THE ISSUES: Jo Williams has lived in Gympie all her life and reckons it’s a pretty good place to live.
THE ISSUES: Jo Williams has lived in Gympie all her life and reckons it’s a pretty good place to live. Renee Albrecht

‘Biggest problem is finding a job that fits with the kids’

JAWARRKI (Jo) Williams has lived in Gympie all her life.

She was born here and is now raising her children here.

And she reckons Gympie is a pretty good place to live, whatever your race, colour or creed is.

"I've never had any problems with racial discrimination here," she said.

"The biggest problem has been, as a single mother, finding a job which fits around my children."

That hurdle was overcome this year, when she started her new job at James Nash State High School as its Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island Community Advisor.

"I'm still getting to know the 88 students there, but it's great as we have heaps to offer kids."

Jo listed some of the school's programs which help indigenous children further their education, sporting achievements and social skills within society.

Programs such as AIMS, a mentoring service; the after school homework program; EATSIPS, giving with games, dance, books etcetera which help them identify with their history; and an internet program for high achievers with an online teacher in Brisbane, to name a few.

But she agrees that the life expectancy of many indigenous people is at risk.

"I think a lot of it comes down to where you are from," she said.

"Gympie itself is okay as we have supermarkets with fresh produce readily available.

"Compare that with for example, Mornington Island in the Gulf of Carpentaria, where there is one shop - about the size of an average cafe - serving the community.

"A loaf of bread and litre of milk can cost $15. So because it's too expensive to buy, you're not getting the fresh food you need. There's no luxuries up there; just the cafe, a school, an art centre and a couple of other places.

"Also, in Gympie we have a health card so we have access to dental care, a GP, physio and chiropractors, and it's all bulk billed. So the list of what's offered makes it easier to stay healthier.

"If you're crook and you can't afford to go to a doctor, you stay sick. So if you're up there and you need dialysis for example, it's simply too far away to access it."

As far as the statistics on the high number of Aboriginal men jailed, Ms Williams said it once again, came back to education and opportunities in the community - not just for Aboriginals, but for everyone.

"It turns into a vicious cycle. What's needed is more support for young kids so they don't go to jail in the first place.

Offenders become repeat offenders because it becomes a way of life. And for some kids, jail can be a better place than home - they get fed and a place to sleep at night.

We should be targeting young kids so there are better alternatives out there for them than jail. I guess it comes down to who is there to help.

"I've been to the Gympie police station to see if there's a PCYC here (Police Citizen's Youth Club) but the closest one is at Nambour. It would benefit kids here - a monthly barbecue ... game of touch footy. If we can stop the cycle, we stop the crime."

Jo pauses and gathers her thoughts. "It's Reconciliation Week this week," she says.

"I'd like to say, our city flies the Australian flag, New Zealand flag, even the Queensland flag, but not the Aboriginal flag. It's there because it is raised at the start of Naidoc Week each year, but then it's taken down.

"I believe if the community is willing to close the gap, it's one way to start to reconcile. But it's not just up to the community, it should be the responsibility of the city leaders to show reconciliation is happening."