Clients of the new $11.7 million Ngunnawal bush healing farm will be bussed 30 minutes to and from the farm near Tharwa each day, after plans to make it a residential drug and alcohol facility were abandoned earlier this year.
Health Minister Meegan Fitzharris officially opened the facility on Monday, some 10 months after capital works were completed in November last year.
The farm will cost about $2 million a year to run and the first tranche of between 12 and 15 clients are expected to start a 10-week-long day program in October.
After the government controversially abandoned the indigenous community's original proposal for an indigenous residential drug and alcohol rehabilitation centre, clients will now be bussed to and from daily from activities at the farm.
Clients will also have to undergo a two-pronged eligibility test, run by a government assessment panel; one part based on medical and legal history and the other on a "cultural readiness" test.
The panel will initially complete a drug and alcohol assessment, mental health, offending and behavioural checks on each client, and clients will need to commit to abstaining from alcohol and drugs, before they move on to the cultural readiness test.
But the criteria for meeting the cultural readiness test - and the extent of indigenous involvement on the assessment panel and in creating the test - has not been released to date.
"It will also assess whether that client is also at a stage in their life where they are willing and able to undertake the training and cultural aspects of the [farm]," a government spokesman said.
A statement from Ms Fitzharris' office on Monday confirmed the farm was "not an alcohol and other drug rehabilitation facility, nor an alternative to alcohol and other drug treatment".
"Rather, its purpose is to provide an additional service to support a person's recovery from addiction and empower them to make new and more positive choices," the statement reads.
Ms Fitzharris said the farm would be a "place of healing" that would take a different approach to care, aiming to address the "root causes that can lead to substance abuse and treatment relapses".
She said it was a first of its kind for the ACT and would offer activities and training to "enable clients to better respond to life challenges".
The initial programs to be offered at the farm include a 'foundational skills program' by Canberra Institute of Technology, 'reconnection to country and culture' from ACT Parks and Conservation, relapse prevention by ACT Health and nutrition and cooking classes from Nutrition Australia ACT.
An advisory board has been set up to oversee the farm's operation that includes members of the Elder's Council and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Elected Body.
But it seems no local indigenous groups have been contracted directly to provide services to the indigenous clients at the farm.
While Winnunga Aboriginal Health Service and Gugan Gulwan Youth Aboriginal Corporation had been involved in lengthy talks with the government, both organisations walked away from it earlier this year after it emerged no clinical services would actually be offered on-site.
Ms Fitzharris said the initial programs will be evaluated as part of a 'staged approach' to help continue to expand and improve the services offered, despite the lack of on-site clinical services.
She encouraged indigenous Canberrans interested in access the services at the farm to ask their general practitioner for a referral.
Clarification: This article previously referred to the government abandoning the bush healing farm as "residential". It should have read "residential drug and alcohol facility".