TODAY |

Volunteer Maori wardens in Australia inspiring other communities

Four years ago, a group of New Zealander volunteers decided to adopt the idea of Maori wardens in the Australian state of Victoria. 

The New Zealand volunteers are patrolling parts of the state of Victoria - and a marked drop in anti-social behaviour has been observed. Source: 1 NEWS

The aim was to connect with Maori and Pacific Island youth in trouble spots in Melbourne. 

They're now having such an impact that other ethnic groups are looking to replicate the idea. 

"I guess our main achievement is engaging with them, aroha kititangata, love for the people, and see whether we can mentor any of these kids that are roaming around tonight," said Victoria Maori wardens chairman Keegan Grant. 

It's a deliberately cultural approach to target Maori and Pacific Island youths who may be headed for trouble or are already in it. 

With many of the youths having spent most of their lives in Australia, it's also about reconnecting them with their roots. 

"When you first take to them they're sort of 'Look, oh yeah?' 'cause we look like policemen, you know what I mean?" Maori warden Foisha Harris said. 

When the wardens started four years ago, they were dealing with all sorts of youth issues from drugs to fights, even intimidating bus drivers. 

The wardens met Pokuru Raston at a local transport hub two years ago, when he'd been going through a lot.

"They helped me a lot, and I'm so so grateful for them to be here today," he said.

"We are your aunties and uncles on the street," MsHarris said.

The trouble spots they patrol may be quieter now, but according to statistics released two days ago, crime overall in Victoria is up more than 10 per cent in the last year. 

"I think they pick up some of that slack in those public areas where some of that behaviour isn't criminal behaviour but there's concerns about public safety," said Senior Sergeant Peter Bitton of the Werribee police. 

Melbourne's also had problems with youth violence in recent years particularly from the Apex gang, a group founded by South Sudanese youths, which has expanded to include a range of members, including New Zealanders.

Members of the South Sudanese community are now looking to replicate and adapt what the Maori wardens are doing.