The Sanctuary is a safe haven for Mallacoota’s young people to be together, support each other and develop skills as leaders as they continue to recover from the fire events of the summer of 2020.

The Sanctuary provides teenagers and young adults with a platform to share their voice in this community. It is a place where participants can feel safe to express themselves and explore ideas. Mallacoota’s youth use the space to study, play music, make art, play games, organise programs and events and run workshops.

We spoke to Josh and Remy, two young men who were at the Sanctuary Mallacoota on Wednesday 10 March 2021 who share a special friendship.

Remy from Mallacoota with a plain expressionRemy looking out smiling in Mallacoota

Remy looking out to Mallacoota

What is your connection to Mallacoota and the Sanctuary?

Remy: We moved here from Melbourne in early-2019. The lifestyle here is amazing, I’m into the outdoors, the water and environment around here. Everyone was really welcoming and I’ve liked growing up here, despite the challenges we faced last year with the fires.

The Sanctuary has provided a space for connection with other young people and exploration for my passions like photography and music. This is our space where our voices and interests are heard.

Josh: I’ve grown up here my entire life, and have been working here since I was a teen. I love fishing, boating, hiking, and also being involved in the community. I’ve started a group for young people here to play at the local badminton club too. I’ll come to the Sanctuary when I’m not working or travelling to hang out with Remy and some of the others that come down here.

How has the Sanctuary helped you speak up?

Josh: No one was speaking up for our ideas or how we could have an input or have a say on Mallacoota. But now that the Sanctuary is here, it has empowered young people to speak up and pushed others in the community to listen to us.

Remy: I want to have a say on my community. We are the next generation, we are the next users of our town, our community and the land and we have to take care of it. We are important and part of the community, but without the Sanctuary we wouldn’t be seen.

Josh: It’s a big responsibility, young people will continue to face lots of challenges now and into the future. It’s important that we know how to have an idea and how to have a say now and that we know how to be involved when we’re young, an understanding of how things were done, and how things can change and improve.

 Josh smiling with his arms crossedJosh smiling arms by his side

Josh looking out with a slight smile

You have a special friendship and bond despite Josh being older, how important is mentoring and having a role model?

Remy: Josh has been a second mentor to me, besides from my parents. Unfortunately not as many young people my age have that connection so I feel really lucky that I’ve been able to have Josh around the past 18 months. He will make an effort to hang out or come down here for a chat and take me around and I really appreciate that.

Josh: It’s important to support and include people rather than divide yourself into random groups. We often divide ourselves apart into cliques and groups for no particular reason other than age! When I first met Remy, I felt he was very mature, and he’s got similar passions: fishing, photography and getting outdoors. We clicked straight away and I remember meeting him and just saying, wow I love this kid! I’ve taken him under my wing since.

Recently, the Sanctuary was able to host its first outdoor cinema, as well as advocate for a new skate park in Mallacoota. Why do you think the Sanctuary has been successful in its advocacy?

Josh: What the Sanctuary are doing is perfect. In the past, change was crawling like a snail but this feels different, people are making change rapidly and encouraging other young people to get involved. Other community members, including older people in power, in council are starting to take note.

When we say we want something by ourselves, our voices often won’t be heard. But with the support of the Sanctuary and the collective voices of young people, we are being taken seriously now.

What is your hope for Mallacoota and the Sanctuary?

Josh: I don’t want to be an outsider, I want to be involved and have a say. It’s given me options and chances and connect with other people who I haven’t had a chance to speak with properly in years, whether it be due to fires or due to life changing its course.

Remy: I’m hoping to continue my passions of activities like fishing, boating and outdoor adventures. In the long-run, I want to finish school and go to uni.

The Sanctuary is an easy, relaxed way to learn with your friends. Learn skills that you wouldn’t learn at school, and really follow what you want to do. It’s like a school away from school for me. But there’s no rules. You can come when you want, leave when you want and it’s super chill to make new friends.

Stay connected with The Sanctuary Mallacoota Youth Group here

This story is part of our Learning from COVID-19 series, featuring the creativity and adaptions of young people and youth workers. Check out our other stories or share your feedback.