2 February 2024

Canberra companies build an information superhighway to remote Aboriginal communities

| James Coleman
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Dr Steve Burroughs

Dr Steve Burroughs is the founder and director of the Dr Steve Burroughs Foundation. Photo: James Coleman.

Dr Steve Burroughs was driving down one of the streets in Lightning Ridge, NSW, when an Indigenous woman waved him down from her front garden and ran up to his window.

“‘Can you help me?’, she said,” Steve recalls.

“She said, ‘Look, I have a child at home – she’s at uni, but we have no computer or internet’. I’m thinking, ‘Wow, a computer I can probably get, but the internet, I don’t know’. That night, I had a dream … well, I call it a vision. I saw what’s here today.”

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Near Regatta Point on the edge of Lake Burley Griffin, Dr Burroughs is now standing inside a truck trailer that’s been converted into a shared workspace. A long desk, divided by partitions and each equipped with a computer and monitor, lines the wall. A smart TV is mounted to another. It’s called the PACE, or the ‘Portable Aboriginal Communication Environment’.

PACE unit launch

After nine months of work fitting it out, the PACE unit was launched on 30 January. Photo: James Coleman.

Through his charity, the Dr Steve Burroughs Foundation, Steve has spent nearly 50 years in remote communities around Australia delivering various projects to help the Indigenous people. These include sourcing lawnmowers and other equipment so gardening companies can hire more Indigenous workers, a ‘sewing circle’ in Lighting Ridge for the manufacture of face masks, training in installing solar panels and laying carpet tiles, and providing swags and sleeping bags for kids sleeping rough in the Kimberley. He knows the issues first-hand.

“One of the roles in Lightning Ridge is to run a program to help girls to finish their HSC,” he says.

“We hook on to them before Year 10 and they quit school. They have terrible homes – all the abuse you can imagine. So [the PACE] will be a refuge for them. They can come here and study to get them through the HSC.

“The second thing is, a lot of people want to do telehealth appointments but don’t have a place to go and do it. But they can come here, lock the door, do their telehealth stuff without having to travel hours to face-to-face appointments.”

PACE unit launch

The unit will spend its first year at Lighting Ridge, NSW. Photo: James Coleman.

An Indigenous IT company in Turner, Kirra Services, sourced the truck trailer and used their connections to attract support from the likes of Microsoft and Samsung. They will also provide a free ‘starter’ program for those in the communities interested in learning more about IT.

The Croatian Club Canberra also allowed the trailer to take over a large portion of their car park while it was being put together. The rest was funded entirely by donors.

“There are quite a few projects we get approached to be involved in and this is something that is close to us,” Kirra Services managing director Brad Nagle says.

“We’re proud to see it here today.”

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ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr and Minister for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs Rachel Stephen-Smith attended the launch to cut the official ribbon.

“From an ACT perspective, the more we can do from this jurisdiction that extends right across Australia, the better it is for small business in Canberra,” Mr Barr says.

“The wonderful skills and technologies we have – and we perhaps take for granted – here in Canberra should be exported and shared right across our nation.”

Andrew Barr, Brad Nagle and Rachel Stephen-Smith

Chief Minister Andrew Barr, Kirra Services managing director Brad Nagle, and Minister for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs Rachel Stephen-Smith. Photo: James Coleman.

The PACE unit is completely solar-powered and can be plugged into a standard EV charger. It will spend its first year parked in front of the NSW Aboriginal Land Council office in Lightning Ridge while Steve and other foundation members monitor how it’s used.

“This unit will help our young people at school with assignments and homework and help with telehealth out our way,” Aboriginal Land Council CEO Petrina Brown says.

“We appreciate what you’ve done with the sponsors, Steve, and we appreciate everything you’ve done for our community. You’ve been a godsend for our community.”

The foundation is also eyeing up places in the Kimberley where the unit could go and has even drawn up plans for PACE II as a large demountable.

Visit the Dr Steve Burroughs Foundation website for more information on the PACE project.

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