Narrative gatherings – an Aboriginal invention

Narrative gatherings: An Aboriginal invention

Tileah Drahm-Butler

Tim Agius

Tim Agius 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

Yia Marra: Good stories that keep spirits strong

You can read here stories from Ntaria community – Yia Marra: Good stories that keep spirits strong.

Click here to read Yia Marra

Aunty Barbara Wingard

Every story is precious

A reflection from Tileah

This Post Has 20 Comments

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  6. 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.

  9. 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.

  11. 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.

  13. 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.

  14. 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.

  16. 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.

  18. 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.

  19. 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.

  20. 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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