Tracey Grosser – Welcoming Cities Award Winner 2024

Sebastian GeersCase Studies, NewsLeave a Comment

Tracey Grosser is the Community Development Officer at Tatiara District Council in regional South Australia. One of the leading voices on social cohesion in small towns in Australia, she works tirelessly to advocate, support and walk beside people who have either moved to the Tatiara area recently or have lived there for years. She is the joint winner of the Welcoming Cities Award for Individuals. 

Welcoming Cities: Congratulations Tracey! What does an award like this mean to you?

Tracey Grosser: I actually find it very challenging. The key to this work is the collective nature, so I am probably a little uncomfortable with an individual award because all of the work we do in the Tatiara region is a team effort, as it would be in most places. Welcoming and belonging can’t sit in one person’s lap. I will take this as recognition on behalf of the people of Tatiara: people like my CEO, Anne Champness, who created my position and our elected members who supported it. Most importantly, our community – new and old – for all of the wonderful work they do. 

WC: With 43 nationalities in a regional population of six thousand, how do you best work with both new communities and people who have lived in the area for years?

TG: I think everyone’s needs are the same whether you’ve been here for a short time or a long time – the need to be heard, valued and respected, and to have opportunities to access services or events. I’ve had to get better at listening, being patient, and hearing all sides. Trying to find the common ground of the starting point to work with. Looking at everything through a whole of community lens has been important. When I started this work 10 years ago, I was quite specific in my programming, but the gold is where everyone comes together and where the work benefits everyone. I don’t always reflect on how far we’ve come. The other day, our local op shop had a front window display of outfits for Eid, and I thought, ‘Wow, that’s amazing.’ That wouldn’t have happened even five years ago, and that’s because of the volunteers who connected through the English classes. It’s bringing everyone on board and treating everyone equally, I think.  

WC: Your strength is working in partnership. Do you have any advice for people working in local government on how to do this well?

TG: The key to what I do is knowing who to ask for help. If you picked me up and put me in Naracoorte, I wouldn’t be able to do this work. My skill set is based on my connections and the trust the community has in me. Maybe it’s my years of nursing, and going through the school system with my kids and being heavily involved in sports. Then my work at the Migrant Resource Centre and now my work in local government. It’s about acknowledging that I don’t always know the answers, but I know where to find someone who does. 

WC: Advocacy is so important in your role. What are some of the things you have done to advocate for new community members?

Allowing others to have a voice and creating opportunities for their voices to be heard. I spoke a few years ago at a Regions Rising conference about welcoming and belonging, and I walked away thinking, ‘I got that so wrong.’ I was speaking for others. It became really important for me to create opportunities to stand alongside people to give them the chance to be heard. We’ve done that well with the team here in Tatiara. For example, I brought Qurban with me to the FECCA conference – his story and experiences are so important and much more powerful if told in his own voice rather than narrated by somebody else. Also, the publication of Stories of Strength was another opportunity, not just to talk on behalf of others. It’s been a real team effort, including the bravery of the council. Probably the biggest key to it has been someone like Rhett McDonald from STTARS (Survivors of Torture and Trauma Assistance and Rehabilitation Service), who has helped educate me in that space of not having to do it all and that other voices are more powerful than mine. 

WC: You mentioned having a brave council. What are some of the things that make a local government brave?  

TG: Leadership. For example, our CEO wanted to create a position like mine, with a migration-specific focus, in a small regional community. This was a big step, and the elected members supported that position. In a regional area that historically has seen little migration, it took courage to not just recognise the significant contribution migrants make to our community but commit Council resources to supporting settlement and capacity building, especially when this is well outside the typical ‘roads, rates and rubbish’.

WC: What does it mean to walk with people and help people build structures and communities in a new town?  

TG: I remember listening to Aleem Ali (Welcoming Australia’s CEO) in America talking about walking beside people, and it really hit a chord with me. I realised what a privileged position I have. It’s all about developing my patience and allowing others to lead. I don’t know if it’s my nursing background, but I’ve always been very reactive – I see a problem and want to fix it. And the problem with that approach is that I fix things the way I want to. I took a leadership course a few years ago and learned about the ability to get out of the mosh pit and stand on the balcony – see the whole dance floor. I feel most comfortable in the mosh pit! But making myself stand up and look and think, ‘I’m not just going to jump at that first solution. I’m going to allow others to take me in a different direction.’

WC: There are many theses and books on social cohesion in small towns in Australia, but do you have any comments on how to build it successfully?

TG: Even defining what success is can be a challenge. The collective effort, listening, involving as many people as possible and realising you don’t have to have set ideas for success. Sometimes, the success sneaks up on you – for example, the window display in the op shop. I would never have put that as an outcome. One of the keys is that the older community doesn’t always have to do the welcoming. Giving everyone opportunities to welcome builds joy. Social cohesion can also happen in drips. It’s not until you step back that you realise the bucket is half full. 

WC: What else do you find helpful in your work?  

TG: I want to recognise the value of networking. Without that, leadership and the ability to connect and share, we’re all in silos. It’s just so powerful. Welcoming Australia’s and Welcoming Cities’ ability to be the arms around us all has been really valuable. 

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