Childers man Michael Small has been awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia for his service to indigenous communities across Queensland.
Childers man Michael Small has been awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia for his service to indigenous communities across Queensland. Ava Benny-Morrison

Michael dreams to help indigenous communities

FOUR deaths in custody, bearing witness to families torn apart and the lasting impacts of institutionalisation, have not been enough to beat Childers man Michael Small, OAM.

The former prison worker has spent his life educating himself and working in various capacities to help indigenous communities in Queensland.

His interest in social justice was sparked during his time as a prison officer in Townsville.

"I went through the people dying in prison and I thought, 'there must be a better way than this'," he said.

Out of work for 18 months with an injury, he studied anthropology and archaeology before completing his PhD, with a focus on the Cape Upstart indigenous community and their view of settlement.

Dr Small went on to work in the area of native title.

Holding a PhD, Dr Small's willingness to help those who need it and his pursuit of social justice has earned him one of Australia's highest honours - the Order of Australia.

"Basically I think the solution to every one of our problems is within ourselves," he said at the awards ceremony in Brisbane.

"We just have to help people to find it.

"I don't believe in holding people's hands, I believe in helping people to help themselves."

Dr Small said it was partly growing up with aboriginal people and something in his make-up that helped him dedicate his life to the cause.

"It was something that was just in me," he said.

"It just needed the prisons and people dying and the sadness of seeing the destruction of families to set it off."

Nowadays, the social worker lives in Childers and works with youth, female, male and indigenous prisoners but has his eyes set on something bigger.

"I want to set up a counselling practice with a Medicare provider number so people can come to you and they don't have to worry 'oh, if I get referred to a psychologist I only have to pay $50 for a visit'," he said.

"If you get a Medicare provider number you can just bulk bill it.

"People will come and they know they aren't restricted because they don't have the money."

The 62-year-old is facing his own internal battles, with only half lung capacity due to working with asbestos in his younger years.

But it will not stop the self-confessed "big mouth hard head" in his pursuit for equality.



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