By Erin Snelgrove
Shane Phillips and Luke Freudenstein both received prestigious awards as part of the 2013 Australia Day Honours. Passionate mentors to disadvantaged youth, particularly Indigenous young people in the Redfern area, the pair collaborate on the delivery of the Clean Slate Without Prejudice boxing initiative.
Phillips, who is CEO of the Tribal Warrior Association, and Superintendant Freudenstein, Redfern Local Area Police Commander, have been credited with transforming the relationships between the police and young people and were both recognised for their work in the Redfern community.
Phillips has been honoured as Australia’s Local Hero of the Year. Having grown up on the Block, he is a respected leader of the Redfern Aboriginal community and a passionate advocate for Aboriginal rights; in particular for his work on youth issues, juvenile justice and Aboriginal deaths in custody. Determined to proactively empower Indigenous people, Phillips’ work with the Tribal Warrior Association is grassroots, providing a range of mentoring and training opportunities to provide pathways to employment to overcome disadvantage.
Freudenstein was also honoured for his work in the Redfern community, receiving the Australian Police Medal. Appointed as Commander in 2008, Freudenstein has been instrumental in forging strong and lasting relationships between not only the Indigenous community of Redfern but more broadly across NSW. In addition to the Clean Slate Without Prejudice program, Freudenstein is involved in a number of other Indigenous community programs including with Babana Men’s Group, the Redfern All Blacks Football Club, the Junior Rugby League Football Association and other programs with the Tribal Warrior Association.
An innovative program bringing Indigenous youth and police together in a context removed from crime, Clean Slate Without Prejudice aims to break down barriers and develop relationships and respect. Phillips says:
“It’s simple – routine and discipline give a sense of self worth and belonging; they do the rest themselves, and the mentors are there to give them some guidance”.
Freudenstein describes the sense of empowerment and confidence the young people are given with incredibile transformations evident in so many of the mostly young men; once barely able to mutter a ‘yes’ or ‘no’, they now actively engage with and help to train others; others have moved into independant accommodation and found employment.
The pair agree it’s no coincidence that since the program started in 2009, local youth crime statistics have dropped 82 per cent, dropping from 114 incidents per month, to just 14. “These kids are the new cool kids, others in the community look up to them” says Phillips “it’s changing the community, giving them healthy options. We go to the movies together and have meals – something a lot of these kids haven’t had access to before”.
The program now sees up to 100 participants filing into the National Centre for Indigenous Excellence at 6am, three mornings per week; Phillips and Fredudenstein are concerned that it’s become a struggle to find enough equipment and – crucially – engage the essential local Indigenous mentoring component that provide additional supports.
Currently, Tribal Warrior funds the program as it can, but with no specific funding stream, which has been costed at $900,000 per year to facilitate six employed mentors, equipment and several intensive camps, Philips and Freudenstein are concerned the program will lose momentum without immediate assistance; a terrible shame considering not only the enviably low rates of crime and recidivism, but for the very real impact this program is having on the lives of young people and their communities.
As I leave, the participants are animated and taking turns preparing themselves a bowl of cereal, provided after training. Phillips and Freudenstein say “we’re so proud of them”.