Healing stories: Partnerships with remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities

A message from women of Arnhem Land to the Aboriginal community of Port Augusta:

Their words speak for us. Their stories are so similar to what we experience. It is like they are talking for us as well. It’s like we are sharing the same problems under the one tent. We know now that these things are not just happening in Arnhem Land but also down south. We are thinking of them and now we would like to pass on something to them. We want to share our stories with them, just like they shared their stories with us. We will speak about our experiences and then link these together with the experiences of those from Port Augusta. This is about sharing knowledge and sharing stories together.

In recent years, the significant challenges facing Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities have received much attention: youth suicide, child abuse, violence, reduced life expectancy, alcohol and drug abuse, and so on.

However, the wide range of ways Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are responding to these problems have received far less attention – community actions to reduce harm from alcohol and violence, practices of remembrance and honouring, local child protection initiatives, rich healing traditions, among many others.

The Dulwich Centre Foundation facilitates the telling, documentation, and sharing of ‘healing stories’ between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. These are particular sorts of stories that include the skills and knowledge that community members are putting to use to try to deal with the current difficulties that are being faced. Senior traditional owner, Djuwalpi Marika, described these stories as ‘like a healing, like a medicine’.

Dulwich Centre has worked in partnership with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities for more than 15 years. One early project was the ‘Reclaiming our stories, reclaiming our lives’ counselling project, initiated by the Aboriginal Health Council of South Australia, one of the recommendations of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody. Since then, we have worked with a range of communities, from Port Augusta (South Australia), to Yirrkala (Arnhem Land), Ntaria/Hermannsburg (Central Australia), Cape York, and many others.

Our work in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities is led by Barbara Wingard, Senior Aboriginal Health Worker.

For more information
Aboriginal Health Council. (1994). Reclaiming our stories, reclaiming our lives. Adelaide: Dulwich Centre Publications.
Dulwich Centre Foundation. (2006). These stories are like a healing, like a medicine. Adelaide: Dulwich Centre Foundation.

Denborough, D., Koolmatrie, C., Mununggirritj, D., Marika, D., Dhurrkay, W., & Yunupingu, M. (2006). Linking stories and Initiatives: A narrative approach to working with the skills and knowledge of communities. International Journal of Narrative Therapy and Community Work, (2), 19–51.

Wingard, B., & Lester, J. (2001). Telling our stories in ways that make us strongerAdelaide: Dulwich Centre Publications.