The Utopia Homelands is a collection of 18 satellite outstations, about 350km north east of Alice Springs. The outstations are spread out across the homelands, and can range from 10 to 50 km apart from one another.
There are about 800 to 1,000 people based on the homelands, with varying amounts of people at each station. The outstations provide a more traditional way of living. Families live off the land. And across the homelands, there is one high school, three schools, and one bus that services the whole area.
Olivia Couch is a Family and Community Engagement Officer with Contact Inc. She provides training for mobile services and early childhood services and uses the ILF’s Book Supply. With only one other colleague, she packs a Troopie and goes out to the Homelands each week to work with the Alyawarra and Anmatjirra children.
“My job is to get the families and communities more engaged in what the kids are doing,” she says. “If they identify something they want to do – cooking, first aid, whatever – we do that. It’s pretty bare bones,” she says. "There's no power, no water. We just go out and set up under a tree. Often you’ll be rained out, battling all the elements.”
Part of the program is story time, and until Olivia started using the ILF’s Book Supply program in 2015, she found it really difficult to find culturally targeted books. “It’s been hard to find books that are hitting the right mark.”
Families in the community agree. "The Indigenous stories are better for the kids," Barbara Madrill, one of the mothers says.
"They can learn something, get new ideas, they can learn the 'whitefella' way," Robert Jones, a father in Utopia says. "We don't have many books at home so it's good for them to come and learn. It's good having them to build them up and up."
Most useful for the kids have been the books that ‘detail’ the rest of Australia. “Because they are so isolated and Alice Springs is the furthest they have been. These are really good for engagement.”
For someone with minimal equipment and difficultly with access, the books are a great help.
“It’s amazing to have new things. Prior to getting the books last year, we were just getting donations of very white, old books. It’s nice to have something nice to bring to community. It’s really important for communities that are so remote, and not used to accessing the best.”
“I’ve never seen kids take to a book that is put in front of them like these kids do. It’s like a new toy on the market. They really love them.”