INTRODUCTION AND AIMS: We evaluated a community-driven initiative established to prevent substance misuse and increase respect for culture and their elders among young people in a group of remote Aboriginal communities in Arnhem Land, Northern Territory (NT), Australia. The Youth Development Unit provided a range of training, recreational and cultural activities within a community development framework to all young people in the community. DESIGN AND METHODS: Methods of operation, community acceptability, perceived impact and likely ability to meet goals were assessed. Data included community, staff and stakeholder interviews and observation. School attendance, youth apprehension rates and information on levels of substance use were compared 2 years before and after the initiative was implemented. RESULTS: Interviewees reported increased youth training and recreational opportunities, increased communication between local agencies, overall satisfaction with programme delivery and optimism that it could achieve its goals. Suggested improvements included even more training, cultural programmes and other activities and employment of more community-based Indigenous staff. The importance of key staff, involvement of a respected Indigenous staff member and community engagement were noted as probable contributors to its success. DISCUSSION AND CONCLUSIONS: Indigenous young people in Australia remain one of the most disadvantaged and vulnerable groups. Community-driven preventive initiatives offer enhanced youth resilience and connectedness in remote Aboriginal communities and alternatives to substance use.