‘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

‘Just Start with the Little Things’ with Tony Kelly

Do you remember the first time when you heard your favourite song?

Anthony Kelly, co-author of ‘With Head, Heart and Hand: Dimensions of Community Building’

I remember very clearly the first time I was introduced to Paul Kelly’s ‘From little things big things grow’.  I was sitting in a lecture on ‘Working with Indigenous communities’ with Tony Kelly.  I was moved, confronted and teary.  It was the moment that a small flame was sparked in me.  I remember it so clearly.  Unexpectedly, the voice in my head piped up and said ‘this is the work you will do’.  So I latched onto Tony as an idol and from there a little spark grew.

It was an absolute privilege (and entirely nerve-wracking) for me to reconnect with Tony Kelly recently and bring you this conversation.  That same gentle and invitational demeanour of Tony’s took me back to where my heart for this work began.  To revisit, the ‘head, heart and hand’ dialogical community development approach which Tony espoused, reconnected me with the principles that I fell in love with, all those years ago and which has shaped more than any other modality, the practitioner I have become today.

Tony brings over 40 years of experience in community development work both in Australia’s indigenous communities and globally.  I hope you enjoy this conversation as much as I did.

Episode 5 of ‘Talk the Walk’ explores:

  • How Tony came to be working in the Northern Territory after the acknowledgement of Indigenous Land Rights
  • Learnings from entering Aboriginal communities for the first time
  • The foundation, principles and technicalities behind the dialogical approach to community development
  • The skill of really listening
  • The delight of big things that grow from little things
  • How participatory development programs differ from service delivery; and why governments rarely get it right
  • Small first steps for social workers in getting started in a dialogical approach to your work
  • How Tony’s ‘head, heart and hand’ approach differs from other community development approaches
  • Tony’s struggles of witnessing ‘white on black’ racism, ‘black on white’ racism and ‘black on black’ racism, and how these experiences shaped his international work
  • Tony’s biggest learnings from the Northern Territory and its influence in global community development
  • A funny story about a pet kangaroo!
  • Essential tools for your communication toolbox
  • The mentors that helped Tony develop an international perspective to his work
  • Making sense of the text of people’s complicated lives

Just click on the Play Button below and enjoy!  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

‘From Little Things Big Things Grow’ by Paul Kelly

‘With Head, Heart and Hand’ by Anthony Kelly

Trevour Satour

Sugata Dasgupta 

Lilla Watson

Bruce Alcorn

Ernie Stringer

Rosalie Dwyer

Darryl Kickett

Carol Martin

Matt Foley

‘The Wretched of the Earth’ by Franz Vernon

Contact Anthony Kelly via LinkedIn

‘Continuing the Bold and the Beautiful’ with Josephine Lee

The bold and beautiful Josephine Lee

Welcome back to Part 2 of my conversation with Josephine Lee, an inspiring Senior Aboriginal Social worker who has traversed all breadth of social work and currently finds herself supporting children, families and schools in remote parts of the NT.

We are often told that we can’t change the world, even though we enter social work to do just that.  After listening to this conversation with Josephine, you will walk away with renewed belief that change really IS possible!

Be prepared to be confronted and have your white middle class assumptions challenged, as we head into part two of my conversation with Josephine.

While it was an easy decision for me to interview Josephine surrounded by the beauty of nature, doing so means being open to the elements.  So I apologise for the sound quality at those times when the wind picked up.

This episode covers:

  • Why Josephine is very comfortable with who she is and what she has to offer the world
  • What it’s like to walk to two worlds and how it impacts on Josephine’s work
  • Racism in social work
  • Why politeness goes out the window so Josephine can be the best she can be as a human being
  • The importance of holding adults accountable for the harm they have caused
  • Strengthening the voices of compassion and human decency
  • How to be a change agent for the right reasons
  • How boldness can help us all shine in the world
  • Authentic warrior-like self care for practitioners with a trauma history
  • Establishing authentic connection in this risk-averse world
  • The gifts of ‘Kuleana’ from Hawaii and ‘Dadirri’ from Daly River for living and working authentically
  • Our responsibilities for ourselves, each other and the planet
  • Packing the essential sense of humour and relishing moments of joy
  • Reflections on suicide in Aboriginal communities and society’s response

We hope you enjoy this episode of ‘Talk the Walk’.  And if you or someone you know would make a great interview on ‘Talk the Walk’ send us an email from the Contact Page.
Warning:  occasional explicit language.
Just click on the Play Button below and enjoy!  We hope to have ‘Talk the Walk’ listed on popular podcatchers like iTunes very soon.  Or subscribe by email via our Home Page.

Things to follow up after the podcast

In the song ‘What a Wonderful World’, Israel Kamakawiwo’Ole uses the word “Kuleana“.

Josephine says “Kuleana is the value of responsibility.  It drives self-motivation and self-reliance, for the desire to act comes from accepting our responsibility with deliberate intent and with diligence.  We want to be held accountable.  Responsibility seeks opportunity. Reciprocal relationship between the person who is responsible, and the thing which they are responsible for.”

About Desmond Tutu 

About Nelson Mandela

About Barack Obama 

A Truly Civil Society by Eva Cox, 1995 Boyer Lectures

Josephine saysThis book and many other writers that I’ve been fortunate to have been exposed to or read in depth, raised further my awareness around “don’t forget that humans have constructed society”, the busyness, franticness and dehumanising processes. It can be deconstructed and reconstructed.”

Aboriginal Social Work writers that have influenced Josephine’s practice:

Connect with Josephine Lee on Linked In

‘Just Do It’ with Lissy Suthers

On location at healing bush camps on Bathurst Island

Yippee, you made it.  Welcome to my first ever episode of ‘Talk the Walk’ – the podcast putting legs on social work in Indigenous communities through story.

This podcast will appeal to social workers that find themselves in many different contexts in Australia, who come across Aboriginal or Torres Straight Islander people in their work, as well as new graduates contemplating this area of practice.  The podcast may also appeal to social workers internationally, interested in learning more about what its like to walk alongside Australia’s First Nations peoples.

And now to my first guest.

Working out bush comes with rewarding challenges

Rather than sink, Lissy Suthers chose to swim when she moved from Ipswich in Queensland to the Northern Territory in 2012.  Fresh out of university, her first placement was co-ordinating and facilitating healing bush camps for families on the Tiwi Islands.  Having supervised Lissy during this time, it was my absolute privilege to interview her for my first episode of ‘Talk the Walk’.

Although she might look like she’s drowning at times, Lissy has moved her way up through Relationships Australia NT to the role of Manager of the Children’s Therapeutic Team, operating on the Tiwi Islands, Darwin and Katherine.

This is a beautiful and honest conversation with a social worker who survives on humour and laughter.  There is no sugar coating in this episode.  Enjoy!

This episode explores:

  • Why I decided to start this podcast
  • Why social workers move up through the profession in remote areas of Australia very quickly
  • The importance of Aboriginal history and world view in social work study
  • The values, life experience and family influences which have shaped Lissy’s social work journey
  • White privilege and class privilege and it’s impact on social work practice
  • Reflections on student placement in a remote community
  • Differences in communication
  • The unique skills and knowledge Lissy has developed from her experience in remote work
  • Considerations for entering a community for the first time
  • The values and ethics which shape Lissy’s culturally fit practice framework
  • Equality and the myth of ‘all the free stuff that Aboriginal people get’
  • The difference between social work in Indigenous communities and social work in other contexts
  • The development of inner and external resources
  • Encouragement for new graduates to dive into social work in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities

We hope you enjoy this episode.  If you or someone you know would make a great interview on ‘Talk the Walk’ send us an email from the Contact Page.  I am currently working on listing ‘Talk The Walk’ with podcasters including iTunes to make subscribing easy.  Stay tuned.

Things to check out after today’s episode

Lissy’s reflection on student placement on the blog – ‘Culturally Fit Social Workers: We need more of you!’

Connect with Lissy on LinkedIn

Culturally Fit Social Workers – we need more of you!

The journey to cultural fitness is life long....

The journey to cultural fitness is life long….

The last organisation I worked for adopted the practice of “cultural fitness” rather than cultural awareness.  It’s a great metaphor.  Just like going to the gym every day to keep up your fitness, I believe as social workers we also have to keep educating ourselves, challenging our White privilege and emersing ourselves in the other’s world view, to stay fit.  It is not something you do once, like cultural awareness training!
I am a huge advocate for supporting new graduates to make cultural fitness a life long goal in their social work practice. Sometimes, the best way to start is dive in the deep end, emerse yourself in the culture and let the Elders teach you. Whenever I have the opportunity, I offer to supervise 4th year social work students so that they can safely navigate the terrain to walk, teach and learn in ‘two worlds’.  My hope is that they will come to love working in the NT, despite its complexities and challenges.  I believe the high rate of staff turnover here is damaging to both the social work profession and our Indigenous brothers and sisters who are trying to get their lives on track and deal with complex trauma. We have to find ways of working that are respectful of Aboriginal culture, traditions and healing practices which may mean rethinking some of what you were taught at university!

It gives me great pleasure to share with you a story written by the last student I supervised, giving some insight (and a few laughs too!) into what it is like to dive in and start this journey.  I hope that it inspires other social work graduates to consider specialising in this area of practice.

My journey in becoming a Social Worker in the Northern Territory by Lissy Suthers

Firstly I would like to begin by acknowledging and thanking the women and children of the Tiwi Island communities for all their gifts and wisdom they have bestowed upon me. I would like to acknowledge the Aboriginal Traditional Owners of the lands throughout the Northern Territory on whose country I have the privilege to live and work. I pay my respects to their elders, both past and present.

*******

Nervous, unsure and a little naïve, and scared would best summarise my state of mind when it had been confirmed I would be participating in my final practicum for Social Work on the Tiwi Islands, Northern Territory.  I knew that I wanted to challenge myself in many aspects of the broad and complex work that we do as Social Workers. A challenge is definitely what I got.

Stepping out of your comfort zone and being the minority within a community is a strange and somewhat scary experience. Working in a community and an environment that is hot and unfamiliar is also a strange and uncomfortable experience.  There were many challenges to be faced with choosing to do a final practicum on the Tiwi Islands 1000’s kilometres from home.

My first few weeks were challenging, not only are you balancing your practicum duties and attempting to develop connections and a social life, you also have to overcome some mental hurdles, ‘Did I make the right choice?’ ‘Am I mentally, intellectually and physically capable of this?’ ‘I miss my home.’  But with time, confidence grows and you begin to discover things about yourself you may have thought you were not capable of.  Things like; building lasting relationships with the women and elders of the Tiwi Island communities, organising two entire (permission, travel to and from, therapeutic activities for camp) bush camps that last for 3 days – no electricity and no water, facilitating therapeutic activities whilst on camp and helping in the development of a resource designed and produced by my student supervisor and mentor Lucy.

There were also minor challenges and setbacks like; the food not arriving on time for camp; not being able to shower for 3 to 4 days; someone taking your thongs on camp and not returning them, therefore you must fly home to Darwin barefoot; backing a Troopy onto a small barge and then having to drive off the barge without snagging and bogging yourself in the sand; running around communities chasing families who are attending camp; nearly witnessing a group of children being eaten by a 5 metre crocodile.  You know… those minor kinds of challenges where if you don’t laugh, you cry, and you tell yourself that ‘it builds character’ to cope and reframe your situation.

Despite the challenges, the rewards and learning I took away from this experience are far greater than the stress and tears.  Through the patience, wisdoms and support from my student supervisor and mentor Lucy, and the support of Mark and the team at UQ, I was able to overcome my insecurities and be open to my experience.  Through reflection of practice and a safe space to make mistakes, I was able to develop my skills in; co-ordinating and facilitating large groups; become effective in working with cultural difference; continued to build upon knowledge of aboriginal cultural, language and traditions; I was able to reflect on how my ethics and values influence my practice; I became more effective in how I engage with our Aboriginal people; and had the opportunity to develop more experience and understanding in working with families who are at risk.

I realise everyone’s experience will be different, but I found for me, to take that leap and plunge straight into the deep end of unknown, is something I will never regret.  I would not be in my current employment if it weren’t for my choice to go remote for practicum. I am now a qualified Social Worker in a children’s counselling role for Relationships Australia.

If I had one piece of advice to give someone thinking of taking on such a change and/or challenge, it would be “Be brave, be focussed, be open, be comfortable with being uncomfortable and find humour when you can.”

I look forward to my future and know that from my experiences I will continue to learn, reflect and develop my skills.  My journey still continues and may it never end, as I navigate my way through the many paths of Social Work.

Lissy Lissy Suthers is a Children’s Counsellor with Relationships Australia NT.