There are some people who others just feel drawn to.
There’s something welcoming about their presence, their spirit, something big and broad that brings people in, makes them want to yarn, to share, to listen.
As anyone who has met him will tell you, Scott King is one of those people.
And so it was with great joy that GEGAC welcomed Scott back to our family this month in a permanent role, as our Quaranook Community Engagement Worker.
Monaro on his grandmother’s side, and Gunditjmara on his father’s side, Scotty often says “from the east to the west, brother! Us Kings have got the whole state covered!”
The brother of former GEGAC Board Chair Jason King, Scott’s father was Brian “Bear” King, longtime CEO at Bung Yarnda – Lake Tyers Aboriginal Trust.
“They called him ‘Bear’ because he’d come up to you and give you this big, massive hug – a Bear hug,” Scott said. “He was known for it.”
The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. Even if you never met Brian, looking at Scotty today it is easy to picture Bear, big arms wrapped around mob in a powerful welcome.
Scott spent much of the past year in a temporary position at GEGAC, one of several people former CEO Shellee Strickland sought out to help stablise and rejuvenate the organization during a tough time.
“I’ll be honest with you, I never wanted to work at GEGAC,” Scott said. “But when I was actually here, I felt this really strong family connection between everyone that works here. Being a part of that was really special, and it was hard to leave.”
Scott has a long history in this community of helping people who are doing it tough.
That history begins with his work as a Koori Court Officer here in Bairnsdale back in 2011, a position he took with precious little training or experience other than a good family name in community and a willingness to give people a fair go.
“October 5, 2011. I remember the date,” Scott says. “I walked into the Bairnsdale courthouse and there was something like 120 matters on the docket – assaults, traffic incidents, family violence, you name it. And I thought to myself ‘Scotty, you’ve made a big mistake.’ It was just a lot.”
But it didn’t take Scott long to appreciate the enormous opportunity he had been given, to make a real difference in the lives of people, at a time when they needed help.
He says a pivotal moment in his life back then was when he first met Trevor Terrick, then the Koori Court Officer for Latrobe Valley.
“Just seeing how he went about it, what he was able to do for people,” Scott says. “It made me realise ‘wow, I’m supposed to be here. This is right.’”
Reflecting on that time, and the 12 years he spent as a Koori Court Officer and then as a Project Officer for the Local Aboriginal Justice Action Committee, Scott feels pride, but also regret.
“I like to think I helped a lot of people,” he says. “If I’m being honest, there’s probably some people I let down, too. People that didn’t get the outcomes they deserved. That motivates me, to this day.”
The lessons about life and redemption he learned in his years helping Aboriginal people in the justice system have prepared Scott well for this new challenge at GEGAC.
Although his Quaranook Community Engagement Worker role has gambling education at its core, it’s really about much more than that.
“You know, you can get headed down the wrong track, making bad decisions about things, whether that’s gambling or your health or family or whatever,” Scott says. “What we want to do for mob is say ‘alright, let’s sit down and have a yarn. What do you want to do now? What other options can we look at to help you get where you need to be.’”
“That’s what is great about GEGAC – we’ve got access to so many programs. There’s drug and alcohol support, men’s behavioural support, financial counselling, all the social activities and community gatherings. We can help. We are here to help mob.”
But, as Scott learned from his time with the Koori Court, change is only possible if a person is ready to put their hand up and ask for help.
“The Koori Court has a committee of Aboriginal Elders sitting alongside the Magistrate,” Scott explains. “But, you only got to be heard by the Elders if you pleaded guilty. It’s about owning up, and if you can own up you’re given a chance to explain yourself to the Elders, and ask for help.”
“Most of the time, those that had been before the Elders would follow through with whatever they’d be directed to do, and that’s because they’d already taken the hardest step, which is to put their hand up and admit they need help.”
“That’s hard for Aboriginal people. There’s the big shame factor.”
Scott sees his job as getting rid of that shame factor as much as possible, by creating gatherings that are about culture, community, getting out on country – creating yarns ups for Aboriginal people that create strong social connections, that reconnect them to culture and country.
He also hopes his own personal background will make mob not feel shamed about reaching out to him.
“Who am I to judge anyone? I’ve had my own problems with gambling. It’s caused me a lot of hardship. You get into a social routine – Friday arvos after work, head up to the RSL for a few beers and ‘a press.’ Before you know it $300 is gone. I know first-hand the damage that does to families.”
For Scott, the unlikely saviour that helped him get his gambling under control was COVID.
“That was the saving grace for me – COVID,” he says. “Everything was closed, no pokies. After a few weeks I looked at my bank account and thought ‘how good is this?!’ I could see clearly what I had been losing. At the same time, because of COVID I was also with my family more, not going out. It made me focus on what was around me, what was really important.”
“Addictions are like black holes in the ground. You’ve got your head down there, and you can’t see anything. You can’t see what’s all around you. Your perspective is just limited to that black hole.”
“What we want to do at GEGAC is to step in and help people just raise their head out of the hole, and to look around and see what is all around them. To see families, to see mob, to see country, to see opportunities. Then, they are more likely to make those good choices in their life, because they can see what’s at stake – what they could really lose, or really gain.”
To reach out to Scotty or to learn more about the Quaranook Community Engagement program, call 5152 0887 or email firstname.lastname@example.org