The day NSW Police Commander Greg Moore learnt he would be transferred to Bourke for work was the day his new home was splashed across the newspaper front page as the world’s most dangerous town.
It was 2013 and the north-western NSW town was reported as leading the state in six out of eight major crime categories, with the highest assault and property crime rate in the state according to NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research.
It was even claimed to have the highest crime rate in the world per capita.
Fast-forward six years, and Bourke is in the spotlight for all the right reasons, with a drop of more than 30 per cent in property offences overall since 2006 and violent crime almost slashed in half.
“We still experience some significant challenges but I’m happy to report that there’s a significant drop in offending rates, particularly domestic violence and homicides,” said Superintendent Moore, who is an active member of Holy Spirit Parish, Bourke.
“We’re talking about lives saved. Reports from hospital are they are treating significantly less patients with injuries relating to violent crime.
“It’s very rewarding and satisfying to see progress over time and increasing rates of community cohesion.”
Superintendent Moore couldn’t be prouder of his town, which he said now lives by the adage that it takes a village to raise a child. As Commander of the Central North Police District, he is part of an innovative community-led model where Indigenous leaders partner with police and government and non-government organisations and service providers.
The results speak for themselves: greater social cohesion, improved education and a reduction in incarceration and crime rates in Bourke and the wider district. It’s taken years of breaking down distrust and misunderstanding between the stakeholders before solutions could begin to be put into place.
Super-charging progress was the creation of the Maranguka Community Hub. Maranguka means ‘caring for others’ in the Ngemba language.
In a strategic partnership with Just Reinvest, a group which shifts resources out of criminal justice systems into early intervention and crime prevention, Maranguka brings together multi-disciplinary approaches aimed at reducing the causes of crime.
Each morning a meeting brings together police, Indigenous leaders and community partners including representatives from CatholicCare, the Church’s social welfare agency, to discuss any issues from the night before and develop long-term strategies designed to address social disadvantage with a big focus on early childhood to break the cycle.
Many groups, individuals and organisations have got involved, including the Melbourne-based Catholic Youth Engagement Program which which has been providing the community of Bourke with great support for nearly 10 years, said Superintendent Moore.
“Co-ordinator Genevieve Bryant regularly brings out groups of youths and young adult volunteers to Bourke during school holidays to support our most vulnerable youth, often during the harshest time of the year,” he said.
“Genevieve and her team are a true inspiration and great advocates championing social justice reform. And it’s just another example of the many layers of support we are blessed with here in Bourke.”
Crucial to the Maranguka strategy is a group of men who call themselves Men Of Bourke – MOB for short – who are based at Bethlehem House in Meek Street, vacated by the Missionaries of Charity when they left the town in 2016.
“Our men’s group had lost its way, but being able to secure a home base in 2012 we started to see some progress being made,” said leader James Moore (no relation to Greg).
“With the men coming together regularly we were able to focus on our main purpose which is to be strong role models and support our youth.”
A buddy system was formed to provide mentors for the most vulnerable young people, and regular community days engage kids in fun activities around positive people.
“There’s a core of about 20 young boys aged from ages around 8-17 who were disengaging from school, getting in trouble with the police and into the court system, and we’ve looked at how to address some of those issues through role modelling,” said Mr Moore who is also a father of three.
“They would be out late at night, climbing on shop roofs and getting in all sorts of trouble.” There’s still lots more work to be done and his hope is that more local men will step up into mentoring roles.
“There are a lot of men out there still on their healing journey and a lot of young people still needing support,” he said.
A privilege to be involved
CatholicCare’s Amy Gearing said it was a “privilege” to be involved in the initial meetings with the men where they mapped out their hopes and needs in what has turned out to be a fruitful partnership between the Wilcannia-Forbes Diocese, the Men of Bourke and CatholicCare.
“They wanted a range of activities from TAFE training to cultural activities, financial counselling, health screenings … to just a safe space to come and be themselves,” Ms Gearing said. “The MOB hub is all part of the Maranguka strategy but at the core it is really the men who drive the ideas and vision for their community.
“I think it’s important for us to keep going back to the men and back to that heart they all expressed and make sure we’re all working towards the same thing.
“We’re still in the early stages but it’s already been quite a journey and it’s encouraging to see what is happening in Bourke … The sky’s the limit.”
Superintendent Moore was recently honoured by the Queen with an Australian Police Medal for his dedicated service to the state’s people for more than 32 years.
“It’s a great honour, very humbling and I look at this award as an acknowledgment of the hard work being done behind the scenes of police and our partners, and the support and sacrifices of my wife Maggie and sons John and Niall,” he said.
“I’m very appreciative of the support of the community and the spirit and willingness of everyone to come together and help with such a great appetite for doing things differently with creativity and innovation.
“I was educated by the Sisters of St Joseph and it takes me back to their focus on doing your part for the community and advocating for social justice.”