This May, QIFVLS proudly hosted the Overcoming Indigenous Family Violence Forum for the second year in a row at the Cairns Pullman International. The two-day conference attracted over 200 delegates from every state in Australia, and featured included presentations on a vast spectrum of domestic and family violence issues affecting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. For the first time, this year’s Forum also included a Day Three, post conference, on-country workshop on Green Island. 


Speaking to a capacity audience in the Pullman ballroom, QIFVLS’ Principal Legal Officer and Forum Chairperson Thelma Schwartz opened proceedings by welcoming the delegates and introducing Henry Fourmile, a traditional Gimuy Elder, to deliver the Welcome to Country.

The Forum’s first guest speaker was Mr Stephen Tillett, First Nations Justice Officer, Department of Justice and Attorney-General QLD, whose presentation focussed on working with the Queensland Government and Community Stakeholders to help close the gap on rates of Indigenous family violence. Over his half hour discussion, Mr Tillett spoke about the Government’s commitments and objectives across a range of programs including the National Agreement on Closing the Gap, key statistics, reforms and progress reports.

Next was a surprising and enlightening presentation from Gungan Pagare, from the Commonwealth Bank’s Community Investment Division who spoke, amongst other things, about the bank’s cutting edge online fraud detection technology and how this is used to defend a customer’s finances when they are experiencing coercive control.

Proceedings moved to a panel discussion about translating academic research on family violence in First Nations communities into culturally safe service delivery. The two panel members, Dr Marlene Longbottom and Professor Kyllie Cripps, explored the interpretation of statistics and hard data through real-world women’s stories.

The subject of culturally safe rehabilitation for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men who use violence was addressed by Devon Cuimera in a powerful presentation that provided historical context for changing Indigenous male relationships, the acceptance of trauma and an introduction to a 10 module healing program led by Mr Cuimera.

Delegates were privileged to listen to and ask questions of Ms Micaela Cronan, Commissioner at the Domestic, Family and Sexual Violence Commission. Ms Cronan, who has been a highly visible presence across Australian media recently, appeared virtually to discuss the Commission’s role in monitoring the impact of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander First Action Plan.

The extensive Day One program included other far reaching topics, such as the financial abuse of Elders, presented by Julie Karidis from Aged Rights Advocacy Services to improved access or culturally appropriate behaviour-change programs in prison, delivered by Lynette Anderson, CEO of Helem Yumba Incorporated.

The delegates were treated to regular food and beverage breaks, and in the afternoon had the opportunity to select from a range of conference activities including yarning circles, a weaving workshop, or to join Gimuy Elder Henry Fourmile on a walk along Trinity Inlet to learn about his clan’s traditional connections to country.


Kerry Staines, CEO of the National Family Violence Prevention Legal Service opened Day Two of the Forum, together with Senior Policy Officer Priya Devendran. Kerry’s address gave the room an excellent perspective on the National Forum’s role and objectives, and provided insights about the organisation’s evolving structure and brand.

The morning was dominated with discussions and presentations focussing on child protection and early intervention. This began with a panel discussion featuring Candice Butler and Jenny Parsons from QATSIPP, who spoke in detail about the healing framework that their organisation has developed for children and families, and their community education programs. As to be expected from such a highly engaged Forum audience, there was plenty of interaction and questions about this topic. 

The truly national flavour of the Forum was evident throughout the morning. Muriel Bamblett, CEO of the Victorian Aboriginal Child Care Centre spoke about their Action Plan, with their organisation’s familiar themes resonating with an audience who was attending from every corner of the country. Andrea Andrews, Anita Painter and Serena McCartney of the Banatjari Stongbala Wimun Grup, based in Katherine, Northern Territory, provided their own experiences and insights for reducing the rates of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children who are taken into care.  Both women are strong community leaders and share decades of experience in their fields. Then, before lunch, the room was taken to Alice Springs where Phynea Clarke and Kim Raine lead the Central Australian Aboriginal Family Legal Unit (CAAFLU). Remote communities spread across a 872,354km2 area (or 65% of the NT) depend on the CAAFLU for help with domestic and family violence matters. A superhuman workload.

The theme of increasing the reach and capacity of Indigenous family violence prevention services operating in Australia’s most remote regions continued after lunch with Rachel Hill from the North Australian Aboriginal Family Legals Services and Aletia Twist, Mura Kosker Sorority CEO presenting another panel discussion covering the importance of cultural competency, access to holistic services and managing service delivery challenges in remote locations.

Yet another perspective was delivered to the Forum when Karen Dini-Paul spoke about the strategies that the Warringu Women’s Shelter utilise to improve outcomes for the women in their care. Culturally safe services, an integrated community-controlled approach and data-informed programs provide the framework for Warringu’s successful model.

After almost two days of intense and thought-provoking discussions, the room once again broke into smaller groups for another session of yarning circles and connection activities, which included stories of the water spirit delivered by Henry Fourmile and some guided meditation with Karen Reys.

Day Two came to a finish with Forum Chairperson Thelma Schwartz delivering her closing remarks, and in turn receiving a bouquet of flowers from QIFVLS CEO Wynetta Dewis in recognition of her wonderful work as Chair.


In a first for the Forum, a Day Three post conference event was offered to delegates. Almost half the attendees chose to join the on-county workshop on Green Island, a short one hour ferry ride from Gimuy/Cairns.

After months of rain in the region, the skies cleared and the delegates were welcomed onto the island by blue sky and a team of local cultural guides. The delegates were then divided into three groups and accompanied their guides on a tour to learn about Green Island’s traditional customs, food gathering and fishing practices. After the previous two days of deep learning, the opportunity to walk the sands of Green Island barefoot was clearly welcomed by all.

Rested and relaxed, the Day Three attendees moved to the island’s visitor centre where they had the opportunity to hear about the work being done at the Gindaja Healing and Treatment Centre in Yarrabah, a coastal town an hour’s drive from Cairns. Lunch was served and was followed by a cultural and self-reflection workshop, before it was time to return to the ferry and back to Cairns.

The results of a survey offered to Forum delegates delivered overwhelming approval of the event with both the conference content and the speakers receiving high praise. The QIFVLS team can now look forward to planning for the 2025 Overcoming Indigenous Family Violence Forum.

An important feature of the QIFVLS events calendar is Domestic and Family Violence Prevention Month. With the people in our organisation at the coal-face of DV matters affecting in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, it’s not surprising that each of our offices make such a tremendous effort to raise awareness about this insidious problem, to show their support to victim-survivors and to discuss QIFVLS’ legal and case support services. The examples shown below are just a sample of the work done by the QIFVLS teams throughout DV Month. Added to this was the relentless work done by CEO Wynetta Dewis and Principal Legal Officer Thelma Schwartz, who criss-crossed the nation during May representing QIFVLS on panels, at events and in the media.

Over the last 12 months, QIFVLS’ CEO Wynetta Dewis has been honoured to participate in two major international gender equality initiatives.

In Tonga last year, Wynetta attended a Governance Board meeting with Pacific Womens Lead (PWL) – Australia’s flagship regional investment to advance gender equality in the Pacific ($170 million over 5 years, 2021-2026). The PWL’s program is focussed on women’s leadership within the Pacific region, women’s rights and health, and regional gender equality.

As a Pacific Womens Lead Board member, and to provide an Australian First Nations perspective, Wynetta was also invited to participate in a panel discussion on Gender and Culture at the Festival of Pacific Arts and Culture (FestPAC). FestPAC was held in Hawaii in June this year, with delegates and speakers attending from across the Pacific region.

Audrey Aumua, Chair of the Pacific Womens Lead Governance Board and CEO of the Fred Hollows Foundation NZ, made this comment: ‘Every four years, Pacific communities come together to celebrate their collectiveness as a people of the region. We celebrate our joined but unique identities. This includes celebrating our history but also navigating our unique and collective futures. Climate change, language, music and art were just a few of the areas that were discussed during this time. It was such a privilege to facilitate the panel which Wynetta participated in. It focussed on women and the role that culture has in enabling gender equality’.

The opportunity for QIFVLS to connect and work with partner organisations at an international level brings incredible value to our business, today and into the future. By sharing our expertise with the world and learning from others who may have a common vision but unique experiences, QIFVLS can continue to grow and explore new directions.

OCM: Kulumba, thanks for sharing your story with Our Communities Matter. Let’s start, as we always do, with your upbringing. Where were you born and raised?

Kulumba: I was born in Sydney, so Gadigal lands, in the George V hospital in Camperdown, which is apparently the same hospital where Prime Minister Albanese was born, so at least we have that in common. My parents came to Australia from Uganda where they’d left just after Idi Amin was deposed. Dad had been a studying a PhD at Sydney University, so that’s what brought them out to Australia. I think my first couple of years was in Sydney then we moved around with dad’s work, including some time in Zimbabwe. From 1985 to 1991 we were living in Papua New Guinea, before we finally settled in Townsville.

OCM: What field was your father working in?

Kulumba: He’s a medical doctor and, in terms of specialising, studied pharmacology. He was just very interested in how drugs work on the human body, with a particular focus on asthma. He did a mix of lecturing at the University of PNG and I think once we moved to Townsville, he sort of had a change of heart and realised that he liked the day-to-day interaction with patients rather than just the strict academia. So, he’s been a general practitioner for the last 30 years, and he’s still working.

OCM: When you were at school, did you start to consider going on to study law?

Kulumba: I originally wanted to be a doctor, like my dad. The part of Uganda where our family is from is in central Uganda, known as Buganda. Uganda had a number of sub-national kingdoms, of which Buganda is one. One of the traditions in Buganda is naming your children after a favourite relative in the hope that their spirit will be reborn into the child. So I was named after my dad’s older brother Kulumba. He was a lawyer and I think I met him when I was about nine years old. He gave me 1,000 shillings and made me pledge to be a lawyer like him, so that set me on this path and I didn’t want to disappoint him.

OCM: So where did you do your degree?

Kulumba: I wanted to get out of Townsville when I was in high school and fortunately got a good enough High School OP (as it was known then) that I was able to get into law at University of Queensland in Brisbane, where I did a double degree in both business and law. So yes, I lived in Brizzy for a few years and then moved back to Townsville just because, from what I could see, there were more opportunities in a regional area to be thrown in at the deep-end and get court work – because I was really interested in doing criminal law, appearing in court and speaking on my feet.

OCM: Where was your first job Kulumba?

Kulumba: It’s actually around the corner from where we are now at a firm called Giudes & Elliott solicitors. They do a mix of criminal law, family law, personal injuries, and conveyancing, so yeah, that’s where I started. I was there for about three years, doing predominantly criminal law.

OCM: You’ve taken quite a distinct offshoot from that into domestic and family violence, what stimulated that interest?

Kulumba: That came about after I left Giudes & Elliott to join Legal Aid Queensland and my work there was a mix of both civil and criminal, and with Legal Aid the civil jurisdiction encompasses domestic and family violence and child protection. I’d had a chance to run some trials by myself as Solicitor Advocate in DV matters and when I saw the advertisement for QIFVLS I thought that was something that I could do in terms of looking to expand on policy work, and being able to use my previous practice experience in DV and child protection.

OCM: And what interests you specifically about the policy space, as opposed to the more hands-on legal work, appearing in court and meeting directly with clients.

Kulumba: I think it was really the chance to take a step back into being a participant into how policymaking and the lawmaking process works. And in part it was born out of some frustrations I’d had with child protection and the way the system was operating. I didn’t think it was working in an optimal fashion for clients, particularly parents.

OCM: Did you find it unjust or ineffective?

Kulumba: The problems I found, and a lot of it comes back to resourcing for the department, was that it just really picking off the low hanging fruit. It was targeting families from low socio-economic backgrounds and not really looking at what was happening right across the board, including in middle-class, upper-class homes where we know for a fact that kids are being mistreated, suffering from maltreatment or being sexually abused. So I think I had a bit of a chip on my shoulder about that. And I think also just the way that the process worked in terms of the system of having family group meetings, where you’d go to one of these meetings and it was almost this presumption that the child was going to be removed, and this is what we’re going to do in terms of a case plan. That just how it felt to me.

OCM: So clearly that you felt the policy space gave you the opportunity to leverage real change.

Kulumba: I think so, or at least be a small cog in that process of change anyway, and just to say something different. On the one hand you can be an advocate for the parents in court, but I think that being in the policy space, as part of part of the QIFVLS team, I can really have a different voice and a different emphasis in what I can say.

OCM: What do you do during your time off?

Kulumba: It all depends, I enjoy reading. My parents were very big on education and reading. They both came from pretty humble backgrounds and education was the way for them to be able to get good, respectable jobs. So that’s something that they emphasised for us. Every school holidays my mom and dad would make me go to the library to read, study and revise. If I didn’t get an ‘A’ I’d be back at the library to revise and see where I ‘d fallen short. My parents put us under a fair bit of pressure but we just didn’t really see that at the time.

I also love to follow what’s happening in the political space and I’ve just always been a big sports fan as well. When it comes to sports trivia, I’ve got a lot of stored memory.  I’m a passionate Cowboys fan but I also love rugby, the cricket, soccer and my running.

OCM: Thanks Kulumba.

When an individual or organisation makes a tax deductible donation to QIFVLS, they can be confident that their funds are going towards making a tangible difference to the safety and welfare of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people experiencing or at risk of domestic and family violence.

Our team are grateful for all donations that help our not-for-profit organisation to continue offering this critical service. Donations of $1,000 or more help fund outreach services to some of Queensland’s most remote ATSI communities.

Are you in search of a rewarding profession that will take you on journeys through the breathtaking landscapes of Queensland? One that promises not only career advancement and skill enhancement, but also attractive perks, substantial travel allowances, and one-of-a-kind professional adventures? Are you drawn to a career that enables you to make a positive difference in the lives of others?

Look no further – your new career awaits you! At QIFVLS, we are dedicated to combating Family and Domestic Violence within Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Communities. Our methods encompass education, advocacy, legal reform, court support, and casework assistance. By focusing on early intervention and prevention, our aim is to empower individuals impacted by Family Violence to regain control over their lives. We are in search of outstanding and dynamic individuals who can join us in achieving this mission.

If you envision yourself fitting into this scenario, we encourage you to see what’s available here.

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