Participants at the Mallee District Aboriginal Services craft day, photo: Sioned Price
Communities gathered in more than 65 venues over Gambling Harm Awareness Week, ranging from neighbourhood centres and Men’s Sheds to parklands and workplaces, from metropolitan areas to Gippsland, along the Murray River border, and down to the southwest. They met not only to talk, share and support, but also to listen, laugh and eat.
The very nature of these gatherings tackled gambling harm head on: they alleviated the sting of social isolation by providing fellowship; they offered warm and engaging activities as an alternative to gambling.
Laugh more, bet less
None of the more-than-80 people in attendance at Rumbalara’s bush comedy night would have described it as a ‘warm’ night, however, as they shivered under blankets on the banks of the Goulburn River watching comedian Kevin Kropinyeri.
‘But the wind and cold didn’t dampen the laughter,’ says Fallon Harris, Rumbalara community engagement and therapeutic officer. ‘The adults had some good belly laughs while the kids had a ball playing on the playground and playing tiggy. Our team made a new campaign – “Laugh more, bet less” – to spread awareness across the week.’
The very nature of these gatherings tackled gambling harm head on.
Based in Mildura, the Mallee District Aboriginal Services (MDAS) ran a community-led crafting event, which particularly appealed to people aged 15 to 45. Participants made jewellery and dream-catchers while yarning about gambling harm.
‘It was a low-key opportunity to ask about ways to approach a family member who is gambling and what they could say,’ said Sioned Price, MDAS gamblers support officer.
‘The community is aware of the services we provide but want more activities like this to help break down that initial scary first point of contact. They loved having that initial contact with Gambler’s Help workers and being given the information we share with clients.’
Gambling as a cultural ‘tradition’ can be exacerbated within the Australian gambling environment.
Community-specific information was also on hand at Box Hill Town Hall for members of the Chinese Health Foundation of Australia. Several speakers identified how gambling as a cultural ‘tradition’ within the Chinese community – even considered a regular part of wedding celebrations – can be exacerbated within the Australian gambling environment.
One participant brought a prop along to his ‘life sharing talk’. A little toy car he stole for his son reminds him of the time and money he didn’t spend on and with his children because he was too busy gambling. ‘I thought it was just my own money I was gambling,’ he said, ‘but it was my whole family’s money.’
Come and try living gambling free
Broadmeadows Basketball Association (BBA) held free come-and-try sessions across the week to encourage Hume City community members to take part in the sport. This is particularly relevant, given the high levels of social disadvantage in Broadmeadows and the growing youth demographic. Regular participation in activities like basketball are a great way to help prevent and reduce the risks of gambling harm.
‘When I learned that some people may turn to gambling to combat boredom, loneliness or as a way of coping with, or escaping, stresses in their life, I immediately wanted BBA to get involved in the week,’ said Hannah Gentz, BBA community engagement officer.
‘There are the proven … benefits of playing sport, belonging to a group and feeling positively connected.’
Hannah Gentz, Broadmeadows Basketball Association
‘Participating in basketball programs is a great way for people of all ages and abilities to meet others and learn skills like decision-making that help them in other parts of their life such as school, work and personal relationships. Then there are the proven physical, emotional and psychological benefits of playing sport, belonging to a group and feeling positively connected.’
Celebrating community connection
There were plenty of positive connections being made at Albury–Wodonga Ethnic Communities Council’s (AWECC’s) monthly Culture Club. While this multiracial event always includes a catered lunch alongside information sharing, AWECC boosted the accessibility of the October event by spending their Gambling Harm Awareness Week funding on childcare, door-to-door transport and translation services.
‘We work with local settlement services who identify families at most risk of social isolation.’
Jodie Farrugia, AWECC
‘We have a very vibrant multicultural community that includes Congolese, Bhutanese, Bangladeshi, Filipino and Zimbabwean people alongside a strong Indigenous community,’ explained Jodie Farrugia, AWECC community advocacy officer. ‘Often there’s been a lot of trauma in their journey and we work with local settlement services who identify families at most risk of social isolation.’
Leaders in those communities step up as gambling harm community champions. At the October Culture Club, they helped lead yarning circles that covered four topics: the availability of gambling; the impact of gambling on you and your community; who is most at risk of gambling harm; and how can we reduce and stop gambling.
Participants learned about accessing support, then shared their discussions back with the larger group. Some compelling links were uncovered with Congolese and Indigenous families found to have similar structures, and all communities most concerned about their children’s exposure to gambling.
Culture Club was co-designed by AWECC, the community champions and Mungabareena Aboriginal Corporation. Eight members of the Mungabareena men’s group were in attendance and ‘they loved it,’ said Jodie. ‘It was in sync with their drive to build community cohesion.’
In fact, it was a week of events ‘in sync’, with a shared desire to raise awareness far and wide, not just about where and how to seek help, but also ways to prevent harm.