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Hope Vale is an Indigenous community in Far North Queensland and home to the Guugu Yimithirr peoples. With a population of approximately 1500, the community has been thriving in recent years due to a number of initiatives and investments and a strong community spirit.
One such initiative is the development of the Hope Valley Estate, providing community members an opportunity to buy a home on traditional land, with assistance from IBA’s Indigenous Home Ownership program.
Hope Vale Aboriginal Shire Council purchased the land for the Hope Valley Estate, while the Australian Government made a substantial investment to allow Council to develop the subdivision to provide the freehold allotments for local residents.
There are 53 fully serviced freehold lots on the Hope Valley Estate for people to purchase and build their own homes. IBA has spent time in the community talking to residents about the Indigenous Home Ownership program, and how they can apply for a home loan with low deposit requirements and affordable interest rates.
‘It’s very promising, a really good initiative – people have really embraced it’, said Ross Higgins, CEO of Hope Vale Aboriginal Shire Council.
‘Having their own home gives local residents something to be very proud of and eventually something to hand down to family members. And none of this would have happened if we hadn’t had access to the freehold land’.
Cheryl Cannon was the first person to build her own home on the Hope Vale Estate, which she completed in April 2013. She was also the first Indigenous person in Queensland to own a home with freehold title on their traditional community land. ‘Initially I wanted something for my children and grandchildren to have ownership of and provide security for their future’, she said at the time. ‘But the opportunity to be able to teach my family to be responsible and care for their home and property is really important to me’. Cheryl is now happily living in her new house; and has been an inspiration to others in the community.
While many Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians dream of owning their own home, this is now an achievable reality for many Hope Vale residents. More than 10 homes are in the process of being built on the Estate through IBA’s Indigenous Home Ownership program, and several more applications have recently been approved.
And despite the damage caused by Cyclone Ita in April, Hope Vale remains a strong and vibrant community continuing to embrace and enjoy the security and stability that home ownership can provide.
On a rainy, humid day, typical of Far North Queensland in February, Elizabeth ‘Maude’ Olbar is proudly showing IBA staff around her soon to be completed home on the Hope Valley Estate. She will be moving into the house in a matter of weeks.
The vivid green internal walls and sunshine yellow exterior show she has already made her mark. She plans to decorate the house, which has a large open-plan layout, three bedrooms and a huge wrap-around veranda, with art and crafts produced by her family. She is looking forward to having the time to cook, read and paint in her new home, which she has created through dreams and determination.
‘I always wanted to buy my own home; ever since I graduated school that was my aim,’ said Maude.
Maude will be the second community member to move into her own home on the estate, bought with the assistance of the IBA Indigenous Home Ownership program. She was inspired to apply for an IBA home loan by another community member.
Growing up in a busy household meant there wasn’t a lot of privacy or time spent alone. Maude remembers her mother always helping other families and taking in children whose parents couldn’t care for them. It’s easy to see that Maude has inherited this generous heart; she has been the primary carer for three of her nieces and nephews over the years, and two of them will be coming to live with her when she moves into her new house. Her sense of responsibility is clear.
Maude has an obvious strong work ethic and a commitment to her community. She works as a teacher’s aide and has worked in the education field for more than 18 years. ‘I am passionate about childrens’ learning’, she said.
Maude helped her parents with the rent as soon as she was able. As her parents grew older and eventually went to Hope Vale Aged Care, she continued the rent payments on the family home and tried to organise her siblings’ contributions.
Maude’s goal of home ownership never left her mind, so when she heard about the IBA Indigenous Home Ownership program and Hope Valley Estate initiative she decided to apply. Although the mortgage payments would be slightly more expensive than her existing rent, Maude saw this as another challenge to rise to.
Maude collaborated with project manager Logan Idiens from Laguna Constructions to create her new home.
‘We went through everything; she told me exactly what she wanted’, said Logan. ‘Then I drew up a plan and she gave me any changes. She picked everything: roof colour, outside colour. The process was really easy for me thanks to IBA and thanks to Maude’.
Maude’s two children are grown up and she already has one granddaughter. When she moves into her home she will only be caring for herself and her niece and nephew.
‘This will be the first time that I am moving into my own home, just me, by myself. It’s going to be a big change for me’, she said.
‘It’s more of the safety in numbers. It’s going to be a whole change. My house was always full with everybody coming and going. I won’t know myself here because it’s going to be too quiet’.
As Maude prepares to move into her home, she feels positive about Hope Vale and the future of the community.
‘Now this (home ownership) is a big opportunity for young people to move on; the chance to be responsible and buy their own home instead of living with their parents. I’m glad these young people are getting their own homes. That’s really good to see’, she said.
‘This was one of my aims for years. That was my mission and now I’ve done it, completed. I am very proud of myself. I have come a long way you know, not just with the house, but in myself’.
Shariel Cassar and Cheston McLean applied for a home loan in June 2013 and are now building their own home. Cheston is a third-year apprentice carpenter and works mostly in Cooktown and around Cairns. Shariel works as a consultant at My Pathways (an employment agency in Hope Vale).
The couple currently live with Cheston’s family and are looking forward to becoming homeowners.
‘We wanted our own space’, said Shariel. ‘Something that’s ours. Home ownership gives you something that’s yours - something you can fall back on. That’s your home’.
They heard about IBA’s Home Ownership Program through Cheston’s uncle and decided it was a great opportunity for them to move forward.
The young couple plan to build their future in Hope Vale and their new three-bedroom, two-bathroom home is the first step. Cheston is from Hope Vale and has other family members who are purchasing their own homes in the community. Shariel is from Wujal Wujal but enjoys life in Hope Vale where ‘people look out for each other and know each other’.
Cheston has noticed positive changes in the local community and watched its growth. ‘There are heaps more buildings now, heaps more jobs. As it grows, people are moving back here’, he said.
While they wait for their new home to be completed, the couple have been taking trips to Cairns to pick out furniture.
‘We are very excited’, said Shariel. ‘I can’t wait’.
Chavanne Bowen and her partner Wunjun McLean are looking forward to having a home of their own in which to raise their three-year-old son.
They have been living with Wunjun’s family since before their son was born.
‘We need our own space’, said Chavanne. ‘Especially for my son. I want to own the kitchen – I share with six people at the moment’!
Wunjun and Chavanne were both born in Hope Vale and have known each other their whole lives. They have family in the community and want to build a future for their own family there too.
‘We have been together for seven years and have been on the community housing list for a while’, said Chavanne. ‘I knew we weren’t going to get a house that way, so we took the first train out. We tried our luck and applied for a home loan’.
Chavanne points out that applying for the loan was a challenge, and that initially the couple faced a lot of questions: could they afford it? Were they ready?
Both my partner Wunjun and I sacrificed a few things to make this happen’, she said. ‘But I am looking forward to taking on the responsibility.
‘I am very excited, I really am! It’s something we wanted and we got it. A big kitchen and a big lounge – well, not too big but not too small either!’
Find out more about the Indigenous Home Ownership program.