Drug and Alcohol Services

Mt Theo-Yuendumu Put The Brakes on Petrol Sniffing Program

What is it?

Mt Theo-Yuendumu Put The Brakes on Petrol Sniffing Program is a comprehensive youth program that offers young people active and healthy alternatives to petrol sniffing. Warlpiri mentors and Elders provide cultural rehabilitation and strengthening at Mt Theo Outstation, 160km north of Yuendumu.

Background to development

In the early 1990s Yuendumu, a remote Aboriginal community of around 1,000 people, was gripped by an epidemic of petrol sniffing among young people.

In 1994, local Warlpiri Elders decided on a 'zero tolerance' approach to petrol sniffing and worked with traditional owners, the school, the Tanami Network and the local Community Council to implement a program to address the problem.  Young petrol sniffers were sent to Mt Theo Outstation to recover, learn traditional culture and break their addiction.  In Yuendumu, Local Warlpiri Elders developed a comprehensive youth program collaboration with a range ol local service providers to support young people when they returned from Mt Theo. Within a decade, the number of petrol sniffers in Yuendumu had been reduced to zero.

The program received no funding until 1997 and all the early work was done on a volunteer basis.The 2006 Commonwealth Senate report into petrol sniffing highlighted the success of the Mt Theo Program.  Its success was also highlighted in the Australians for Native Title and Reconciliation Success Stories For Indigenous Health (2008) and the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission Social Justice Report (2009).

Why is this promising practice?

It has overwhelmingly been our experience that the strongest, most empowered Warlpiri youth who are connected to, and confident within, their cultural identity, move naturally away from cycles of violence, self-harm, substance misuse and criminal behaviour towards more positive and meaningful life pathways. 

The success of the Mt Theo program lies in its unique emphasis on cultural rehabilitation - instilling cultural knowledge and strength by senior Warlpiri people as an integral underpinning of the health and wellbeing of Warlpiri youth. Conversations are conducted in the Warlpiri language, further enhancing the link to culture and allowing Warlpiri people to freely explore the causes underlying their presenting issues in their first language. Continuity of care is provided through a partnership with the Yuendumu Clinic which has the benefit of encouraging clients to use the clinic and become more engaged in and responsible for their self-care.

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