Over the past two decades, extensive documentation has developed in relation to how narrative approaches have been engaged with by practitioners in diverse cultural contexts in ways that fit with local cultural practices/philosophies/values. This has involved local practitioners taking the key ingredients of narrative approaches and then co-developing their own locally diverse practices that fit for their local context. This evidence of cultural resonance and adaptability and the histories of cross-cultural partnership is valued highly here at Dulwich Centre. Examples of this documentation of cultural resonance within Indigenous Australia are included in this collection.

Evidence of cultural resonance: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander contributions

DVD Dulwich Centre Foundation (2009) 

The Tree of Life narrative approach to working with vulnerable children is being used in creative and effective ways by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander workers and community members. This DVD features a range of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander workers describing their use of the Tree of Life approach. For more information about this DVD, click here.

by David Denborough, Barbara Wingard, and Cheryl White

Dulwich Centre Foundation (2009)

 This document and CD is the result of a collective narrative project within the community of Ntaria/Hermannsburg. This involved telling and documenting special stories that ‘keep spirits strong’. It also involved linking the stories of the people of Ntaria with communities in Port Augusta and Arnhem Land. The documentation includes descriptions of what this process has meant to the people of Ntaria:

‘It makes us proud to know that our stories are now helping other people. We know that other people also go through a lot of things, and it’s good to know that our stories are now touching other people’s hearts … Now our stories are traveling. They have touched people in different countries. We really liked the stories that came back to us from different places. They are sharing their stories and somehow our story has got bigger.

Now we are bringing the old people’s stories forwards. These are important stories that were given to us. They are stories of our history. We are carrying them. Sometimes the stories might not be our own, someone else may have told them – but we are all carrying them. We are all bringing the stories forward now. The stories may be small. Or they may be stories from the past that have remained untold. All these stories bring pride. We are proud to bring the old people with us. And the stories are getting stronger now.

Now we need to thank the people who first shared their stories with us – the people of Port Augusta and Arnhem Land. We would like to thank then very much for sharing their words with us, for opening their hearts to us. Their stories came first … We had lost so many in our families, especially in the big car accident and the whole community felt sad. We’d lost loved ones and we were all in sadness. We didn’t have anyone to tell our stories to until their stories came. We heard their stories and they touched our hearts. Then we decided to do our story. We wanted to share our story with them and with other communities. A few people started doing their stories and then it grew bigger. Now our stories have gone all over. It was really generous of those people in Port Augusts to tell us about how they were dealing with so many losses. Please pass our thanks onto them.’

For more information about the Yia Marra project, click here.

The special skills and knowledge of the Aboriginal communities of Port Augusta, Yirrkala, & Gunyangara (Ski Beach) (2006)

This collection of stories was the result of a narrative therapy/collective narrative practice project conducted in two Aboriginal communities in Arnhem Land – Yirrkala & Gunyangara. The project was initiated in response to recent suicides in the community. For more information about the project, click here. This collection of stories articulates the power and possibility of narrative practice in the sharing of stories of skills and knowledges between communities: 

We have been feeling for our community, but our hearts are for all people. We would like to share these words with others, with the wider world. We would like you to know about what is happening here. We would like to exchange ideas with other communities. We must not hide ourselves. We must openly share ourselves. We are alive and our words must travel, they must go on journeys, further and further to enable people to see us’,

– Djerrknu (Eunice) Marika, Senior Elder at Yirrkala (p. 3).

Even though the distance is far, the spirits have become one. We are joined. Your words and our words are matching. Our two spirits from north and south are sitting around the fire. Their spirits have come to agreement. Our two spirits are shaking hands, sharing knowledge. We have been lost in the darkness and need to find the place where the water is. Wherever there is water, we know that there is also the sounds of frogs. When we hear this, the frog leads us to the streams, to where water is running. We have been lost in darkness, looking for a way to survive. These stories are like the call of the frog. We can’t see the frog in darkness but the sound tells us that the water is there, the future is there. We must follow the sound of the frog. We must follow these stories to where they will lead us’,

– Djuwalpi Marika, Senior Elder at Yirrkala (p. 50). 

by Barbara Wingard & Jane Lester

Dulwich Centre Publications (2001)

This book includes descriptions of how the narrative therapy concept of externalising conversations has been taken up and used within Aboriginal communities to respond to issues of diabetes and grief. This includes within both urban and remote Aboriginal communities. It also includes a section on ‘Working together: towards culturally appropriate services’. Barbara Wingard is a descendant of the Kuarna People and worked as an Aboriginal Health workers for 24 years. Jane Lester is a descendant of the Yankunytjatjara/Antakarinya People from Central Australia and works in Adelaide as a consultant on various Indigenous projects.

To order Telling our stories in ways that make us strongerclick here.

An initiative of the Aboriginal Health Council of South Australia (1995)

Dulwich Centre Newsletter, (1).

This publication documents a partnership between the Aboriginal Health Council of South Australia and Dulwich Centre in responding to Aboriginal families in South Australia who had experienced the loss of a family member due to death in custody. This publication describes a form of narrative community gathering that was developed through this cross-cultural partnership.

Part One of this document is called ‘Aboriginal deaths in custody: Placing counselling in a social justice framework’. It includes a section describing ‘narrative therapy and its role in the project’. We will include an extract here:

At Camp Coorong, several things were identified by Aboriginal people as particularly helpful:

  • Naming injustice
    Aboriginal people were able to identify the ‘dominant story’, which was about personal guilt and inadequacy, and rename it as injustice and oppression. The freedom to use words ‘murder’ and ‘racism’, and to publicly name their experiences of injustice, was experienced as profoundly freeing.
  • Listening teams
    The practice of using ‘listening teams’ in which members of the counselling team formed an audience to Aboriginal people’s stories, and then reflected upon what they had heard. A number of Aboriginal people commented that hearing their own stories reflected back in this way enabled them to see themselves differently, and to reclaim a pride in who they were. It also allowed them to recognise the remarkable strengths that they had demonstrated in surviving in the face of so much injustice.
  • Caring and sharing
    The emphasis placed on ‘caring and sharing’ and the building of community connections was identified as being central to Aboriginal ways. As one participant said about the listening groups, ‘This reclaims the strengths of Aboriginal culture. Aboriginal culture has always had this. This has reiterated it, rejuvenated it. This is going on every day really around people’s kitchen tables – so all you are doing now is going much wider and getting back to our culture’.
  • The ‘journey’ metaphor
    The narrative approach makes considerable use of the ‘journey’ metaphor. Moving from dominant stories about one’s life to preferred stories is like making a journey from one identity to another. The provision of metaphoric ‘maps’ of the sorts of experiences, feelings and pitfalls that can happen on this journey by other people who have already made it, can play an important part in enabling people to more forward in their lives  … A number of Aboriginal people commented on the usefulness of the journey metaphor. (pp. 19–20).

To order the Reclaiming our stories, reclaiming our lives journal/report, click here.

For more information about the Reclaiming Our Stories, Reclaiming Our Lives project, contact Dulwich Centre at dulwich@dulwichcentre.com.au.