While COVID 19 is still a very real threat in other parts of Australia, the NT is enjoying life being back to normal … almost. For the Return to Country team, a slowdown is a welcome change after the busiest period in the program’s 17-year history.
For three long months from April to July, the Return to Country team was flat out crazy busy helping people return to their country to avoid the COVID pandemic.
“We were so busy that we had to shut the doors. The lines were backed up outside. It was crazy” said Kathleen Fejo, RTC Customer Service Officer.
When the COVID threat was at its peak in the NT, the Northern Territory Government allowed Larrakia Nation to issue free travel to encourage people to get out of Darwin and back into their own communities where they were safe. On top of that, the NTG wiped existing travel debts which made interest in travel go through the roof.
Kathleen explains that “people got scared and wanted to go home. We had people that had houses in town here, but they thought it would be safer out there than here, and they wanted to return”
Important staff safety under COVID restrictions
Not only was it busy, it was also challenging for the staff who had to wear gloves, facemasks and practice safe distancing while processing travel and ID requests.
“It was one thing to help others to go home, but the staff had to think about how to keep themselves safe. There was a lot pressure on us to keep our doors open but we were scared too” explained RTCCoordinator Ranelle Singh.
Despite the challenges, the team have come out the other side, and are looking forward to work getting back to normal – which for them is still pretty busy!
Culturally safe environment means RTC is always in demand
Return to Country offers short terms loans that can be used for buying plane tickets, getting identification cards or temporary accommodation. These loans are organised with Centrelink and paid back through fortnightly deductions from Centrelink payments.
The program has been operating for close to 20 years and offers a culturally safe environment for Indigenous people to access services that doesn’t require them to pay the full fare up front.
“I believe our service is very necessary. It’s essentially short-term loans that we give when people can’t get home and would be stuck if we don’t help them. Some parents won’t be seeing their kids and some kids get stuck here – we try to help them as much as possible” says Kieran Bush a long term RTC Customer Service Officer.
Big events in Darwin make for heavy workload
Return to Country is in high demand when lots of people come into Darwin from community for big events. The recent AFL footy games have seen many people stuck in Darwin needing to get home as well as when the lockdown on community travel was lifted. School holidays are also busy times.
For more information about the Return to Country program visit the Larrakia Nation website http://larrakia.com/services/outreach-services/or ring 1800 290 659