Return to Country

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The wet season is tough for people who live in the long grass. Our Healthy Engagement and Assistance in the Long Grass (HEAL) service works hard to connect homeless people with services they need like Centrelink and Territory Families, and healthcare, but often the solution lies in helping people return to their communities.

Getting stuck in Darwin is a common scenario for people who come to Darwin for a myriad of reasons but can’t raise the money to get home again. This is where our Return to Country service comes into the picture.

Operating for almost 20 years, this vital service facilitates people to book and pay for plane tickets to return home and is a cheap and smart solution to the far-reaching social problems created by homelessness. It’s expensive to travel remotely in the NT, and paying a full fare upfront isn’t feasible for many clients.

Return to Country has been successful for so long because it offers people the opportunity to buy plane tickets on a payment plan and is often the only option for those stuck in Darwin. The service is eligible to all Aboriginal people who live outside of Larrakia country.

Always in demand, last financial year RTC issued 4,623 one-way plane tickets throughout the NT for adults and children to return home. The demand was unusually high because of COVD-19 and the movement of people out of Darwin, but the RTC building is always busy with people.

“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 RTC Officer Kieran Bush.

Managed by a small team of five, the RTC office is next to Centrelink in Casuarina and designed so clients can walk in without appointment to start the process for getting home.

Run in partnership with Centrelink the RTC model is simple and has three key components.

  1. A culturally safe place where people can come and talk to trained staff about getting home.
  2. Agreement with Centrelink about making fortnightly deductions to pay for the airfares.
  3. Support with the paperwork and administration needed to make plane bookings.

The demand for the service fluctuates throughout the year and is high when there are a lot of people in Darwin for big events like football games or the Darwin Royal Show or school holidays. Wet weather and the challenges it presents for long grassers means people need to get back to community urgently and our efficient service is able to cope with that.

For more information about the Return to Country program visit the Larrakia Nation website 1800 290 659 or visit the Return to Country Office on Bradshaw Terrace in Casuarina (next to Centrelink).