Yarnin’ Money on Thursday Island

Last month, ICAN’s Yarnin’ Money program experienced its largest training group to date, delivering financial capability training to thirty-five job seekers and staff from My Pathway in the Torres Strait. The training featured as part of My Pathway’s Wellbeing toolkit – a range of programs covering physical, social, emotional, cultural, psychological and financial well-being, delivered to job seekers undertaking mutual obligation activities.

Though the Yarnin’ Money training, Torres Strait Islander job seekers and staff were exposed to a unique way of discussing money and related issues, through a culture-centred approach. Yarnin’ Money takes participants on a journey through their own timeline, to understand where and how money fits into one’s own cultural worldview and centres discussion on how histories and life events impact our view and use of money. Facilitators Eddie Buli and Carmen Hegarty discussed how Yarnin’ Money was received in the Torres Strait. “Yarnin’ takes participants on a journey to look and see money – and money issues – from a historical, cultural, personal, family and community view,” Eddie said. “The delivery of the training is about our mob, our communities, our style, our yarn and the way we yarn.”

“That connection to culture and history is an important element of Yarnin’ Money, and this came out strongly in the training,” said Carmen. “We started with the photo narrative activity, as a way to build trust and start the yarn.”

The Photo Narrative activity brought out stories among participants, that are specific to the Torres Strait and daily living on Thursday Island. The trainers noted one man’s chosen photo and story reflected a historical account of the pearl industry in the Torres Strait.

“One participant chose a photo of a pearl lugger and explained the history of the pearl diving industry in the Torres Strait; when they used to dive, how divers came from diverse nationalities and how they all lived their life from the sea,” Eddie explained. “He related how money didn’t matter back then because they could get kai kai [food] from the sea, where the sea was their life. He spoke about how the Torres Strait has changed since the closure of the pearl industry, how these days it is expensive to live on Thursday Island where not much work is available.”

Limited employment opportunities and the high cost of living on Thursday Island were themes discussed during the training. Thursday Island is considered both a remote community and a hub for the rest of the Torres Strait. As at December 2017, ABS reported an 11.4 per cent unemployment rate (of the working age population) on Thursday Island.*

Further to limited employment, is the high cost of living remotely. Yarnin’ Money participants noted the difficulties in being able to manage their finances due to the high cost of living on Thursday Island. “The living expenses here in the Torres Strait makes it hard to manage your life financially,” said one participant. “There’s not enough money, everything’s expensive in the Torres Strait,” said another.

The cost of rent and food were specific issues discussed when delving into high daily living costs that participants faced. “Income from work is never enough for living expenses here, such as food, rent and (the cost of the) power bill,” said another. In a population of 2,938, 77.9 per cent of live in rented properties, with a further 12.3 per cent utilising social housing.** Of those, 11.4 per cent of households on Thursday Island experience a strain in rent payments “greater than or equal to 30 per cent of (their) household income.”** Service Providers in the Yarnin’ Money training also noted the high cost of food shopping on Thursday Island.

The training was well received by the My Pathway service providers and job seekers, with many commenting on how the sessions changed the way they view money and budgeting.

“This training has changed my personal view of how I could save money and also spend correctly.”

“It gave me more understanding, more knowledge, for my future.”

“Giving me a clear picture on budgeting and money handling. Releases stress off my shoulders.”

Participants commented that the skills learned in the training would help them to do personal budgeting and be able to share these skills with family and friends. They commented on how they would use the skills learned by:

“Do up a budget plan with my partner, so we’ll save to maybe go on a holiday with the kids.”

“To teach my family and friends, show them how to solve financial problems.”

This session was a fantastic opportunity for some of the most financially vulnerable people on TI to get sound financial advice and new ways of thinking about money. People learnt about setting goals and how to budget. A few had one- on one sessions with a financial counsellor. Most of them commented that it was a very useful training session. In addition, My Pathway engagement officers learnt some of the basics around how to help guide and refer people for sound financial advice, tools and tips,” said Bronwen Scully, Well-being Consultant from My Pathway, who organised the training on Thursday Island.

An intended outcome of the Yarnin’ Money training is the follow-on support ICAN provides to participants, through financial counselling offered post-training. ICAN provided financial counselling in response to five requests for assistance, dealing with matters of: multiple funeral insurances (five in total) held by one person, assisting one participant to create a Will, credit and debt issues for one family and tenancy advocacy assistance. ICAN financial counsellors were able to address the multiple insurances, assisting one participant to cancel the bulk of their funeral insurance products, in order to keep what the client felt necessary.


My Pathway provides education, training and employment services and is the largest Remote Jobs and Communities Program (RJCP) provider in the country. Since 2015, My Pathway has been a great support to the Yarnin’ Money program, by organising participants and venues for the team to deliver financial capability training to local community residents in the Northern Peninsula Area (NPA – top tip of Cape York), Mapoon, Napranum, Weipa and recently, Thursday Island located in the Torres Strait.

Yarnin’ Money is an Indigenous financial capability program under ICAN Learn and is supported by the Commonwealth Bank, Financial Literacy Australia, the Department of Social Services and the Queensland Department of Communities, Disability Services and Seniors.

* Queensland Government. (2018). ‘Labour force – small area: unemployment rate (smoothed) (per cent), qtr ended 31 Dec 2017.’ https://statistics.qgso.qld.gov.au/qld-thematic-maps.
**Australian Bureau of Statistics. (2018). ‘2016 Census Quickstats: Thursday Island.’ http://www.censusdata.abs.gov.au/census_services/getproduct/census/2016/quickstat/SSC32851.