A holistic approach is the backbone of this hands-on Indigenous organisation

Mark Anderson

Mark Anderson talks of a jig-saw approach when explaining the multi-pronged mission of FISH, the Foundation for Indigenous Sustainable Health.

Since 2014, FISH has been extending its reach across Australia and finding financial support in London and New York.

A New York businesswoman recently deposited $50,000 into a FISH account.

When Mark spoke to her “I couldn’t help but cry on the phone and I said ‘with everything we are working on, you don’t realise how much this will do.’”

But there was more.

The benefactor said she could make only one $50,000 transaction at a time, so another $50,000 was coming. 

Mark said that despite the greatly welcome fiscal fillip, there was never enough funding for the extensive work that is needed.

FISH’s work is holistic, covering the needs of the individual, family and the community in bringing positive sustainable change.

Programs involve healing, housing, education, training, employment and financial stability. 

“Healthy spirit, heart, mind and body. Healthy families, community and land,” he said.

With his deep understanding of Indigenous culture and needs, Mark – described on the website as a Wadjela (white fella) – has worked widely in WA, including 10 years in the Kimberley and Pilbara and 20 years in the south of the State. 

He sits on government and non-government advisory and funding boards and was on the judging panel for the Prime Minister’s Community Business Partnership Award. 

Holding the reins as FISH chief executive officer, Mark says he is surrounded by a strong team with a board, eight employees, 25 contracting people, volunteers and partner organisations.

“Most board members and half our staff are Aboriginal,” he said.

“We have the largest retail outlet for Indigenous books in Australia with 230 publications and eight publishing houses.” 

FISH has partnered with Mt Lawley business, Local & Aesthetic. Their products are sourced from 100 per cent-owned Indigenous businesses, authors and artists and include artwork, books, bush medicines, bush tucker, teas, coffee and beauty, hair and skin products. 

There is a large selection of original artworks and prints from Indigenous artists around Australia.

Their website explains: “At FISH we understand that art is one of the foundations of Aboriginal culture in sharing connection to and caring for country, custom, history, lore, maps and beauty.” 

FISH, established to address the severe housing crisis in Indigenous communities throughout Australia, has come a long and progressive way in seven years. 

“Our work has since expanded to include education, health, justice and cultural initiatives,” Mark said.

FISH acknowledges that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have a living spiritual, cultural, familial and social connection with country.

FISH was seeking to bring healing to the spirit, heart, mind, body and land to help create healthy people and communities.

A prototype project is the creation of a community on 11 hectares at Myalup. Now at its final planning stage and costing $1 million to date, it will be established over four years from the turning of the first sod and is being watched from around Australia.

“The Myalup community will be different people coming together, for healing, to reconnect with culture, to know who we are, where we are now, where we come from and taking responsibility for own lives,” Mark said.

Other projects include working with school libraries, childcare centres and child protection organisations as well as teachers, students, schools and universities to widen understanding of Indigenous history and culture.

Schoolkids to year 9 are taught Indigenous understanding and celebrating culture. Children in Years 9–12 are taught Indigenous history. 

“We don’t want to traumatise the younger children,” Mark said.

A typical response had been: “Wow, what an amazing culture. Now I understand our history of where we are.” 

Mark said people who had been exposed to Aboriginal history and culture, typically wanted to know more.

New Zealand teachers had to have full understanding of Maori culture and language and spend time listening to elders before they could teach. In Australia, Indigenous studies at universities are optional.

FISH also runs art therapy programs in prisons using artwork to connect participants back to country and develop their sense of self-worth. 

Artworks are sold with the proceeds supporting people on their release from prison, providing access to transitional support and accommodation, mentoring and employment assistance.

The FISH holistic approach is probably Australia’s first, agrees Mark.

Ed’s note – I have bought most of my Christmas presents from the shop at Local & Aesthetic in Mount Lawley, they also have some wonderful artworks on display and some fashion pieces.