A place where everyone can belong

By Parramatta Catholic Foundation, 1 June 2023
Bunjalung Elder Aunty Rhonda outside Aboriginal Catholic Care in Emerton. Image: Diocese of Parramatta


When Bundjalung Elder Aunty Rhonda steps inside the Aboriginal Catholic Care drop-in centre at Emerton she instantly feels at ease.

It’s a place she yearns for, a place she belongs— a second home.

“It just gives you this beautiful feeling,” says Aunty Rhonda. “And I’ve had that since I’ve been a part of it. I just belong.”

This ‘feeling’ has been with Aunty Rhonda for years. Having been involved with Catholic Care since its early days in Penrith, Aunty Rhonda became part of the Aboriginal Catholic Care community five years ago, when, having returned to Parramatta from supporting family interstate, she needed a helping hand.

“I have a granddaughter that got very sick, and I had my own depression because of her (situation),” she says. “So, I was dealing with a lot of stuff. I knew I’d come back, wherever God would send me, I knew I’d come back here, and I did.”

In so many ways, ‘coming back’ to Aboriginal Catholic Care has been a life-changing experience.

“It’s a family, it’s the giving of each other. You just sit around and yarn and there is a community that come in that are similar to you, or maybe worse off, or just trying to find themselves and trying to find a happy place to be. And this is why I feel for myself, it’s like home.”

Along with counselling and the chance to meet with others for a yarn, Aunty Rhonda attends literacy classes at the centre to help improve her reading and writing.

Aunty Rhonda and Geeta Khan at the Aboriginal Catholic Care centre’s art class. Image: Diocese of Parramatta

“I was 35 when I went to TAFE to learn the basics. We’re not good at reading and writing. Some can, and some can’t. A lot of us haven’t learnt and had the education,” she says.

“You can do so much with an education. And if you haven’t got that, it’s a very lonely place to be in your mind… if you do go to an office or you go to Centrelink or whatever it is, you’ll never be able to fill out a form. And it is embarrassing. I’ve been there and done that. And it’s not a good place sometimes, to be, when you don’t have an education.”

A mother of three, Aunty Rhonda continues to ‘push’ herself to learn more through courses run at the centre.

“I’ve kept my kids at school, and they’ve got a good education, I’m very proud of them. And my grandchildren, they are fabulous,” she says. “My grandsons are brilliant readers. They just read to you; they tell you stories. I’m proud of my kids, and I’m proud of what I achieved to try to do the best I could.”

With improved literacy, and the support of the centre’s yarning circles and counselling services, Aunty Rhonda’s confidence and independence has flourished. Last year, aged 70, she became a volunteer at the centre, welcoming the community, creating connections kinship, and leading Aboriginal art classes. Her art, she says, is a gift from God.

“What we see when people come in is homelessness … and mental health issues,” she says.

“And there’s drug and alcohol problems. But homelessness, mental health and housing issues are a big thing and losing your family. A lot of people have that grief, so we deal with that when they come in and we try to guide them and give them help the best way they can.”

Bunjalung Elder Aunty Rhonda (right) and Coordinator of the Hippy Program, Linda McDonald, at Aboriginal Catholic Care in Emerton. Image: Diocese of Parramatta

The eldest of 11, Aunty Rhonda credits her parents with her desire to reach out a helping hand to others.

“We’ve learned a lot from our parents to care and look after others and be kind and do the best out there for the people who are not doing well,” she says.

“I think God gives me plenty, and I know I’ve got enough to share. It’s a great gift that’s nourished me and my family, and I know God would want me to nourish other people too.”

Aboriginal Catholic Care provides a community drop-in centre for First Nations people in Western Sydney so they can access practical assistance and learning opportunities. In these overwhelmingly difficult times, your generosity will continue the life-changing support we provide for our First Nations sisters and brothers, and anyone in need.

Please support Aboriginal Catholic Care to help more people like Aunty Rhonda, with a donation to the Bishop’s Good Samaritan Appeal by calling (02) 8838 3482 or visiting yourcatholicfoundation.org.au/bishops-samaritan-co-appeal-23


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