‘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

‘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

‘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

‘The Bold and the Beautiful’ with Josephine Lee

The bold and beautiful, Josephine Lee

My guest on Episode 3 of ‘Talk the Walk’ is Josephine Lee. Josephine is a Gudjula woman from North Queensland whose social worker career spands almost 30 years.  Jo is committed to anti-oppressive, anti-racist, therapeutic and relationship-based practices as well as creative and hope-focused practices.
In true traditional style, this ended up feeling like a yarn around the campfire, than an interview.  Josephine takes us on a deep journey into her life growing up and how this has shaped the person she is today.  Her biggest influences on her social work practice is life itself.  This includes in her words

“moments of suffering that you think you cannot get through; moments of joy that you think you cannot believe has happened; good people; lessons learnt from bad; being given opportunities; being brave to take up the opportunities; forgiving yourself when you stuff up, learn and grow; kindness is a strength; beautiful art, music, writing, and so many things that have contributed to hope focussed approach; talk with belief, especially to those who have given up.”

It was truly a privilege to hear Josephine’s raw and honest account of the struggles in life and work.  Josephine is unashamedly and unapologetically frank in her assessment of the state of social work and humanity on the planet.  If you want to hear the brutal truth about what an Aboriginal social worker really thinks about our white middle class profession, but in a gentle kind way, then you’re in the right place.
This episode explores:
• What is hope-focused practice and how it differs from strengths based practice
• The impact of Aboriginal policy and racism on Jo’s family history which ultimately shapes her practice and her life
• Jo’s view of the world as a ‘social justice cake’
• The circumstances that led to Jo taking up social work as a career
• Jo’s reflection on her own personal experience of social workers involved in her childhood
• Lessons on responsibility and what social justice in action really means
• Special photos that have significance to Jo’s life and work (see below)
• Child removal as the impact of colonisation
• Cautions for social workers following the current trends in treatment without bringing a cultural lens and critical reflection
• The traps that white middle class social workers might fall into which leads to hopelessness and helplessness
• A blunt warning for social workers who don’t enter Aboriginal communities with respect
• What it means to walk alongside someone on a painful but healing journey of self discovery for deep nourishment and flourishment to happen
• The power of narrative therapy in working with Indigenous clients
• What is reflective social work practice REALLY
• Black empowerment theory and why it’s greater than feminist theory

“If you walk softly on this Mother Earth, you have tried your best to take care for her, and all life, and you did so with dignity and grace — that is a truly well-lived life.”Josephine Lee, July 2017

Josephine speaks about the following photographs in this interview.

Josephine’s maternal side of the family.

Josephine with her mother and siblings.

An artists interpretation of family surrounded by wild waters.

The picture a client identified as to what being happy with life looks like.

Please note, due to the length of this interview, it has been split into two parts.  Tune in next week to hear the final part of our conversation.
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.
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

Various Books by Christine Fejo King

About Wayne McCashen

‘Black Empowerment: Social Work in Oppressed Communities’ by African American social worker, Barbara Bryant Solomon

‘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

If you know how to ‘Walk the Talk’ then let’s ‘Talk the Walk’

Walking the Talk on a Bathurst Island beach

In Wiktionary, to ‘walk the talk’ means ‘to perform actions consistent with one’s claims’.  I first came across this term in Reconciliation circles.  It implied that if you really wanted to make a difference in the lives of Aboriginal people, then don’t just talk the rhetoric; you have to get off your backside and walk with them in the fight for justice and recognition.  To me, it is also important to walk alongside, not in front and not behind.

So how do we walk alongside in solidarity with our Indigenous brothers and sisters, when practising social work, a profession which has a history of baggage like removing children from families?  This was a question I was trying to answer when I graduated with my Social Work degree.

At that time, working with Indigenous people seemed like a daunting task.  I remember feeling so inspired and passionate about living out my social work values of human rights and social justice, that I upped and moved my young family from big city life to the remote North.  To be honest, it was scarey, I didn’t know where to start and I had no real mentors to show me the way.   Like many others, I was thrown in the deep end, flying out to remote communities, with nothing but a listening ear to offer.  For two years, I felt like I was in a big bucket of water, with just my mouth sticking out, gasping for air, just surviving.  I continually questioned ‘am I doing this right’?  Am I making a difference?  Or am I contributing to the problem?

Most of us come with good intentions, bringing all of our head, heart and hand to the work, but how do we do it in a way that is decolonising and authentic.  What does best practice social work in Australia’s indigenous communities actually look like on the ground?

‘Talk the Walk’ will feature interviews with those who have trod a well-known path.

This is the question I hope to explore in a new podcast, I’ll be developing and launching in the coming months.  Don’t throw out your textbooks, but I believe there is real value in hearing stories of experience, straight from the mouths of those covered in dirt, sweat and dust.  “Talk the Walk” will feature interviews with those working in the field as well as traditional voices with words of wisdom for the whitefellas in white Toyotas.

My hope is that “Talk the Walk” will be a valuable resource for graduating social work students preparing for the journey ahead, and a watering hole for the rest of us who continue to learn every day!

If you or someone you know would make a great interview, please drop me a line through our Contact Us page.  They could be a social worker, community development worker, counsellor or other allied health professional, or an Elder or Indigenous community member.

Yes, I can see the irony here.  A podcast is all about talking.  So my thinking is that, the podcast is a learning tool to help all of us get off our butts and do the walking.

So if you know how to walk the talk, tell me your story.   Let’s ‘Talk the Walk’ together.

The Greatest Tragedy of All Happens in my Street

The easy access of my local 'bottlo' contributes to the tragedy unfolding in my neighbourhood.

The easy access of my local ‘bottlo’ contributes to the greatest tragedy of all unfolding in my neighbourhood.

Over the past few weeks as the wet season has taken hold in the Top End, an increasing number of homeless Aboriginal people (called long grassers) are on the move.  The bus shelter across the road from our house has become a shelter, a mere stumble from our local handy-store which freely sells alcohol.  This is the site where arguments break out just after 10am daily about who is paying for the grog or the taxi, women yell profanities at their men at the tops of their voices and beer bottles are smashed on the road.  Since the Country Liberal party decided to scrap the ‘Banned Drinking Register’ 3 years ago these scenes have become all too common again.  On the weekend, my husband had to stand at the end of our driveway to motion for cars to slow down, as a man lay on the middle of the road after going biffo with another intoxicated family member.

The greatest tragedy is not that the police showed up half an hour after I called, enough time for someone to lose their life.  Nor is it that there are people passed out on the footpath day after day and how sad it all seems to be living a life like that.  The greatest tragedy is that there is most often a small child in a pusher or clutching on to their mother watching all this.

Don’t get me wrong.  All of it is extremely disturbing and very upsetting to hear and see on a daily basis.  But I can’t help imagining that this child’s future is being laid down right this very minute in front of my very eyes.

Unfortunately I don’t see an end to the drinking and antisocial behaviour in the near future.  Despite the introduction of mandatory treatment of people who break the law while drinking, the trauma, the hurt, the pain remains and the drinking continues.  I despair thinking it is too late for this generation who have most likely grown up in violence or abuse themselves.

We can change the future for the children.

But the children.  That is a different matter.  Here we have an opportunity to make a real difference.  To change things for them.  To put a stop to the cycle.

This is where I have great faith in the work of the Healing Our Children project.  The power of the project lies in working with Aboriginal women who are caring for young children to understand the impact that witnessing violence has on the developing brain in pregnancy and infancy.  It is my hope that women will be in a more empowered position to make good choices on behalf of their children.  A conscious and fully-informed decision between staying and putting up with the abuse or leaving to find a safe place, could make all the difference to the life of an accompanying child.

As I sit and stare outside my window to that babe in arms, I feel paralysed knowing there’s nothing I can do at this very moment.  I am also full of determination and hope that we can prevent this tragedy affecting the next generation.

For more information about my work with the Healing Our Children project visit Relationships Australia.

2016 – It will be a Shining Year (if i have anything to do with it)

IMG_20160116_165221And so it is with trepidation and determination that I sat down in January and planned out my year ahead.   But I didn’t want to do it just any old way.  It had to be what Sark would call a wild succulent process – one that would make me want to follow through on the goals I set.  So I ordered myself a gorgeous diary and journal to create myself a shining year.  During the mapping process, I came to appreciate what a unique position I am in.  I currently hold down two jobs – the first as a Project Worker has been in the making for many years through my experience working on the Tiwi Islands – the other, a new environment counselling children and families in a mainly mainstream setting.   If you have ever held down two intensive part time jobs that demand your energy and your passion in completely different ways, then you’ll know what a challenging task it is to change hats mid week.

Of course all these responsibilities has meant that the work of Metaphorically Speaking as a private practice has been put on hold for now.  Well sort of.  You see I’ve set myself another goal this year too.  To finally self publish a children’s book that’s been in the making for the last few years.   This dream grew out of my work as a children’s counsellor on the Tiwi Islands and NE Arnhemland.   I have noticed that primary school aged Aboriginal boys had real difficulty talking about domestic violence in their families and community.  Often shame was so great that they were silenced or too traumatised to speak about their experience.   Gender and cultural barriers also provided extra challenges.  Much of my work focused on using non verbal methods of communication such as drawing, clay or drumming to help boys express themselves.   I also came to appreciate the power of metaphors to help children talk about their lives in safe ways through groupwork on family healing bush camps using the Tree of Life methodology.   The Elders enthusiastically took up narrative practice ideas that drew on storytelling traditions focusing on strengths, hope and resilience.  Seeing how well these ideas worked in community has inspired me to use similar metaphors to reach out to children, who are silenced by their experience of violence.  My goal in writing this book is for counsellors, therapists and even mums and dads to have a way of giving children a voice to their experience by lifting the veil of shame and self blame.   I also believe the book values the strengths of culture in keeping children safe and strong.  I feel privileged to be working with Christine Burrawunga in making this book a reality, with Christine turning her amazing artistic talents into the role of illustrator.  As is so much a part of my practice, this project will be a two way learning experience and genuine partnership.   I look forward to working together with Christine over the next few weeks to begin dreaming and scheming the images to accompany the text.  This is a journey neither of us have been on before.

2016 is also an exciting time, as I near closer to starting our very first support group on the Tiwi Islands for pregnant women or women with young children who are living with or at risk of trauma from violence.   This project is a long time in the making, and has come about through funding made available through the Indigenous Advancement Strategy to Relationships Australia.   Last year, my focus rested on training local women in Wurrumiyanga to be group facilitators and peer mentors to participants using the talking tool called It Takes A Forest to Raise a Tree.  This resource is something I have developed alongside Elders in the community beginning in 2010, after they expressed worries about their grandchildren and the difficulty of connecting with their parents, they described as the lost generation.  Finally, the tool will be out there hitting the ground where it is most needed.

Meanwhile in 2016 I will also be starting some new work in Child Inclusive Practice in my counselling role at Anglicare Resolve.  This requires new learning and new approaches for working with children whose parents are separated, as well as getting my head around the family law system, how it operates and how it impacts on families and children.

So there’s lots of work ahead.  It’s daunting.  It’s exciting.  It’s gonna be a shining year.

For more information about my work on the Tiwi Islands, you can contact me at Relationships Australia NT.  To access my culturally safe counselling services for children and families in Darwin, contact Anglicare NT Resolve.  To get a copy of my children’s picture book, stay tuned.