After more than four decades of rich history and a past dedicated to helping people, the Benelong’s Haven drug and alcohol rehabilitation centre in Kinchela has closed.
Founded in 1976 by revolutionary indigenous woman Valerie Bryant-Carroll , the haven was the first drug and rehabilitation facility to be owned and operated by an Aboriginal.
The centre went into liquidation on December 5, 2017 with many of its patients being referred to other rehab services.
“The existing clients were referred to different places with some people returning to their communities as they had finished their rehabilitation,” chairperson at the Land Council Arthur Kelly told the Argus.
Mr Kelly added that there are plans to hold meetings with other Indigenous services groups in the community to discuss a path moving forward.
While the chapter has ended for the 41-year-old haven, the stories of the people who kept Benelong’s operating will not be forgotten, least of all the tale of its founder Valerie (1933-2012).
Born in Nambucca Heads, Valerie was the first Aboriginal woman in Australia to approach the problem of drug and alcohol addiction among Aboriginal people.
In the evening after work, Valerie took to the streets of Sydney in an effort to help Aboriginal people who suffered with alcoholism. This help included running Alcoholics Anonymous meetings in Redfern until 1972-73, when she was funded as an Aboriginal alcohol worker. In the process of her journey helping others achieve sobriety, Bryant noticed the total lack of services available for indigenous alcoholics.
In 1974, Valerie established a facility in Marrickville, Sydney, called Benelong’s Haven, named after the first Aboriginal man to develop a drinking problem as a result of his association with English settlers.
In 1976, due to increasing demand, she acquired the then derelict Kinchela Boys’ Home near Kempsey. The property was gradually rebuilt by clients whilst they participated in the program. She continued to rely on donations from the local community to maintain the haven.
Despite losing mobility after suffering a stroke while struggling for government assistance in the late 1980s, Bryant-Carroll continued to run Benelong's Haven until just a couple of years ago, when it became physically impossible for her to continue
The Alcoholics Anonymous Program at the haven has been the central focus for the treatment of clients. In the past seven years the program has had to develop a strong psycho-therapeutic component to meet the problems confronted by the young urban Aboriginal population including drug use, suicide, serious crime, domestic violence, sexual assault and imprisonment.
Benelong’s Haven also accepted many of its clients from the Criminal Justice system which was an alternative to jail for many young Aboriginal offenders with alcohol and drug related problems.
In recognition of her services to the Aboriginal community, Valerie was awarded the Medal of Order of Australia in 1978 and the World Healing Our Spirit Medal in 1994. In 2000 she was awarded an honorary doctorate in education by the University of Newcastle.