Meet Katrina Ikonomou | Gunawirra

Gunawirra is a community-led organisation that works closely with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, families, children and communities to reach their full potential. Gunawirra was formed in 2008 with a drive to listen to community - to understand how they can empower children, families and communities to heal intergenerational trauma and provide them a connection to their heritage, Country and culture.

Read our interview with Gunawirra's Clinical Manager and proud Dharug woman, Katrina Inkonomou, to learn more about the initiatives and purpose behind Gunawirra and their evolving YAMP program, and how this year's NAIDOC theme, "For Our Elders", is being embraced in the wider community.


At the heart of Gunawirra’s (and especially the YAMP program) mission is a belief that support, connection and education is the key to reduce the impact of intergenerational trauma in Aboriginal families, and our nation. Can you share how YAMP empowers this for young Aboriginal mothers?

The young Aboriginal mothers’ program is a powerful healing space for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families to come together and share their stories, struggles and concerns with others. It’s a space to support each other when times are tough and also celebrate wins and achievements, no matter how big or how small.

For many Aboriginal families they are going on a deep and personal journey to heal and improve their lives. Gunawirra offers a consistent support on this journey, by providing opportunities to connect with culture and chances to engage in educational and therapeutic services that otherwise may be inaccessible. Naturally throughout the course of the program, the mums form a closer bond with other women as well as their own children… it is inspiring to watch these mums take their little ones on the journey of growth and empowerment with them. 

I don't think there are many places like Gunawirra where Aboriginal women feel like they can come in and say “I'm struggling” without fear of repercussions. We are a very safe space for these women. Many have come to me and said, “this is home… Gunawirra is like our second family”.


The story of Gunawirra is beautifully rooted in healing, resilience, and opportunity. Katrina, we would love to hear about what led you to where you are today?

I am fortunate enough to have been blessed with a big, caring family and have grown up always being around a lot of people and I was taught from a young age that if we have the chance, we help those who are in need. As a result of this upbringing, I knew from young age that I wanted to work with people and give back to the world in some way, that’s what led me to become qualified as a social worker. In my last year of university, I was given the opportunity to complete my final placement at Gunawirra. As a proud Dharug woman, I am passionate about improving the lives of my people, especially the lives of children. On the back of my placement, I was offered the position of social worker at Gunawirra once I graduated. It has been an amazing journey, progressing from a student to a social worker and where I am today as the clinical manager.

Can you share some of the most rewarding moments since you started working with Gunawirra?

As I’m sure you can imagine, there have been so many rewarding moments since I have started working with Gunawirra. 

One of the biggest rewards is watching the women and children grow as proud and confident individuals. Seeing children who have been at Gunawirra since they were little babies eventually head off to kindergarten, meeting their milestones and with a strong sense of pride in their Aboriginal identity is incredible.

A memorable highlight for me, was watching a mother and child grow together and strengthen their bond over the years. To see this mother understand her child’s needs, communicate gently and work tirelessly to advocate for her child was such a joy! It was a significant change – and reflecting on where they were at the start of the program, you would hardly recognise them today. It has actually been a privilege to see mothers who may have had a disconnect with their own child - start to flourish and really take on that role of parenthood.

A personal highlight has been the freedom to shape and grow the program and now have another Aboriginal social worker join the team. Together we are able to continue shaping YAMP and allowing for more community-led programs and activities.  By placing culture at the heart of everything, Gunawirra has created a culturally safe and holistic place for Aboriginal families to heal.

Watching families heal, grow and thrive has been such a rewarding experience for me, and I only hope that I will continue seeing these positive outcomes over time.


You are the clinical manager for the Young Aboriginal Mothers Program (YAMP). Can you share more about your day-to-day and what the program entails?

Given that Gunawirra is a small team there are lots of different hats we need to wear day to day to keep the wheels of the organisation turning -from managing programs and running events to refining reporting processes.

As the clinical manager for the organisation, at least one third of my day to day is working with our team of clinicians who support our Clinic on Country program. These clinicians do valuable work providing therapies and services in preschools throughout rural and remote New South Wales.

YAMP taking up the majority of my time in relation to day-to-day work - it’s an exciting morning when we are preparing for having the mums and bubs on-site. The program is designed in advance, so the biggest preparation would be surrounding the relevant activity of the day. This could be anything from painting, a day trip to a significant culture site, a morning spent weaving out in Gunawirra’s native garden, or a cooking and nutrition session - all of these activities run through the core of each YAMP session. YAMP is about creating a safe and nurturing space for the mums to openly talk and share any matters they need to resolve, support, and advise each other, share stories, and discuss all things parenting.

After all this exciting hive of activity, we always ensure the families can enjoy a hot meal prepared by our fabulous volunteer cook who serves generous portion sizes to ensure dinner can be taken home for the rest of the family.

After the mums have departed with their weekly grocery packs which are generously donated by Oz harvest, all YAMP facilitators will spend some time debriefing the session. The last part of YAMP is about the team pitching in to clean up and clear the space to prepare for the next day.


Can you please share why healing trauma and developing a capacity to learn is important to Gunawirra’s mission?

We often hear a lot spoken about trauma within Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, we don’t hear enough about the healing that is being done. It is important to remember that we are all discovering and learning new methods which aid in the process of healing trauma. Gunawirra prides itself on creating an environment which promotes healing, whether that is through yarning, art, weaving or traditional western therapies. There is no time frame for healing, and so we offer our services over a long-time frame.

The work that we do is a process to break cycle of transgenerational trauma for the next generation. It is a personal passion of mine to one day be able to see these now young but emerging elders become confident and proud leaders living without trauma.


How can we support Gunawirra today, and in future?

I would like to take the opportunity to say a huge thank-you for choosing Gunawirra – without the generosity of support from donors like yourselves we would not have such opportunities to grow and thrive. Another way to support is to advocate for us - by sharing our story and the work we do you are in turn helping us help families in need, referring supporters to our cause and encouraging them to be a friend of Gunawirra assists in multiplying your donation and advocacy. We encourage people to reach out to us so we can tailor how best they can support us.


At NMJ, everything we do is centred around love. We love creating in the name of it, and we love celebrating it. Gunawirra is a community-led organisation supporting the past, present and the future for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander mothers, children, and communities. Tell us, what do you love most about being able to work with these communities?

I love being able to make a difference and being a part of our people’s journey - supporting positive outcomes, watching them live more empowered lives and helping set our future generations up for success. We are always incredibly busy at Gunawirra with the work we do and whilst it can feel exhausting it is hugely rewarding and knowing that I can help better the lives of at least one family, one mum or one child is all that matters. There is no feeling better than that.


Last year we collaborated with local artist and Barkindji woman, Lily Bennett to craft our Nhurali Necklace. A piece which lives on within our collection and serves as a symbolic connection to NAIDOC Week. Translating to “ancestors”, Lily named the piece “Nhurali” to tribute the connection she finds to her background and ancestry through her traditional paintings. With each sale, 25% of the proceeds are donated to Gunawirra, as chosen by Lily.

Shop our Nhurali Necklace here.