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25 FEB 2023

Recycling to help build a Māori cultural centre

For more than 30 years, members of the Māori community in Sydney have dreamed of building a cultural centre. Now, Sydney Marae Alliance (SMA) with the help of Return and Earn, is closer to making the centre a reality.

SMA board member Louise Cooper explained that since launching a fundraising initiative using Return and Earn, they have raised nearly $4,000 towards the centre with more coming in every month.

“If 1500 bottles come through in a month, that’s 1500 times someone has thought about us and our project and wanted to help,” said Louise.

“It brings us together. We don’t always know the people, but we see the numbers come through.”

SMA was listed as a charity partner on 35 Return and Earn machines across Western Sydney from April to October last year and currently still features on the Return and Earn app to receive donations.

Louise said that although most of the money needed to build the centre on a recently secured site in Western Sydney will come from other sources, funding from Return and Earn is special to them.

“Return and Earn means anyone from anywhere in NSW can contribute. You don’t need money, just bottles and cans. We’ve seen families make it part of teaching the kids about recycling and it becomes something they do as family each week,” Louise said.

Louise, who has lived in Sydney with her family for over 22 years and is of Ngāpuhi descent, added that the concept of taiao, meaning to care for the environment, is intrinsic to Māori culture.

“Part of our cultural principles are to look after the whenua (land), regardless of where we are in the world,” she said.

The centre will help people across the Māori community in NSW to retain cultural knowledge and identity through classes in language, dance and singing. An employment centre and the opportunity for schools from the wider community to visit are all part of the bigger plan.

“Young people have told me they want to connect with their culture because they don’t know much about being Māori, and they want to learn their language and the cultural dance, including the haka. Young kids say they just want to hang out with other kids like them and their cousins,” said Louise.

“I grew up in New Zealand having access to my own culture and tribe, and so I want to provide the same opportunities and knowledge to the next generation. One-sixth of the Māori population lives in Australia—70,000 of them in NSW alone—so we have a responsibility to them to keep our culture growing and flourishing,” she said.

You can donate your container refunds to the Sydney Marae Alliance through the Return and Earn app.

Find out more about donating here.

Return and Earn is a partnership between the NSW Government, scheme coordinator Exchange for Change and network operator TOMRA Cleanaway.