This Discussion Paper is based on ethnographic fieldwork funded by a Central Starter Grant from La Trobe University.
The purpose of the project was to explore the relationship between perceptions of cultural differences and government service delivery in a remote Aboriginal community. Non-Aboriginal service personnel were the focus of the investigation.
Much of the paper exposes an ethnographic description of an otherwise unpublicised area. Little is, in fact, publicly known of how service staff balance their personal and professional lives in remote locations and as participants in another's cultural milieu.
The paper sheds some light on the experiences of this group and its impacts on the constitution of a service and its delivery to the community.
- Although managers and administrators of service agencies hold influential positions in communities, they are also a minority population and cultural group. The impact of their minority status is differentially felt; single women and families are most severely affected by a general lack of social support and the pressures of locational disadvantage.
- Inevitably, individuals were caught in a balancing act between the pressures of negotiating a credible professional existence with the tensions of personal adjustment to the lack of facilities, professional and social support, managing cross-cultural social relations and 'feeling safe' in a unknown 'frontier' environment. These tensions often consumed the energies of service staff to an overwhelming extent.
- Service agencies are certainly aware of the difficult working conditions and the need to engage appropriate staff. The issue of staff selection is much discussed, especially since staff turnovers are high and continuity of service and expertise is fragmented. Departments search for the 'right person' to fill positions but tend to do so without any clear vision of who the 'right person' might be and what conditions would facilitate their effectiveness.
- Poor morale beset many staff. They believed that 'nothing would ever change'; few incentives existed to promote Indigenous self-management through training programs, and individual staff who challenged the status quo were considered 'dreamers'. A common view was that Aboriginal residents were incapable of effectively operating the services.
- A variety of motives attracted staff to remote locations. Money was an important incentive. But for young people, work in these communities was often the only employment option they had. Others accepted employment because it represented a stepping stone to fulfilment of a personal goal (such as educational opportunities; funds for overseas travel; promotion).
- To lessen the tensions between personal and professional life for staff, service agencies need to address the following areas; staff selection criteria; staff orientation and education programs; mentor support; performance monitoring and accountability to community as well as departmental criteria; development of social infrastructure to deal with the problems of locational disadvantage (such as boredom).
ISBN: 0 7315 2568 X