‘Taking the time to build relationships’ with Louise O’Connor

There’s something about the blue sky, the sparse landscape and the weaving of cultural stories that drew Louise O’Connor to Australia’s red centre.  Far from her homeland of Ireland and not satisfied with the big city lights of Melbourne, Louise O’Connor packed up her meagre belongings and head to Alice Springs.  She found herself working with the Ngaanyatjarra Pitjantatjara Yankunytjatjara Women’s Council as a Domestic and Family Violence Case Worker and hasn’t looked back.  Since arriving, Louise has been drawn to narrative therapy as an approach for working respectfully with Aboriginal women.  She now supports a team of case workers implementing the Council’s new domestic and family violence prevention framework developed in consultation with the Australian Childhood Foundation and the large group of women they support in the NPY lands.  Louise brought with her a long history of case work with refugees and asylum seekers, youth and people at risk of homelessness or in crisis, both in Australia and Ireland.  Louise’s passion for sharing stories and helping others tell theirs shines through in my conversation this week on ‘Talk the Walk’.

In episode 18, we explore:

  • Why Louise uplifted her life in Melbourne to venture into Central Australia and how she got started in community work
  • A brief history of the NPY Women’s Council and its work
  • A typical day in the life of a domestic and family violence caseworker in the NPY lands
  • How the Women’s Council moved away from a justice focus to a violence prevention framework using a trauma-informed, community development, narrative therapeutic approach to practice
  • What Louise loves about her job and her journey into narrative therapy
  • How Aboriginal women are developing their own tools of narrative practice for use in their community
  • The everyday challenges of remote work and what Louise does to look after herself
  • The ‘strong stories board’ project – one of Louise’ sparkling moments
  • Louises biggest learnings and awesome words of advice for community development and social workers thinking of working with remote Aboriginal communities

To listen to this episode simply click on the Play button below or listen via the Stitcher App for iOS, Android, Nook and iPad.
Listen to Stitcher
You can also subscribe to podcast and blog updates via email from the Menu on the Home Page.

Don’t forget, if you or someone you know would make a great interview on ‘Talk the Walk’, send us an email from the Contact Page.

Things to follow up after the episode

The NPY Women’s Council domestic and family violence service

Download the Family violence Prevention Framework

Episode 15 – ‘Telling the Stories of Our Lives’ with Sudha Coutinho

Contact Louise on  lou_oconnor33(at)hotmail(dot)com

“Every Child is Worth It” with Doug Dunlop

Today’s conversation on ‘Talk The Walk’ has many gems, but particularly for counsellors and social workers interested in developing an evidence based program that is also culturally safe.  Doug Dunlop is a senior counsellor with the ‘Holding Children Together’ program based in Alice Springs and working with surrounding town camps.  Doug is part of the team leading a rigorous evaluation process, developed and mentored by the Australian Childhood Foundation and a Cultural Advisory Group.  In episode 17 of Talk the Walk, we also get a glimpse into the man behind the work; his historical roots, his life experience, the values and principles he brings to his trauma-informed, culturally-safe practice framework.
There is nothing quite like ‘Holding Children Together’ elsewhere in Australia and other organisations are starting to take notice of the Care Team model adopted by this child and family counselling service.  The road to evidence-based practice is long, requires collective good-will and a large investment, but like Doug says “every child is worth it”.

In this episode, we explore:

  • Considerations for Doug arriving from New Zealand to work in Australia’s Central Desert communities
  • the stark differences working with Maori and Aboriginal children beginning with engagement in therapy
  • understanding trauma informed practice with Aboriginal children and their families
  • the Care Team model integral to ‘Holding Children Together’ (HCT)
  • a typical day in the life of a counsellor
  • how HCT is upholding cultural safety and working towards evidence based status
  • a sparking story that makes the work all the more worthwhile and why great outcomes cannot be tied down to one intervention
  • the challenges of working within a Care Team model
  • insights into the complexities of reunification with family when a lot of intervention has focused on establishing relationships with carers
  • what makes Doug so passionate about his work and the values he holds most precious
  • important considerations of cultural world views in cases of Aboriginal children in foster care which has implications for reunification
  • awareness of white privilege and seeing the world through the eyes of others
  • Moments from Doug’s early life that have influenced the values underpinning his practice
  • How Holding Children Together manage the exposure to trauma in counsellors
  • Hopes for the future of evidence-based counselling services and why it’s a good process to undertake

To listen to this episode simply click on the Play button below or listen via the Stitcher App for iOS, Android, Nook and iPad.
Listen to Stitcher
You can also subscribe to podcast and blog updates via email from the Menu on the Home Page.

Don’t forget, if you or someone you know would make a great interview on ‘Talk the Walk’, send us an email from the Contact Page.

Things to follow up after this episode

Contact Doug Dunlop at doug(at)ra-nt.org.au

Holding Children Together web page

“The gifts of learning and healing – your way and my way” with Elaine Tiparui

When elders speak, we sit up and take notice.  My guest today on Talk the Walk is someone I have listened to throughout my working career on the Tiwi Islands.  In fact, I’m proud to call her my mentor.   Elaine Tiparui is an Elder of Wurrumiyanga on Bathurst Island.  Elaine has a long history of helping her people, beginning with the Alcoholics Anonymous movement in the 1980’s, training and working as an Aboriginal health worker and many years volunteering her time for non-government organisations delivering alcohol and drug programs, child and family counselling and support services.

I set out to explore two things in this conversation; firstly Elaine’s experience of working alongside non-indigenous social workers and counsellors and what advice she might have for new people entering remote communities, and secondly, Elaine’s knowledge in relation to the healing power of the bush.  I am a real advocate for social workers incorporating Indigenous knowledge and skills into social work interventions and therapeutic plans.  While I have been able to incorporate some of this knowledge into healing bush camps and individual client sessions, there is so much more potential with proper funding and support.

I hope you enjoy this episode as much as I did, reflecting on a ten year working relationship and the things we’ve learned from each other along the way.   It has been my biggest highlight and great privilege to co-create the Healing Our Children project with Elaine.  Communication with Aboriginal people whose first language is not English is never easy, so I’m grateful to Elaine for sticking with me during this conversation in my native tongue.  Apologies also for the cacophony of community sounds in the background!

In this episode, we explore:

  • Why Elaine chose to work alongside mainstream non-government organisations in her community
  • The history of the Wurrumiyanga community on the Tiwi Islands and Elaine’s experience of growing up in the Catholic Mission
  • What social workers and counsellors need to be mindful of when entering a remote community for the first time
  • the reciprocal benefits of co-working with Indigenous and non-Indigenous knowledge
  • Elaine’s gift of introducing new workers to the culture, healing traditions and a spiritual way of understanding the Tiwi people
  • Elaine’s view of the skills and knowledge of non-Indigenous workers as a gift of healing for the Tiwi people
  • Self determination and what this means for non-Indigenous workers coming into a remote community
  • How non-Indigenous workers can build trust and respect in a new community
  • Why ‘going out bush’ is the best form of intervention for many of the health and wellbeing issues affecting children, adults or families
  • Elaine teaching her grandson to find yams

    Elaine’s stories of healing children and families out bush through teaching, hunting and bush medicine

  • The gift of listening and feeling trees that Elaine inherited from her ancestors, and the messages trees are communicating to us
  • The healing power of the bush in healing, mourning and celebration ceremonies, and recovery from emotional hurt and mental health issues
  • Elaine’s story as a witness to a healing ceremony for a Tiwi girl who had been removed as a baby and reunited with Tiwi family; a collaboration between Child Protection, an NGO and the strong women

To listen to this episode simply click on the Play button below or listen via the Stitcher App for iOS, Android, Nook and iPad.
Listen to Stitcher
You can also subscribe to podcast and blog updates via email from the Menu on the Home Page.

Don’t forget, if you or someone you know would make a great interview on ‘Talk the Walk’, send us an email from the Contact Page.

‘Nature’s cure for all our ills’

Have you ever wondered what nature could offer you and your clients… especially those that are affected by chronic stress, mental health issues, physical pain, despair and heartache?

I have just completed an initial week’s training intensive to become a certified Nature and Forest Therapy Guide.  I can attest to both the physical and mental health benefits that being in nature offers.   I had a heightened awareness that back and groin pain which has been niggling me for 12 months suddenly disappeared.   I noticed that stress that I had been carrying in my jaw and neck from my fast-paced, outcomes driven, work life floated away with the clouds that passed overhead.   I was connecting and communicating with beings from the more-than-human world in an intimate way, that I had never felt before.  I also discovered a tall tree overlooking a valley held a message of hope for my heart despairing at the state of our planet.  It was freeing for my mind, body and soul.  But don’t just take my word for it.

There is a lot of emerging evidence about the health effects of being in the forest.  Scientific research on the practice of Shinrin Yoku (or forest bathing) in Japan has found that simply being in the wilderness can increase immune function, reduce blood pressure, reduce stress, improve mood, increase focus and concentration, improve rates of recovery from surgery and illness, increase energy and improve sleep.

How is that so?  Well, the same compound that trees emit to protect themselves from germs and pests is the same essential oil that improves our immune system.  They are called phytoncides and they produce cancer-fighting natural killer cells in our body.

Guides-in-training and members of the public experience the ‘Pleasures of Presence’ on a Forest Therapy walk in the Redwoods of the Yarra Ranges (Sept 2017).   Photo: Jana Norman.

We always knew that being in nature felt good, didn’t we?   Now there is real evidence to prove that living a fast, active, technology dominant lifestyle is counterproductive and could potentially promote chronic physical and mental illness.  People on regular forest therapy walks are also reporting feeling happier, developing deeper more meaningful relationships, feeling more connected with the land and its species, having more energy and developing a more attuned intuition.

It seems as though the Western world, is just catching up to what Indigenous peoples have always known.  During my time on the Tiwi Islands, as both a drug and alcohol counsellor and children’s counsellor, Elders and other strong women repeatedly spoke about ‘going out bush’ as the best remedy for ‘wrong thinking’ and wayward behaviour.  Within my capacity and resources, I drew on the knowledge of these wiser ones to host healing camps out bush with families who were going through hard times and to reconnect children who were going off the rails with a traditional healing ceremony on country (or if that was not possible at least use the metaphors of the natural world in our therapeutic conversations).

What can ‘walking on country’ practised for thousands of years by Aboriginal people do for our health and wellbeing?

In Forest Therapy, the medicine we need is waiting to be discovered in nature and it is up to the client to do the hard work of discovering what the forest is telling them.  The Guide simply opens the door for people by offering them mindful invitations, being open to listening to the messages of support, encouragement, healing or survival that are communicated by all living things.  This concept sounds very familiar too, observed in the way Aboriginal women demonstrate their spiritual connection to the land.  I’ve been woken up in the middle of the night by the barking owl to be advised that (insert name) must have passed away.  I’ve been out hunting when a branch has fallen from a tree, a sign from the ancestors that there is a possum there to be caught for dinner.  I’ve watched women scouting the bush for ‘just the right vine’ which will yield a big, long, fat yam two feet underground, left wondering how do they know, when all vines look the same?  And I’ve heard numerous stories of miracle cures for persistent ailments using bush medicine, where modern medicine has failed.  The knowledge for living a good and healthy life is right there on country, if we are in tune.

Unfortunately, the government policies of today are forcing Aboriginal people off their country and into the towns to be closer to services, and along with this, alcohol, drugs, unhealthy food options and other social issues like overcrowding and domestic violence.  We are seeing the health effects of this lifestyle for Aboriginal people and it’s not good.

As a social worker, this has got me thinking seriously about nature as a form of intervention for people who come to us for help.  The forest provides healing in gentle and profound ways, that we as humans cannot.  It requires a step away from evidence-based talk therapies from Western culture towards intuitive traditional healing practices and spiritual connections to nature that have been used for thousands of years.

If we don’t believe the anecdotal evidence from Aboriginal people about the positive health effects of being connected to country, then we can at least take notice of the emerging evidence from shinrin yoku practices in Japan.
Nature has something for everyone.  Even those of us whose heart is aching for the destruction of nature itself.

‘Magic Wand Dreaming’ with Emily Hapea

What’s it like to walk in two worlds, as a non-Indigenous social worker in a remote Aboriginal community, fresh out of university?

While that might seem daunting, Emily Hapea saw the opportunity for growth, developing authentic relationships and honouring the truth of First Nations Australians.

Emily lives and works in Cairns in northern Queensland.   In this episode of ‘Talk the Walk’, Emily shares the journey that has shaped her understanding of trauma-informed practice influenced by experiences of institutional racism and a denial of Australia’s black history.

Like many social workers who are expected to wave a magic wand, Emily prefers to draw on deeply engrained values of equality, compassion for others and a sense of justice, to create a way of working that sustains her.

In this refreshing conversation, we explore:

    • The beginnings of Emily’s social justice journey from childhood; the influences and myths that have shaped her ethics and values in life and work
    • Why Emily believes that it is impossible to be born in Australia and avoid being racist
    • Seeing intergenerational trauma as a truth, not a theory
    • Emily’s framework for social work practice
    • Beginnings and sparkling moments from working with vulnerable Aboriginal women seeking to get Child Protection out of their life, working within Noel Pearson’s Welfare Reform agenda for Cape York, and an innovative accommodation and early intervention support service for new mums
    • The biggest learnings of being thrown in the deep end, fresh out of university into Cape York communities
    • What can help when starting work in a new cultural context and the importance of developing relationships with cultural mentors
    • Differences between social work in Indigenous and mainstream contexts
    • The knowledge and skills Emily developed that she wouldn’t have, if she hadn’t worked with Indigenous communities
    • Advice for social workers new to the field
    • The sickness of denial about Australia’s true history and owning our racism, contrasted with Aboriginal people’s resilence and passion
    • What Emily would do if she had a magic wand

To listen to this episode simply click on the Play button below or listen via the Stitcher App for iOS, Android, Nook and iPad.
Listen to Stitcher
You can also subscribe to podcast and blog updates via email from the Menu on the Home Page.

Don’t forget, if you or someone you know would make a great interview on ‘Talk the Walk’, send us an email from the Contact Page.

Things to follow up after the episode

Trauma Trails’ by Professor Judy Atkinson

Why weren’t we told’ by Henry Reynolds

Jackie Huggins

‘Allowing Voices to be Heard’ with Toni Woods

An advocate for ‘two way’ relationships and “not being a seagull” – Toni Woods

Do you know what it’s like to meet up with an old friend you haven’t seen for years and feel like you picked up exactly where you left off?   That’s what my conversation felt like this week on Episode 9 of ‘Talk the Walk’.  Nine years after crossing paths on our respective journeys, I reconnected with an old friend and colleague, Toni Woods.

Toni now lives in Canberra and works as an Implementation Specialist with the Intensive Family Support Service (IFSS) which sees her travelling back to the Northern Territory to provide practice coaching with her team.  Prior to that Toni worked in remote Aboriginal communities supporting women and children living with domestic and family violence, project co-ordination of child-friendly safe houses and community development with urban Aboriginal school communities around Darwin.  Toni has worked alongside Aboriginal people in supervision and management, developing creative-culturally safe educational resources, training and mentoring, project management, counselling and family support.   She is gearing up to head off to the SNAICC Conference in Canberra next week, to support her colleague Faye Parriman in presenting her amazing resource and share their current work with the IFSS project.   Be sure to say hello, if you happen to be there!

I hope you enjoy my conversation with Toni as we look back on almost a decade of her incredible development work.

In this episode, we explore:

  • Toni’s yearning to respond to social injustices and human rights violations she observed after arriving in Darwin and the NT Emergency Intervention was introduced
  • What Midnight oil, nursing strikes and Jon Lennon has to do with Toni’s commitment to these ethics and values
  • How challenging moments are actually opportunities for good work to happen (especially when you have the courage to talk to the Federal Opposition Leader!)
  • Hearing stories from people, ownership of story and the dilemmas around sharing story when there are issues of collective injustice
  • The joy of work that advocates for and engages local community members in making decisions about their own families and communities
  • The skills and knowledge needed to co-ordinate an urban Aboriginal community project to improve school attendance; and the learnings and outcomes achieved
  • Lessons learnt about the importance of the implementation phase in running a successful project
  • The role of the Parenting Research Centre and the development of culturally safe resources available through the Raising Children network
  • Toni’s long established collaborative relationship with Senior Aboriginal woman Faye Parriman and the cross-cultural work they have achieved together
  • How the Yarning Mat tool came about through Faye’s visionary dream, a tool to engage Aboriginal parents in the Intensive Family Support Service; an introduction to the elements and how it is used from engagement and assessment to review and closure.
  • Reflections on Toni’s ‘two-way working’ relationship with Faye and the elements that built respect and trust

To listen to this episode simply click on the Play button below or listen via the Stitcher App for iOS, Android, Nook and iPad.
Listen to Stitcher
You can also subscribe to podcast and blog updates via email from the Menu on the Home Page.

Don’t forget, if you or someone you know would make a great interview on ‘Talk the Walk’, send us an email from the Contact Page.

Things to follow up after the episode

The Parenting Research Centre

The Raising Children Network

Faye Parriman on the history of the Yarning Mat

National Implementation Research Network

The 2017 SNAICC Conference

Contact Toni Woods on LinkedIn or via email at twoods(at)parentingrc.org.au

‘The Reconciliation Dance’ with Pamela Trotman

Get your dancing shoes on as we head into Episode 7 of Talk the Walk with Pamela Trotman.
Pamela has been dancing around Reconciliation circles since the 1976 Referendum, granting Aboriginal people the vote and removing the White Australia policy.   Pamela’s whole life has been about appreciating the diversity around her, since the days of growing up in Gunnedah and hanging out with the kids in the ‘blacks camp’.  Starting out as a young, twenty-something social worker in Redfern, Pamela’s career spans 50 years in child protection, mental health and policy working in a variety of non-government organisations in NSW and the Northern Territory.  She has authored and presented on the areas of Aboriginal affairs and trauma, both nationally and internationally.
Come join us on the dance floor as Pamela reflects on five decades of the most memorable steps, lessons from mentors and learnings for life.

In this episode of ‘Talk the Walk’, we explore:

  • Pamela’s early days working in Redfern at a time of great political activism
  • How our white privilege has us acting and behaving in ways that are racist
  • How Pamela came to view her own culture of English aristocracy through the eyes of Aboriginal people to become an effective social worker
  • Reconciliation being a journey of white recognising their internalised dominance and black recognising their internalised oppression
  • Memories of Pamela’s childhood growing up in a segregated town and being one of few who ventured into the blacks camp
  • The influence of family values and class privilege on Pamela’s life and work
  • How Aboriginal people are treated as second class workers in our organisations
  • The normalisation and legitimisation of internalised dominance and internalised oppression
  • Pamela’s time with the AASW working on the Indigenous Portfolio and setting up the first Indigenous committee
  • The Social work profession as a reflection of society whose heart has hardened in recent times
  • reflections on the NT Emergency Intervention
  • how social workers can reflect on their own internalised dominance
  • the principles of peace and non-violence that have shaped Pamela’s life and work
  • Pamela’s biggest challenge and what it means to be a human
  • Why Pamela loves living and working in Darwin
  • The healing powers of the Reconciliation dances, a metaphor for living one’s life and work
  • The Dance Creation Story and its influence on Pamela’s social work practice
  • An inspiring story of the impact of Pamela’s work discovered 45 years later
  • The role of mirror neurons in empathy and understanding the woundedness of the other
  • Acting with integrity

To listen to this episode simply click on the Play button below.
Subscribe to episodes of ‘Talk the Walk’ by email via our Home Page.  We hope to have ‘Talk the Walk’ listed on popular podcatchers like iTunes very soon.

Don’t forget, if you or someone you know would make a great interview on ‘Talk the Walk’, send us an email from the Contact Page.

Things to follow up after the episode

‘ The Locals, Identity, Place and Belonging in Australia and Beyond’ by Robert Garbutt

‘Heterosexism:  Addressing internalized dominance’ by Robin DiAngelo

About Paulo Freire  

‘Transcending Internalised Dominance’ by Pamela Trotman in ‘Reconciliation and Australian Social Work’ edited by Dr Christine Fejo-King and Jan Poona

About Mahatma Ghandi

‘The healing powers of the reconciliation dances’ by Pamela Trotman in Reconciliation and Aboriginal Health, edited by Dr Christine Fejo-King, Dr Aleeta Fejo and Jan Poona

‘Mirror Mirror, our brains are hard-wired for empathy’ by Babette Rothschild

‘Trauma and Recovery’ by Judith Herman

‘Giving Back to Community’ with Alison Grant

Alison with a local Centrelink worker on the Tiwi Islands

On Episode 6 of ‘Talk the Walk’ I sit down and chat with Alison Grant.   This is the first time we had met and it seemed appropriate to invite her along to my favourite haunt in Darwin, a community café run by volunteers at my local community garden.  This set the scene for a delightful conversation with Alison, full of birds, children playing piano and lots of other people making fun connections over fair trade tea and coffee.

Alison arrived in the Northern Territory in 2010, taking up a locum position at the VicDaly Shire Council to set up a community development and education initiative to reduce the disadvantage of Aboriginal women on surrounding remote communities.

Alison then moved to Wurli-Wurlinjang Health Services in Katherine as the Coordinator of Targeted Family Support Services, a pilot program aimed at reducing the incidence of statutory interventions.  Alison worked with families with high needs requiring intensive family supports, due to substance abuse, incarceration, disability, family violence and poverty.

And her current role is just as demanding, flying in and out of remote communities across the NT undertaking crisis intervention, assessments for crisis payments and supporting vulnerable Centrelink customers who may be experiencing financial exploitation, homelessness or domestic violence.  Alison also works in the School Enrolment and Attendance Measure program.

Another day in the life of a remote social worker

In this episode of ‘Talk the Walk’ we explore:

  • Alison’s interest in language and how she came to be working with Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory
  • Humble beginnings noticing cultural differences to her own Fijian heritage
  • A typical day in the life of a social worker in a remote community health clinic
  • Leaving off the rose coloured glasses and adopting a realistic view of making a difference
  • What it’s like being a migrant social worker and living with culture shock
  • Providing essential Centrelink services in a remote context
  • Why giving back to the community is a driving passion for Alison
  • Alison’s biggest struggles as a feminist in a patriarchal world
  • The ethics, values and principles guiding Alison in her work
  • Insights into the factors contributing to ‘the gap’ in health in Aboriginal communities
  • Alison’s top 3 skills, abilities and knowledge for surviving and thriving in remote social work
  • Alison’s keys to building respectful relationships
  • Differences between social work with Aboriginal communities and other contexts
  • Implications of understanding the kinship system
  • Alison’s final tip for those starting out their career in this field

So make yourself a cuppa, put your feet up and just click on the Play button below.   Join Alison and I as we ‘Talk the Walk’ in our local community.

We hope to have ‘Talk the Walk’ listed on popular podcatchers like iTunes very soon.  Or subscribe by email via our Home Page.

Don’t forget, if you or someone you know would make a great interview on ‘Talk the Walk’, send us an email from the Contact Page.

Things to follow up after this episode

Connect with Alison Grant on LinkedIn