You can read about Oonah’s strategy and latest achievements in the  Annual Report 2020


Community thinking about an Indigenous gathering place to serve the Aboriginal people of Healesville and district began soon after the demise of the local Aboriginal cooperative in 1999. Active planning for such a facility commenced in 2004, and gained momentum in 2007 when the Interim Reference Group (IRG) gained philanthropic funding to commission All-In Productions and Gregory Burgess Architects to develop a feasibility study.

The 2008 study was the result of extensive consultation throughout the Aboriginal community and wider stakeholder group. It examined a number of possible sites, including the previous co-op site at 161 Maroondah Highway, Galeena Beek Cultural Centre, and the Oonah Learning Centre in Badger Creek Road

GOVERNANCE DEVELOPMENT Evolving from the Feasibility Study, the IRG secured funding through the Department of Planning and Community Development (DPCD) to engage a Business Planner to develop an operational and business plan for the proposed facility. It soon became apparent to the Planner and the IRG that it was premature to develop a business model for the project. Instead, the IRG worked with the Business Planner during 2009-2010 to develop a solid foundation for a strong, transparent and effective governance structure, while seeking funding opportunities to commence operations as a ‘Belonging Place’ from which a level of service delivery could occur.

The Healesville Indigenous Community Services Association (HICSA) became incorporated in December 2009. It was considered logical that the Interim Reference Group members assume the initial HICSA Board positions.

Founding Board members were:

  • Doseena Fergie-Chairperson
  • Aunty Dot Peters- Vice Chair
  • Fiona Mawson-Treasurer
  • Garry Detez- Secretary/Public Officer
  • Anne Jenkins-Executive Member
  • Miranda Madgwick- Executive Member
  • Perry Wandin- Executive Member and Wurundjeri representative

The governance model adopted by HICSA was based on the Koori Heritage Trust and Wuchopperen Health Service approaches, both noted in the Feasibility Study.  The development of professional and sustainable governance continues to be a focus for the HICSA Board.

Professional and Sustainable Governance The following methods will be used to ensure ongoing quality of its Board members and operations:

  1. Input from the HICSA Expert Panel to ensure relevancy and currency of issues
  2. Development of an online governance tool kit
  3. New board member induction kit and succession plan
  4. Annual review and guest speaker on a key governance topic
  5. Establish and maintain policies and procedures
  6. Annual skills gap audit
  7. Monthly internal audit of finances and annual external audit
  8. Interview process for new Board members
  9. Graduated promotional steps for Board members
  10. Shadow portfolios
  11. Active sub-committees
  12. Mentoring from Project Manager
  13. Regular professional development activities

The Oonah Board’s operation is governed by an organisational Code of Conduct and the following policies (as at October 2010), which will be expanded as the organisation develops and in accordance with its operational needs:

  • Confidentiality policy
  • Conflict of interest policy
  • Grievance policy
  • Recruitment of Board members policy
  • Secretariat policy

Board members are required to sign a formal adherence to the above policies and Code of Conduct.

Pro Bono Support HICSA was successful in securing Pro-Bono consultant advice in the areas of business, education, human resource management and legal and continues to receive strong support from Yarra Ranges Council and Swinburne University.

SEED FUNDING In September 2009 the opportunity for Close the Health Gap funding became a strong possibility. The need for a Belonging Place located in Healesville was identified as the number 1 priority for the Close the Health Gap initiative and a cascading funding model was approved.  In 2010 the Department of Health and the Department of Planning and Community Development provided seed funding to commence operations.

HICSA sought an interim Belonging Place facility in order to commence operations with Swinburne University offering Oonah.