Narrative gatherings – an Aboriginal invention

An introduction to narrative gatherings from Tileah


Reclaiming our stories, reclaiming our lives

Tim Agius

Tim tells the story of the first narrative gathering: Reclaiming our stories, reclaiming our lives – a gathering for Aboriginal families who  had lost a loved one to a death in custody.


Further gatherings

After the first narrative gathering at Camp Coorong, further gatherings took place in other communities:

Click here to read about the Narrandera Koori Community Gathering


Sharing stories between communities

In recent years, narrative practice has been used to assist communities who are going through hard times to share their stories to assist other communities who are also struggling. This can bring a sense of pride in the midst of struggle.

Click here to read the article about sharing stories between communities


Every story is precious

Aunty Barbara Wingard


Reflections from Tileah

This Post Has 35 Comments

  1. Julie Beer

    There is so much here, and what it’s come down to, for me, is Aunty Barb’s comment that it’s an honour to be told someone’s story, and how it’s important to really listen to what the person is saying rather than what we think they’re saying. This can be really difficult, because often it is almost too difficult to hear, as, for example, the stories from Yirrkala and Gunyangara.
    And as one who has worked in a number of remote communities, I absolutely LOVED the stories told by those vibrant, beautiful and powerful women on the Community Patrol!

  2. spilsburygeorgina

    From my work in corrective services I found Tim Agius’ recollection of the family gatherings at Lake Cooyong in the wake of the Royal Commission very moving. The respectful co-design process is exemplary. The application of the listening team and reflective practice process was especially moving.

  3. dre_atkinson

    I really appreciated hearing from Tim regarding the description and impact of the community gathering. What an incredible space that was created to foster healing and sharing. The positive outcome of it all is testament to the work that must have gone in to the planning.

  4. shilaavissa

    Dear Aunty Wingard, thank you for your lovely and powerful reflection. Indeed this practice belongs to Aboriginal Peoples! Such a reminder for practitioners to go back to the roots of healing practices: to be together in community, with the Land, and remembering our interconnections to every being.
    Thank you for your kind and generous reminders, Aunty Wingard, Tileah, and everyone who made this course possible. Much warmth from the unceded territories of Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh Nations (Vancouver, Canada).

  5. Pat

    Perhaps as people also listen to each other’s story they connect more deeply as they see more of the whole person/story. This, I think, is where unity can be built within communities and families – where a deeper sense of empathy and connection is made by listening to each other’s stories.

  6. debbie webster

    What I found so engaging about this course was the many contributions from people that are doing great things in their communities and in the wider field using narrative practice and the many and varied applications. I really like the approach that people are the experts in their own lives and by allowing them to present their stories and own their own stories is a very empowering approach.

    1. janine.clark279

      The term ‘get-togethers’ brings me right back to my own childhood family gatherings, with Uncles, Aunties and cousins, and highlights the importance of restoring this within families however it can be done. The fabric of family is so powerful.

  7. Sandra Owen

    I found the journey through the course really empowering and enjoyed the narratives that were shared openly with us. Thank you for allowing me to be a part of your narrative as I have listened to your stories which have added to my knowledge and therefore made it possible to offer a better experience to those who listen to my narratives as a result of this experience.


    THank you for compiling this excellent course. i am left with a desire to work harder at my listening! TIme and again, people reported how helpful it was to feel heard.

  9. Eugene Ford

    I’m currently completing the Diploma of Indigenous Studies with Camosun College in Victoria, on Vancouver Island in Canada. Many of my peers and teachers are Indigenous, and it has been deeply moving and humbling to hear of their struggles with living “in two worlds”, satisfying their need to be formally recognized by educational institutions on one hand, whilst feeling that they have lost Indigenous teachings of their own, on the other. Tim’s comment about not wanting to move into academia, due to feeling that higher education is a colonial institute in and of itself, was deeply powerful and reminded me of what I have heard and witnessed throughout my involvement in the IST program. Tim’s presentation was really moving. Thank you!

  10. Kate Coomber

    I was watching Tim Agius talk about the first narrative gathering and was struck by his stated belief that he did not wish to be an academic due to the necessary intake and participation in white culture, the Westminster system and what is valued by western culture. It was a solid reminder to always stand outside as a narrative therapist, to celebrate and seek the alternative, deeper story and not buy into the dominant loud voice that denies that richer, thicker one.


    I really appreciated hearing Tim Agius speak about the narrative gatherings. As did my partner whom I shared this video with since he does justice work within his own Anishinaabe community over here in so-called Canada. What was most striking to me was the importance of community consultations that took place for six months prior to the gathering itself. this was truly a gathering by and for the community.

  12. Kathy

    I really appreciate hearing about the response by the community to the problems such as suicide. Providing support in a way that is “coming alongside” opposed to imposing external ideas and solutions is a helpful reminder. Many times we are well-intended in our desire to help. However, we don’t stop to ask and listen to what the community views are the main issues nor most culturally appropriate solutions. As an outsider, it is vital we show respect and treat people as the expert of their own lives.

  13. Kathy Pascale

    I really appreciate hearing about the response by the community to the problems such as suicide. Providing support in a way that is “coming alongside” opposed to imposing external ideas and solutions is a helpful reminder. Many times we are well-intended in our desire to help. However, we don’t stop to ask and listen to what the community views are the main issues nor most culturally appropriate solutions. As an outsider, it is vital we show respect and treat people as the expert of their own lives.

  14. Andréa

    “We need to really listen to what people are saying, not what we think they’re saying.” – Aunty Barbara Wingard

    this is a lesson that I’m going to remember

  15. Warwick Wallace

    I am truly looking forward to the next chapter’s…as a non-counsellor to be able to develop a process to have positive outcomes at reclaiming our stories and reclaiming our lives back on track to make us stronger.

  16. marlene

    The sacred circle. Yes, it is an honour and privilege to listen to people’s stories, as Auntie Petronella says. This section reminds me of Trauma Trials, the book written by Judy Atkinson that reports on her work with a gathering of Aboriginal families to recover the loss of their stories in the landscape. I remember that special listening word she used, Didirri – a special kind of listening that has to do what we in Africa call, UBUNTU. I am because you are.

    Thank you for all these incredible resources. I have gone through it fairly quickly this first time, but will revisit this course many times in the future.

  17. petronela

    Very useful and the small things such as sitting in circle and not been formal goes a long way when doing narrative gatherings. And also the importance of listening and really listening, because i think this help in group/community cohesions. It also helps individuals to understand each other better and encourages togetherness.


    The example Tim Agius spoke about is truly representative of how all models should be – too often the medical model is applied, people are broken and need to be fixed. Things are done TO people, not WITH people. By empowering others and creating agency, space for healing is made. Thank you for sharing this Tim.


    It’s so important to listen listen and listen.
    We want to tell our stories and wait to find that space were we can share, but sometimes we are to focus on the space, that gap to share, that we miss the stories of the people before us.
    The lost, pain and waiting for actions is heard in the gathering. The camp fires in the sky start to burn brighter, song lines sing and salt water tears are wiped away.
    Listen, give space and embrace all the stored stories of our people.

  20. Patricia

    I liked reading the different stories from all of the different communities featured
    it goes to show that no matter which part of Australia you are from, the stories are the same .
    the dispossession, the genocide and all atrocities committed against our mob


    I really liked hearing about the listening team. To have your reflections mirrored back to you to ensure it is understood. To centre people as the experts of their own experiences. I also liked the way learnings were shared between communities as an act of solidarity and support. I really enjoyed the readings here. Remembering and narrative gatherings I thought might be a wonderful follow up or reflection as part of community recovery. For example; fires and traditional land management practices.


    Sharing stories between community is a rich way of performing solidarity and sharing learning. I particularly liked the listening team and having your reflection mirrored back to you by those you want to understand you. Provides a type of accountability to check that we are not listening to what we think people are saying. To ensure people are positioned as the expert in their own lives. Such a lovely way of working. I really enjoyed the reading. It also made me think about how this could be applied to community recovery and engagement work for natural disasters such as the bush fires and floods and open discussion around traditional land management practices. Such important skills to practice for myself as a non-indigenous worker.

  23. Mandy Kaselow

    I was happy to hear how narrative ideas can be used to engage with communities who are experiencing hard times, and in contexts in which there are few resources. Grief, Loss and how community members can come together to speak about the many losses that they had experienced and the impact this has had and how gathering supported healing and contentedness to those that had been lost was valuable.


    I love the preciousness which Aunty Barbara reminds us are enshrined in the stories people tell us. It reminds me a bit of Trust Based Relational Intervention with Dr. Karen Pervis in Texas.

    When we honor the stories and the people, we give them power.

  25. Patricia

    I liked reading the different stories from all of the different communities featured
    it goes to show that no matter which part of Australia you are from, the stories are the same .
    the dispossession, the genocide and all atrocities committed against our mob


    Acknowledging peoples stories both pain and healing and the respect, understanding, sharing and healing ways are truely powerful. I can see myself resorting back to these documentations as I continue working working with other Aboriginal peoples where ever I go. I reflect on the challenges as being an Aboriginal worker and having to work in a mainstream structure while also trying to work in culturally safe ways, and the importance of acknowledging and working in with both. I am thankful and grateful for Aunty Barbara, all mob who have felt safe in contributing their stories and people at Dulwich Centre for all the indepth-ness and how this work took place (community consultations in months leading up to event, and reminding me of how time is the time it takes for business and everything that is involved, including following up/checking in well after an event has taken place.) I really take on what Aunty Barbara said about “Really listening to people, not what we think people are saying”. It’s great to also read comments people have made, thank you.

  27. Julie

    Listening to Aunty Barbara Wingard speak about listening to people’s stories – they they are precious and it is an honour for people to trust us with their stories, to listen to the stories for what they are saying not what we think they’ are saying and to give them the time to talk about their stories and in a space that is comfortable for them in a circle, by the river. It is precious and respectful. I loved hearing this. 50 minute clinical meetings in an office are no comparison for this heartfelt work.

  28. Natalie

    From Yia Marra’s “good stories that keep us strong”, the recollection of a mother’s journey with alcohol – “letting go of the rope” (giving up grog), really resonated with me. Alcohol has caused our Mob many troubles over the years. Father and son fighting, father ends up in hospital, they don’t every really resolve their stuff. Father gives up grog, changing his pub order to orange juice, his mates are very supportive.


    It was very powerful Listening to Tim Agius describe the way that aboriginal families were supported in determining what they wanted to discuss at the first narrative gathering, ‘Reclaiming our stories, Reclaiming our Lives’, and how this contributed to families feeling like they were being heard and honoured; it demonstrated how important it is to elevate client voices and how effective this approach is for supporting recovery.

  30. Keiron Andrews

    thank you so much for making all of this wisdom available for free I really appreciate it. As a non Aboriginal worker in a community led organisation, I will make sure I consult with the relevant people as a result of this training to see where it may add to my practice in a culturally appropriate way.


    I agree wholeheartedly with Aunty Barbara with regard to the beauty of Narrative Therapy not hurrying a person when they are sharing a story. I have noticed too many counsellors hurrying a person when they are discussing an important experience.

  32. Jordan Mills

    I really enjoyed the reference to Sharon Welch who spoke of creating a ‘heritage of resistance’. This idea makes more visible some of the social justice ideology attributable to the retellings. It’s the collective re-authoring of identities that are magnified in such a way that they transcend time. The significance of which is profound.

  33. Charmaine

    Community gatherings is a “common unity”, and “com” for comunication. The community gatherings is the imparting or exchanging of information so as the community can be on the same page with each other. This helps identify problems and than find solutions. The Narrandera Koori Community Gathering document mentions, “Now we don’t have the same opportunities for get-togethers”, “These days people stay at home in their lounges enjoying their stereos, televisions, video recorders, and video games, and don’t mix so much with others.” For me this suggest an “escape from reality”, but then we have Facebook, which is a digital community, that connects everybody but its still a digital world where we don’t come face-to-face with people. The Narrandera Koori Community Gathering document was written in 2002 so Facebook was not around than. In this new digital world, where are Aboriginal communities gatherings at, in 2019? Statistically, there are higher Aboriginal suicides and higher mental health problems than the rest of the community. However, I digress, I loved the idea of the “listening team” to listen and than retell the stories. This gave the community gatherings a stronger and richer “innerstanding” (understanding) of what is going on in the community. Metaphorically, its like holder a magnifing glass to an ant to see the unseen details that you know are there but just need some help in seeing it. The listening team is a powerful reflection tool for the collective group.

  34. Angele James

    The power of connection to self and others and the acceptance of difference that accompanies this which is captured so well in times of grief and draws so beautifully on our strengths. What is not to love about this type of work.

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