Our people

Our team is made up of people based in Walgett, Sydney and beyond.

Housing work
We work with the community where changes requires them to push a little and we push back a little – like a bow saw. Sawing together shows our partnership. We give them tools to see their strengths and identify the resources and then work together.
— Clem Dodd
Speaker of the Dharriwaa Elders Group

Walgett team

Wendy Spencer is the Walgett Partnership Manager of Yuwaya Ngarra-li for Dharriwaa Elders Group. She is the founding Project Manager of the Dharriwaa Elders Group (“DEG”), and brings small business and a background in community media to her roles. Wendy first worked for the Walgett Aboriginal Medical Service (“WAMS”). The Founding Chair of WAMS, George Rose OAM, together with other Elders, founded the DEG in the late 1990s and invited Wendy to support their work, which she continues to further through DEG and Yuwaya Ngarra-li. 

Vanessa Hickey is the Yuwaya Ngarra-li Project Officer for Dharriwaa Elders Group. She is a Gamilaraay mother of four who began working with the Dharriwaa Elders Group part-time in 2017 in the Elders Support Officer role and joined the Yuwaya Ngarra-li team in April 2018. Vanessa is actively working to improve the education outcomes for Walgett children and has served as a member of the School Reference Group and the Walgett AECG for some years. Vanessa is also an active volunteer for the Walgett Local Aboriginal Land Council’s Aboriginal Culture and Heritage Committee and is very active in the anti-Coal Seam Gas movement to protect Country and wellbeing for north-west NSW communities. 

Kim Sullivan is a Gamilaraay wirring.gaa born and bred in Walgett’s Namoi and Gingie villages. Kim was raised by her grandmother – a well-respected cultural custodian. Kim left school at 16, lived for five years in Sydney and 16 years in Lightning Ridge where she raised 3 children, supporting her family by opal mining. She moved back to Walgett at aged 29 to work as an Aboriginal Healthworker at the Walgett Aboriginal Medical Service. While there Kim honed caring skills and empathy for her clients that she drew from lived experience from trauma in her early life that eventually sent her into alcohol addiction for 10 years. After sobering up, Kim began working for Dharriwaa Elders Group in 2004 as an Elders Support Worker. In 2017 she began work with the newly created Western PHN Aboriginal Hub in Walgett where she provided frontline support for clients struggling with addiction. In 2021 she returned to a full-time role with DEG as Yuwaya Ngarra-li Project Officer in which she contributes to ongoing community engagement and provides project and administrative support. Kim is glad to be back working with a team that is committed to working for and with the community of Walgett.

Trish Tonkin is the Dharriwaa Elders Group Project Officer on the Food and Water for Life program. Trish is a “Walgett girl, born and bred” and after having lived and worked in Sydney for the last few decades she was excited to move back to Walgett to be closer to family. Trish is working across a number of initiatives that aim to ensure that everyone in Walgett has access to safe drinking water and fresh nutritious food produced locally. Trish and staff from the Walgett Aboriginal Medical Service run the Meal of the Month competition, and she also co-ordinates the Walgett Community Garden Network. Trish worked as part of the research team who surveyed community members about food and water security.

Steven “Bungee” Dennis is part of the Dharriwaa Elders Group Dealing with Fines team. Bungee supports Aboriginal people in Walgett to work off fines through registering for a Work and Development Order and participating in activities such as art workshops and on Country trips, helping Elders with gardening, maintaining local parks, and running a community café. Bungee has a clear vision for the work he is doing in the Yuwaya Ngarra-li partnership: “I want better quality of life for our mob - better water, cheaper food, more activities for our youth.  I want more gardening programs to grow food, more lunch and dinner programs. There are still people going hungry in Walgett. I want to help change that.”

Zoe Sands is a proud Gamilaraay woman from Walgett. She is currently the Yuwaya Ngarra-li Project Officer at Dhariwaa Elders Group (DEG). She loves working for DEG because of the advocacy they do for the Walgett community and being from Walgett she wants to give back to her community.

Ernest Sands is a Gamilaraaay man born in Walgett. He grew up on Namoi Village where he still resides. He is the Senior Ranger for the River Rangers at Dharriwaa Elders Group (DEG). Prior to working here at DEG he worked at Walgett Aboriginal Medical Service for 10 years.

Norma Kennedy was born in Walgett and grew up on Namoi Village. She is a Gamilaraay woman. Norma is the Project Officer for the River Ranger team. She worked at the Wilcannia Health Service before starting working at Dharriwaa Elders Group.

Aaron was raised in Walgett. He lived on both Namoi and Gingie Reserves. He is a Ranger in the River Ranger team at Dharriwaa Elders Group. He wants to look after the rivers and being a part of the River Rangers team gives him to opportunity to do so.

UNSW team

Associate Professor Ruth McCausland (PhD, MISD, BA Hons 1) is Director of Yuwaya Ngarra-li at UNSW. Her research focuses on systemic critiques and community-led responses to the criminalisation and incarceration of women, young people, people with disability and Aboriginal peoples. Ruth was a researcher on the Indigenous Australians with Mental Health Disorders and Cognitive Disability in the Criminal Justice System (IAMHDCD) Project that involved collaboration with the Dharriwaa Elders Group and Walgett Aboriginal Medical Service from 2011-2015, and has been involved in building the Yuwaya Ngarra-li partnership at the UNSW end since then. Ruth’s PhD was on evaluation and the diversion of Aboriginal women from prison, and she also has a Masters in International Social Development. Ruth has previously worked as an evaluation consultant for government and non-government agencies, a senior research fellow at Jumbunna, UTS, and policy officer at the NSW Anti-Discrimination Board and Australian Human Rights Commission.

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Peta Ivy MacGillivray (BA/LLB; Grad. Dip Legal Prac; LLM) is a Kalkutungu and South Sea Islander lawyer and researcher, and the Yuwaya Ngarra-li Senior Research Fellow focused on legal and justice issues based at UNSW. Peta has worked as a researcher on a range of criminology, legal services and community-development projects in NSW and across Australia. Peta was a Field Researcher and Project Manager for the Indigenous Australians with Mental Health Disorders and Cognitive Disability in the Criminal Justice System (IAMHDCD) Project, which first introduced her to the Dharriwaa Elders Group. Peta’s area of legal practice specialisation is the legal needs of children and young people, particularly those experiencing social and economic disadvantage. Peta is passionate about Indigenous children and young people’s participation in community development work.

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Dr Rebecca Reeve (BEc Hons., PhD) is a Senior Research Fellow with Yuwaya Ngarra-li at UNSW and a specialist consultant with the Social Outcomes Lab (SOULAB). She is an applied econometrician who is committed to using her skills to help improve wellbeing and social justice, through evidence-based research and evaluation.  Rebecca has more than ten years’ research experience in academia and the not-for-profit sector, working on a range of mixed-methods projects.  She has particular expertise in using linked administrative data for longitudinal analyses relating to health, education, and criminology.  In her spare time Rebecca is an advocate for refugees and people seeking asylum.  

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Samantha Rich is a Wiradjuri Graduate of Architecture, Adjunct Lecturer at UNSW and a researcher dedicated to embedding First Nations worldview into the design of buildings and the broader built environment. Samantha has a focus on addressing systemic housing needs facing many remote and regional communities. She has worked with Yuwaya Ngarra-li for the last few years looking at multiple housing needs in the Walgett community. She is interested in the role that housing can play in supporting reciprocal relationships embedded in Indigenous culture to care for people, communities and Country.

Alinta Trindall is a Thunghutti and Gamilaroi woman, originally from the Mid-North Coast of NSW. She has an associates degree in psychology and a trauma informed approach to the work she does in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. Alinta has worked in roles in NSW Health and Aboriginal Affairs NSW and has experience working with Aboriginal communities and Aboriginal organisations in community-led projects. Alinta brings experience of understanding and applying Aboriginal perspectives in research, and culturally informed community engagement. Alinta joined the Yuwaya Ngarra-li team in 2022 to undertake research for the Food and Water for Life program, and now works in Youth Justice.

May Miller-Dawkins is a researcher, advocate and facilitator with over twenty years’ experience working in and with social movements, community organisations, international civil society, universities and foundations with a focus on community leadership, systemic change and action learning. She is an Adjunct Senior Lecturer at UNSW. 

o   Alicia Dunning is a proud Bundjalung dietitian with a Bachelor of Science (Nutrition) and a Master of Nutrition and Dietetics with Distinction. She spent the first 8 years of her career working as a clinical dietitian in NSW public hospitals gaining vital dietetic, communication and counselling skills. After working in the hospital system through the COVID-19 pandemic, she moved to Canada for a working holiday. While there, she learned about First Nations people of Canada and how colonisation had impacted them, as well as how nutrition research was unethically conducted on them. She realised the similarities to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples of Australia, which re-ignited her passion for research and her desire to return to Australia to work with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. She joined the Food and Water for Life program in mid-2023 as a research associate and is focused on improving food and water security in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. 

Yssy Burton-Clark is Yuwaya Ngarra-li's Project Officer at UNSW Sydney. Yssy holds qualifications in Communications and Criminology & Criminal Justice, and has previously worked in stakeholder engagement, communications, administration and customer service, as well as completing a placement in disability research at the UNSW Social Policy Research Centre. They are also currently completing Honours in Criminology, incorporating crip theory and cultural criminology in a critical analysis of pop culture depictions of psychosocial disability.