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Senator Jana Stewart

Pictured above: Senator Jana Stewart

For more than 50 years, Aboriginal Hostels Limited (AHL) has been a safety net for First Nations people, as it was for Senator Jana Stewart, who is grateful for the support AHL provided when she was growing up.

Senator Stewart said, ‘My experience with AHL was as a kid…we grew up in a home where there was family violence and drug use and at times our family didn't have a roof over our heads. AHL, through WT Onus [AHL hostel in Melbourne], provided that roof over our heads and meant that we had 3 meals a day and food in our bellies.’

Reflecting on the stability AHL provided during her early years, Senator Stewart said, ‘As a kid, I remember it being fun. I remember being safe. Which are really critical kinds of feelings for a kid when lots of your life is in chaos. I remember being surrounded by other community members.’ 

Senator Stewart and her mum and younger siblings often found themselves staying at WT Onus Hostel. 

‘It was a safe place for us…not just that it kept our family together but the other people there were also in a similar situation to us. It felt like a safe environment for everybody, there was no judgment, everybody was doing it tough and it made it accessible. You felt it was a place you could go to in your hour of need,’ she said.

Looking at those early days through the eyes of an adult, the gravity of her family’s circumstances at that time is now very sincerely appreciated.

‘If we ended up on the streets, which was a very real risk, we would have been removed from our mum and so it is not a stretch to say that AHL kept our family together.’

Having benefited from these services and supports, it is clear that Senator Stewart intends to spend her career advocating and standing up for others. In 2022, she became the youngest First Nations woman to be elected to Federal Parliament and the first Aboriginal Labor Senator for Victoria. 

Senator Stewart moved from working in the Victorian Aboriginal Child Care Agency and the child protection system, all the way to the steps of parliament. Her motivation for entering politics was a chance to stand up for others.

‘I saw politics as an avenue to create real, practical and lasting change for our mob,’ said the senator.

During a 2023–24 Supplementary Budget Estimates hearing, Senator Stewart addressed AHL’s Executive:

‘Aboriginal Hostels Limited, thanks for all the work you do, as someone who grew up in hostels as a child. I know how important they are for families who need a roof over their head at difficult times. AHL is really critical because we know that when our mob are doing it tough, they're doing it really tough. So, it is really critical that we've got well-resourced, culturally safe places for our families to go when they feel like they've got nowhere else to turn.’ 

Years on from Senator Stewart’s stay, AHL still provides shelter for First Nations people experiencing family violence. Our Memoranda of Understanding (MoU) arrangements ensure there are guaranteed beds available for people and families who need them. Additionally, our Multipurpose hostels continue to provide a safe accommodation option, including for families going through tough times and needing a stable place to stay.

‘On some of their toughest and darkest days, they know that this is a place that will help in a really non-judgmental way. I think that is so, so critical that our people feel like they have somewhere to go,’ Senator Stewart said.
 

Senator Jana Stewart and her cousins

Senator Stewart with her cousins.