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The voices from people with lived experiences in nearby local communities who have been affected by gambling harm were distinctly heard at the Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation’s third biennial conference on gambling harm. The three-day event from 13 – 15 August 2018 held in Geelong, Victoria, Australia and organised in partnership with the New Zealand Problem Gambling Foundation (PGF). They had put together a well thought out programme with an array of prominent, diverse and distinguished local, national and international speakers to share their insights and lead discussions within and across the different conference programme streams.

Hapai te Hauora’s National Coordination Services and Te Kakano – Workforce Development were pleased to participate in this opportunity to share knowledge and experience with others who play a role in preventing, reducing or providing services to people in communities who are affected by gambling harm. We were keen to provide input from our perspectives and privileged to participate and tautoko the main conference ‘traditional welcome to country’, conversations, discussions, waiata tautoko and of course ‘selfies’ with other ‘kiwis’ from the PGF, Mapu Mia, Asian Family services (AFS), Tairawhiti Gambling Services and the Moko Foundation.

There was a marked diversity of people, cultures, sectors, organisations and fields of expertise in the more than 400 delegates that had registered. There was urgency during the plenary presentations to embrace opportunities to work together in partnerships or collaborations that seek to enhance local capability, apply research and other learnings in practical ways, pilot initiatives and tailor successful projects to meet the different needs of disparate communities, in particular, the needs of indigenous people.

Given that, the conference programme streams provided different settings and perspectives to explore gambling harm, the streams were:

  • Gambling in Aboriginal communities
  • Lived experience
  • Public health and gambling
  • Research and practice
  • Regional, rural and diverse communities.

Day One:

Thought and action-provoking presentations led the opening plenaries. Memorable speakers included Brendon who shared his story of despair and recovery, Belinda Quarta vice chair to VGA, Wayapa leadership and practise. Both the preliminaries and breakout sessions were engaging and culturally rich. Ivan Ho from AFS shared valuable insights into working with Asian families and the need to provide a holistic approach beginning with where the client wants to start. After Ivan’s presentation on Asian Gambling in NZ, a team of us were at the front of the crowd singing our first ‘waiata tuatoko’ for Ivan. That ‘togetherness’ from the NZ contingency heightened the first conference day experience for me, and it set the mark for the remainder of the three days.

Day Two:

Hāpai te Hauora was privileged to be asked to particpate in the ‘welcome to the country’, following the directions and guidance from the indigenous leader and her ancestors who aptly chose one of our very own indigenous leaders to assist in the welcome.

This day consisted of community voices, past and current service consumers, academia and sector leaders combined to tell the audience how to apply research and other learnings in practical ways. My favourite guest speakers were Geraldine Atkinson who spoke about her journey as an indigenous woman from Geelong who suffered and overcame tremendous gambling harm; Dr Simone Rodda who talked about advancements in online self-directed programs to reduce gambling harm; and Paula Snowdon who shared the truthful impacts of poor decision making in NZ around minimising and preventing gambling harm.

Ben Langi from PGF Mapu Mia, spoke about working within a Tongan framework of “Talatalanoa” in NZ prisons. He was without a doubt very engaged in sharing the success of his work by engaging with Pacific men through Talatalanoa. The kiwi contingency by this time had built up a reputation for “waiata tautoko” and so again, we got up to sing a version of “Whakaria mai”. The rendition was solid, and much like a strong gospel choir, it was a proud moment for us kiwis.

More presentations reported on the work delivered in partnership or collaboration with people with lived experience. Many of the Australian presentations echoed the need to enhance local capacity and the challenges in trying to do that.

If I had to name one highlight of the conference programme it would be '3 sides of the coin', it spoke to the mother, child and wife in me and resonated with my interests in drama role play, theatre and live performances. The stories were real life, provoking, diverse and yet so relatable to many people present in the room.

Day Three:

The final day started with the beautiful Geelong waterfront, Pier Point was full again with participants discussing their night before at the conference dinner. The local comedian had them in fits of laughter. The dinners Guest Speaker Dr Lance O’Sullivan was nothing short of his usual impacting informative and empowering perspectives for indigenous populations. We were tired but satisfied, full of all the shared information, our toolkit of new knowledge and inspiration was absolutely full.

Adding to our knowledge base was the days first speaker called the ‘Streets Barber’, his life journey from despair to recovery and to international guest speaking was compelling and extremely moving. From a very successful family and background Mr Nasir Sobhani spoke some serious words of hope and innvovation and love for community wellness.

Aotearoa’s key speaker Neavin Broughton from the Human Rights Commission addressed the crowd with images, tangible taonga that were passed around the crowd. He provided a wonderful indigenous perspective on human rights and gambling. His role and vision as a board member for PGF was shared. Following that, the conference moved back to Deakin University facilities where the remaining sessions on cultural loads, health promotion local and state government, online gambling and sports and gambling continued.

Final Words

Where a conference is held is very important. The organisers chose venues that exemplified perhaps the aspirations of the conference to be inspirational, innovative and iconic, the Geelong Library and Heritage centre is the regions Dome of Discovery. Sophisticated and technology-rich, the Geelong Library is a world-class facility that houses five public levels – all beautiful and inclusive spaces for reading, studying, meeting, discovery and fun.

The conference opening and first morning kick-started at the Geelong Public Library, with the remainder of the sessions held a few streets away at Deakin University Waterfront Campus Building that is rich in Geelong history while fitted out with modern facilities and lastly at the overwater Pier Point facilities with stunning views of the waterfront. All venues were within walking distance from each other except a session held at the Koori Education Unit at Deakin University Warn Ponds.

The full three-day programme was a professional development investment well worth it; in fact, it exceeded expectations. Both Rebecca and I came away with some key points:

  • Problem Gambling is out there
  • Be responsible, be respectful, be compassionate
  • • Work with lived experienced people to break down barriers to increase prevention and compliment intervention delivery. This was evident in nearly every gambling harm service who presented at the conference. For some services the lived experience people led the intervention. Truly inspiring to have witness and hear about their success in helping others overcome the addiction to gambling.

By Stephanie Erick and Rebecca Ruwhiu-Collins


50 conference presentations can be accessed within the links below.

Day 1 presentations

Day 2 presentations

Day 3 presentations

Video content

Watch a selection of videos of the keynote sessions delivered at the conference.


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