling program has been in place for several years in the community, where a stylist from interstate will come to Warburton, stay for around a month and show locals how to cut, colour and style hair.
“We also have partnerships with local high school who send their students to check out the salon and do courses, and partnerships with the health centre that provide us with lice treatments and scalp care products, too,” says Giordano
But with the extra funding, Giordani hopes the hair salon can be a sustainable business for the local community and its partnerships, one he hopes will provide not only economic benefits but a sense of purpose to many young people.
They are also looking at alternate payment models, says Giordano, where some services can be paid through a “service exchange” – Person One does Person Two's hair, then Person Two does Person One's hair - or by working in the salon part time.
“Even though we want it to be a sustainable business, the salon is for the benefit of the community and they come first,” he says.
Ultimately, Giordano is confident the new funding will make a world of difference for the Ngaanyatjarra Lands – especially because the “funding caters specifically to what the community has asked for”.
“You just see the impact it all has on these people on mental health, their sense of wellbeing, and their sense of pride.”