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Australian of the Year 2016 finalist, Northern Territory
Having experienced severe drug and alcohol problems in his youth, Will MacGregor understands the challenges facing many young people in the Northern Territory. After finding help for his addictions – and remaining sober for more than three decades – Will wanted to help others.
Following consultation with Aboriginal elders and community leaders from across the Territory, Will started taking young people into the bush for days at a time to help them dry out and detox. After several years of operating from the back of a four-wheel drive, Will gained funding in 2009 and BushMob was born.
Now operating a 20-bed facility with 28 staff, BushMob takes marginalised young people ‘out bush’ to build their self-esteem and respect for each other. The participants tackle problems like alcohol and drug abuse, violence and suicide, and can remain in the program for up to two months.
Will focuses on natural healing, cultural respect and empowerment to help young people make positive choices and rebuild their lives.
Carved female statue with necklace
Will was born in the highlands of Papua New Guinea in 1958. His family moved to Melbourne in the early 1960s, and then to Bulawayo in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe).
‘After my father died, my mother gathered my sister and I together and tossed a coin. She was a school teacher and had the choice of going to Rio in South America or Bulawayo in Rhodesia. We moved to Rhodesia in 1967 and returned to Australia ten years later.’
Helping those weaker
This statue, named ‘Mary Jane’ by the family, is a reminder of the strong women who have shaped Will’s life. The necklace was given to Will by Alice Mokombero, the widow of a tribal protectorate chief in Zimbabwe, when he was 13. She encouraged him to look after people in need. Will placed the necklace on the statue and there it has remained.
‘When Alice Mokombero gave me the necklace, she said “this gift is about responsibility and looking after those weaker than yourself”. As soon as I got home I put the necklace on the carving and Alice’s message in my head.’
‘Responsibility in my case went into dealing with my own demons and setting up BushMob. BushMob has always been about providing a safe supported space ... to remember what realistic choice is for a young person across substance misuse.’
‘Journeys are made in Central Australia by and for young people to get the self-respect, trust, courage and skills to have a good life – because grog, sniffing, drugs and crime are no good.’
BushMob vision statement, 2015
This carved female statue is not on show for the exhibition at the Australian Museum in Sydney. The chief's necklace is on display.