Background

In 1988, a group of Aboriginal women came together in Sydney, with the stated aim of addressing the issue of violence perpetrated against women in their community. Aboriginal women from four corners of the state came together with the common aim of finding solutions for a problem that for too long had been overlooked, violence against women and children.

Subsequent meetings took place, and there was eventually consensus among the women gathered that the issue of violence against Aboriginal women had to be realised and dealt with by the community, with Aboriginal women taking the lead.

The NSW Government was slowly responding to the issues of violence in Aboriginal communities and in 1991 the Secretariat of National Aboriginal and Island Child Care (SNAICC) produced a seminal national resource called “Through Black Eyes”. It aimed to assist Aboriginal communities to tackle issues of family violence, child abuse and neglect of children. It encouraged this by getting people to talk about these issues and how best as a community they could deal with them. The Aboriginal women who had been meeting since the 1980’s had been talking and responded with a clear objective – to establish a culturally appropriate legal and support service for women and children. A service managed by Aboriginal women, for Aboriginal women.

In 1995, the NSW Attorney General provided funding to establish an independent Aboriginal women’s community legal centre managed by Aboriginal women. Finally self-determination for Aboriginal women was being realised.

For too long, Aboriginal women and children had missed out on a legal service for their needs, especially if they were victims of abuse and violence. This was partly because the Aboriginal Legal Service (ALS) primarily acted for clients who had been charged with criminal offences and due to potential conflicts of interest (not acting “black against black”) could not advise women or children who were very often, the victims of the violent crimes perpetrated by existing ALS clients. Although the ALS maintains not to act “black against black”, the services acts for Aboriginal defendants in situations where the victim is an Aboriginal woman. As a result of this, in the past Aboriginal women and children had no choice but to use mainstream services such as generalist community legal centres and the Legal Aid Commission.

So in response to hard lobbying and recognition of the unmet legal needs of Aboriginal women and children, Wirringa Baiya came into being. Officially founded in 1994, and originally named the NSW Aboriginal Women’s Legal Resource Centre the centre was eventually revised and renamed. The words “Wirringa Baiya” are from traditional languages in the Sydney and Northern NSW areas and together the words mean, “women speak” which suitably, reflect the origins of the service.

Today Wirringa Baiya is a state-wide specialist community legal centre within a network of other community legal centres in NSW and Australia. It is funded by the NSW Department of Justice and Attorney General with funding managed by the NSW Legal Aid Commission. The principles of self determination displayed by the founding members have carried over today with a Governing Board entirely of Aboriginal women from a diverse range of ages and various communities.

Wirringa Baiya specialises in providing legal information, advice, casework, education and advocacy for Aboriginal women and children who are or have been, victims of violence in NSW. Wirringa Baiya focuses on supporting career development for young women and has provided a nurturing space for many young female Aboriginal law students and non-legal volunteers to participate in the work of the centre.

In recent years our paid staff numbers have doubled: we now have 7 staff members in both part time and fulltime capacities, with three Aboriginal identified positions. Despite the increase in staffing in recent years, Wirringa Baiya is still seriously understaffed considering the service covers the whole of NSW. Much of the funding for the paid positions remains tenuous, unreliable and inconsistent, and does not properly recognise the need for Aboriginal women and children in NSW to have a dedicated, culturally appropriate legal service.

The words Wirringa Baiya in traditional language mean “Women Speak”.

Wirringa – Women Central inland New South Wales.

Baiya – Speak – Sydney language groups include Eora, Dharug and Darkinjung from the North West New South Wales.