Centacare’s staff, students and members of the community gathered on-site in Gosnells last month for what Simone Collard believed was Centacare’s community NAIDOC week celebrations. As she entered the room, Simone, Centacare’s Aboriginal Community Development Officer remarked, “There’s a lot of people here today!” She made her way to the only empty seat remaining in the bubbling room, which was situated conveniently, front and centre.

To commence, Simone’s two sons’ greeted the large crowd with a touching welcome to country, with only a little help from Mum, along the way. It was only after Centacare’s Chief Executive Officer; Lee-Anne Phillips made it a few sentences into her heartfelt speech, that Simone realised the celebrations had been secretly repurposed to commend its very organiser, herself!

During her speech, Ms. Phillips reminded those in attendance of the ongoing successes Simone brings to Centacare and the local indigenous community.

“You work with such passion, and commitment,” Ms. Phillips said as she addressed Simone’s family and friends, who were invited to the event in secret by Centacare’s SEE staff.  

“For many years we struggled to meet the needs of Indigenous Australians, we tried partnerships with many Indigenous organisations but we were unable to sustain them and eventually they became unviable.”

It wasn’t until 2013 when Simone came on board that Centacare finally began to make progress in the community. 

Simone has been responsible for significant success in Centacare’s SEE and VET programs, including real outcomes for our clients.

Assisting in SEE, Simone was involved in the development of the Kadadjiny Bidi (Learning Path) program which used project-based learning to educate and train local indigenous people. Shimona Hill, an Indigenous woman who was involved in Kadadjini Bidi Kwinana and now the SEE program in Cannington is the perfect example of Simone’s tangible change in local indigenous peoples’ lives. Through the SEE program and Simone’s support, Shimona has gone on to achieve nationally recognized qualifications that will ready her for future employment.

In the VET program, Simone worked closely with our Certificate III in Health Service Assistant students to ensure they were comfortable and confident in their studies and work experience placements.

“In this course, the students went on work experience at Osborne Park Hospital and successfully completed their qualifications, ensuring they were ready to take on their new careers.”

In 2016, Simone worked with Centacare’s Yvette Terpstra to set up “ABout US Mob”, an indigenous microbusiness run through Centacare. The business involved indigenous students designing and producing slogan tee shirts that spread awareness about their community and culture.  The innovative nature and success of the program attracted the interest of SEE Program Director Brigette Bergin from Canberra and State Manager Mel Finestone, who visited the project and saw firsthand the remarkable work that Simone and Yvette had created.

“All of this occurred because Simone listened to the needs on the ground, sought the advice of Indigenous Elders and guided Centacare on approaches to take when planning training programs.” Ms Phillips noted.

“But most importantly, it is your willingness to listen to the community and provide this valuable advice to our staff, you have worked tirelessly to promote cultural awareness through providing advice and sharing your skills to forge links with Indigenous Community groups and the community at large.

“You are highly respected by our staff and Aboriginal agencies and anyone you meet.”

Simone, a humble and quiet achiever, praised the opportunities Centacare and her colleagues had afforded her in her thank you speech. “It’s been an honour to work with you and this organization,” Ms. Collard said.

“It’s been amazing to fulfil my passion, working with the indigenous community. I couldn’t have done it without the support of all of you, with all the teachers – it’s been a privilege.”

Perhaps the most touching part of the occasion was the input from a respected community member, pastor and Simone’s Auntie, Sharon Yarran. Sharon represented family and the indigenous community when she thanked Simone for her contributions.

“It’s beautiful to see all these young ones, that’s our upcoming generation and Simone, you are making a pathway for them, for our young people,” she said with emotion.

“Wherever you are and whatever you do, you will always be an encourager: because you stand for who you are and what you believe in, in our community – and it’s people like you who bridge the gap.”

The crowd was thankful and inspired as the ceremony drew to a close and Simone quickly quizzed those in the know as to how they had pulled off the surprise.

NAIDOC Week celebrations continued after the ceremony with cupcakes bearing the indigenous flag and aboriginal artwork activities with Kadadjiny Bidi and SEE Gosnells students

Contributions from Centacare’s multicultural community capped off the celebrations in true Centacare style, with an enormous spread of food. Favours included NAIDOC week cupcakes citing Voice, Treaty, Truth, damper and food from every other corner of the world. Staff and students from aboriginal, migrant and white-Australian backgrounds sat together for the lunch, eating in harmony on the tremendous occasion. This unity is something for which Centacare has Simone largely to thank.

This year marks Simone’s sixth year of service at Centacare as she continues to make meaningful change in the community. We are looking forward to the next six years Simone!