Community engagement in Lockhart River

I recently came across an interesting show on Message Stick (a show on ABC TV) about a community engagement project in the Lockhart River. (You can  watch it here.) It is a great example of some of the challenges in a top down initiative when there is little trust, but also how a top down initiative can have a bottom up approach (through the use of a range of strategies including a Government Champion and Learning Circles).

The ABC describes the program in the following terms:

For decades state and federal governments have struggled to address the needs of Indigenous Australians, often taking the patronising approach of we know what’s best for communities in need. More often than not, this strategy has, failed.

However, the remote far-north Queensland community of Lockhart River has been trialling a unique partnership between government, business and community. Those involved say it would not have succeeded without a few dedicated bureaucrats, who listened to the community and supported its ideas.

While the project wasn’t based on Asset Based Community Development, it is a great example of how such an approach can work in practice.

If you are interested there are a few other resources relating to this initiative.

Landline (ABC TV) did a program about one of the initiatives that arose out of the work in Lockhart River.

Denise Hagan (who is featured in Message Stick) discussed the project at a conference in 2005: “The Learning Circles of Lockhart River”. Paper presented at the International Conference on Engaging Communities. Available from [No longer available]

Jim Varghese (the Government Champion), had a book chapter published in 2007 that discussed the use of learning circles in another context: “Applying three frames to the delivery of public value”. In J. Wanna (Ed.), Improving implementation: Organisational change and project management. Canberra: ANU E Press. Available from

And there is a paper that discusses three case studies (one of which is Lockhart River) in: Martin, A., & Stewart, R. (2005). Community Engagement – Putting People First in Building Sustainable Community Futures – Three Case Studies. Paper presented at the International Conference on Engaging Communities. Available from [No longer available]

About Graeme Stuart

Lecturer (Family Action Centre, Newcastle Uni), blogger (Sustaining Community), Alternatives to Violence Project facilitator, environmentalist, father. Passionate about families, community development, peace, sustainability.
This entry was posted in Strengths-based approaches & ABCD, Working with communities and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Community engagement in Lockhart River

  1. Anonymous says:

    This is great thank you for providing links to relevant sources that explain more about the community. I am a university student doing a project on Lockhart community and it helped me a lot thank you

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Graeme says:

    After I wrote this I discovered that the Benevolent Society and The Puuya Foundation are holding a seminar on Tuesday 27th September in Sydney that will showcase Lockhart River’s approach and internationally renowned American community building academic – Meg Wheatley. Details at


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