When Roslyn Edmonds lost her daughter Beccy in September 2016, the furthest thing from her mind was the stress and strain of organising the funeral. Her daughter in law was given the responsibility to oversee the funeral planning, with the support of the Aboriginal Community Benefit Fund (ACBF) and the local Aboriginal Lands Council to cover the funeral expenses.
Roslyn, 70, from Inverell joined ACBF after the recommendation from a close friend at the Lands Council, an organisation she was the chairperson for 13 years.
“Greg Livermore told me about the fund, he had been in it since he was about 15 years old. I rang up and the people came to our home to talk us through the options. I joined up first, and then I joined my daughter, husband and grandson followed.”
ACBF is a funeral related expenses plan provider, who has been primarily servicing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities across Australia for over 25 years, with 95 percent of the customer base being of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander heritage. The company has recently undergone a change in ownership and has undertaken a community strategy called ‘Red Road’.
“We will travel to communities to sit and listen to the people, to learn more about what they need and how we can help” said Bryn Jones, the CEO and new owner of ACBF.
“The journey we’ve been on and the people we have met along the way are laying some great foundations for our future and we believe we’ve made some significant changes with this direct input from the community. The new ownership and the name change are lines in the sand – acknowledging the past but providing for a great future.”
Isaac grew up in an Aboriginal mission in Forster on the mid-north coast, with his large extended family. He has over 15 years experience working in both the private and public sector, on a number of high-profile Indigenous initiatives, including the Australian Employment Covenant 50,000 jobs campaign and the implementation of real time data to improve Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander patients’ outcomes for Australia’s largest public health service. He has also successfully operated several small businesses in various fields.
“Isaac joins the company with a commitment to delivering culturally appropriate and responsive services to our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander members. As a young Aboriginal man himself, he has an outstanding record of working with community organisations and government departments to develop meaningful change and reconciliation,” Bryn said.
“ACBF have processed an average of 200 funerals per year and paid out more than $28 Million in funeral related expenses”.
The fast response and payout was something that stood out to Roslyn during her time of grief.
“My daughter in law organised the funeral. She phoned the funeral fund and the crematorium, from there on we didn’t have to do a thing. What I can remember is ACBF staff calling back to make sure we were ok and to see if everything was ok. We didn’t have a problem.”
“I’ve got all the receipts and it was all a black and white process. I just had to find the money for the wake, as our daughter was disabled, I wasn’t able to put her in a higher fund, but they explained all of that when we put her in the fund. The crematorium didn’t have a problem either, which is really good as you have enough strain and stress on you without having to worry about all that sort of stuff.”
Roslyn said when she joined the fund many years ago, she was well aware it was not an Aboriginal owned organisation, however the change in ownership to her makes sense due to the large Aboriginal membership.
“I’ve told other community members about the fund and I’m sure they’ve joined. What we had paid in for my daughter was less than what they paid us for the funeral. In saying that, by the time I die, I probably would have paid in a bit more but that’s how funeral benefits work.”
Since taking over as the new owners, Isaac and Bryn have been travelling to communities to meet with community members and leaders.
In 2017 ACBF operations were impacted when the ability for members to pay for their memberships automatically from their weekly benefit payments was revoked. This change saw memberships go from 39,000 down to 22,000 members. In June 2018, ACBF was called to give evidence as part of the Royal Commission into the banking, financial and insurance industry.
“We are trying to get out to communities to see any of our members effected by this change, and to also reassure them, post Royal Commission, that we are committed to aligning ourselves with the communities and individuals we serve,” Bryn said.
Isaac and Bryn have bright plans for ACBF, to further build a unique funeral plan model that considers and supports the needs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander individuals and communities as they navigate ‘sad news or sorry business’, as well as the desire to develop a charity that provides authentic support and holistic care to vulnerable Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.
“I have seen first hand too many of my own family members dying, it seems like every other day someone in our community or a community we know is attending to sorry business,” Isaac said.
“Red Road is an important journey we are on, to connect to the people, let them meet with us as new owners, building trust through family and togetherness. We want our community to know we are a part of you and your family during your time of sorry business.”