Transcript for
A story of two-way learning and healing

Runtime 00:29:51
Released 23/5/20

Narrator Welcome to the Emerging Minds podcast.

Dana Shen [00:00:11] This podcast is part of a series called Listening to the stories of healing that explores the many diverse stories of First Nations peoples. We will look at the many diverse experience of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and how these narratives have shaped the amazing work that is happening in the First Nations communities across Australia. Here at Emerging Minds, we like to call it the secret garden, the stories and experiences that non-Aboriginal people don’t always get to see or hear. Whilst these stories include sadness and hurts and sometimes can feel uncomfortable to listen to, it is through listening to these narratives that you will get a glimpse of the deep wisdom, knowledge and healing practises of families and communities and understand why our First Nations peoples are the oldest continuing culture in the world.

Rosie Schellen [00:01:02] Welcome, everyone. My name is Rosie Schellen from Emerging Minds. Firstly, I’d like to introduce Nancy. Nancy Jeffrey is a proud Woolwonga woman from the Northern Territory who works with the Healing Foundation as a Portfolio lead in Darwin. Nancy’s role within the Healing Foundation is to work with the community and organisations to co-design what healing looks for their own community and implement strategies that support healing from a bottom up approach. We are also really honoured to start this series with Nancy as she is part of our National Consultancy Group and the first Aboriginal woman on the board of Emerging Minds. Welcome, Nancy. It’s a real honour to have you here today to share your story. Did you want to tell us a little bit about yourself?

Nancy Jeffrey [00:01:43] I come from a family of 12 siblings. My mum and dad, my mother’s a Woolwonga woman. My dad is a fourth generation Australian, but Scottish descent, which I’m really proud of. It’s been a really hard journey for us mob, because we didn’t know our country. We didn’t know where we were from and unfortunately, in my mum’s lifetime, she never got to know either. We were still looking for that. So it took us 35 years to find the story of our people, and the only way we found it was over in England. In the books of the stockman and the past colonises, if you can call it that. Yeah. So it’s been a really emotional, hard journey. But once we learnt we were from, we knew the country, we all went out and we put a plaque and was supported by the Minister at the time, which was Nigel Scullion. Who came along with all of us Woolwonga mob, that we just did a ceremony and put a plaque up at Burrundie Station that depicted our story of the slaughter in 1834. So 2014 we did that, which was really amazing and really grounded me as a person from there.

Rosie Schellen [00:02:56] You’re saying, Nancy, that your mother has just connected back? Was she displaced from community?

Nancy Jeffrey [00:03:01] Yeah, well, there was no records of where we came from. And so my my Aboriginal grandmother, who, she passed at 45, so she didn’t get a chance to tell the story of, of our mob. And other Aboriginal women that were related to our family taught my mother, life skills, like the gathering and the hunting and how to survive out in the bush and that. But we never knew our story. So there was something really, there was something missing for us. And we lived down in Arnhem Land for, up until I was three years of age, but before that, my older siblings were removed because my dad was a white man and mum wasn’t married to him. And so they were removed and taken to Garden Point for schooling. As I say, you know, for better education and all of that. And the story I love about that is my dad at the time, he, there was no roads, it was horses. There was no vehicles, no nothing. He rode into Darwin City and he sat on the steps of Government House for three years and just camped out, just camped in front of government steps. And until they said, yes, you can have him back, but you can have him back under these conditions. You can have him back if you marry her in the white man’s way and you brought them all into the city to live and they go to school. And it was really ironic, you know, because my father was a very clever man. He could have taught us everything, in education wise. But if they were the conditions otherwise, we would never have seen my siblings again. Until they were eighteen, until they were allowed to leave the mission.

Rosie Schellen [00:04:48] Thank you for sharing that, Nancy. So they were out on a mission?

Nancy Jeffrey Yep. Yep.

Rosie Schellen [00:04:53] Was that part of the Stolen Generation policy?

Nancy Jeffrey Yeah. There’s a particular Garden Point mob, which my siblings are a part of.

Rosie Schellen So even the experiences within families are quite different. Why is that?

Nancy Jeffrey [00:05:05] That’s something I could never understand as a child growing up, how angry they were. And if you could imagine, Rosie, you’d been taken from your mum. Taken away and then you come back, and I remember the day picking them up in this little white ute, and here’s this little blonde three-year-old in the front. And my sisters were a lot darker than me and they’ve just hated it from the day one. Where did she come from? Why are these kids, you know, these two little white kids, myself and my sister. It was really hard for me and I didn’t understand. They were really hurting, and they were traumatised and until I became an adult, I just thought, wow. Now I get it, and it was really hard.

Rosie Schellen [00:05:50] Yeah, that must have been really hard. That myth that Aboriginality is being only dark skinned.

Nancy Jeffrey [00:05:56] It’s a myth because, because you feel it inside yourself. There was always something missing inside. In not belonging and not knowing where our country was or, you know, anything about our grandmother and therefore and we’ve only ever had one photo of my grandmother. And, you know, you can hardly see her. So we can’t sit there and say, oh, you look like her. And, you know, you’ve got her features. However, the people out at Arnhem Land know and I and they can look at me and go, Juana’s your grandmother, and Juana is her skin name, out that way. So it was just, it was mind boggling as you got older.

Rosie Schellen [00:06:35] How important has that been for you and your grandchildren to know this?

Nancy Jeffrey [00:06:39] Amazingly important because my daughters are very, very fair skin, beautiful blue eyes and, you know, it was, they struggled, they struggled identifying. But I tried to keep that same concept that mum always taught us. Be strong in what you are and who you are and always identify as an Aboriginal and always identify as your father. Because if you don’t identify as that, white side as well, you’re really not a whole person.

Rosie Schellen [00:07:07] Thank you for that. What do you think your mum would be thinking now that you can share this with your children?

Nancy Jeffrey [00:07:12] Oh, look, my mum will be so proud. And I know, you know, in her family, there was seven girls and one boy and not one of them had reached the age of 62. So we have all these milestones in our lives. You know, we’ve experienced death from a very young age, with my oldest brother and all of that. So we have these milestones and we continue to have our family dying young.

Rosie Schellen [00:07:38] Can you expand a little bit on that, Nancy, around the constant pain as a result of the death within the community all the time? It’s something that non-Aboriginal people don’t always experience or fully understand.

Nancy Jeffrey [00:07:50] Yeah, we all are connected. And you’re in constant grief and loss and there’s no, there’s no time out because you are just surrounded by it all the time. Aunties, uncles, grandparents. You know, it is it is constant. And you sort of sit there, you’re expecting it all the time, expecting it, expecting that something’s going to, this has been too long without a death. You know, we’re like, oh, hang on, it’s been six months. You know, this is just an everyday thing for us. And it’s never ending.

Rosie Schellen [00:08:21] Thank you so much for sharing that. I know it’s not always an easy thing to talk about. Let’s talk about something a little brighter, a little bit about your role within the Healing Foundation.

Nancy Jeffrey [00:08:31] Absolutely. And I’m loving this job to bits because I get a chance to go across the country and sit and yarn with our elders and our youth and come up with solutions on what healing means for them. That’s our main purpose. The Healing Foundation was actually created after the apology, and there was a, sort of a like a referendum across Australia asking Aboriginal people, what do you want? And that’s what they said they want, they want to peak body of a healing foundation who could deal with our stolen generations and move them forward, help them move forward. And that’s been just amazing, because the funny thing is I’ve grew up with a lot of them women, and I never knew and never knew their story.

And when you hear this story, it’s like, oh, shit, you know, it set you back thinking, wow, that’s why you were, what, how you were because you were so traumatised. There was no hope for you. You know, you didn’t see the hope. But to tell this story was, it’s huge. It’s absolutely huge. And I take my hat off to each and every one of them that can do that. But we also do it in a really safe environment. Rosie,

Rosie Schellen [00:09:46] Thanks for that Nancy. What do you mean by a safe environment? How would you create that, where a community can come together? And why would that be helpful?

Nancy Jeffrey [00:09:55] Safeness is their environment that’s safe for them. So if it means yarning in a, under a big tree or just pulling a mat out and putting some fruit down, and they’ll all come. They’ll all want to yarn with you. As an Aboriginal woman, you really have to tap into the Traditional Owners of that area, whether it be Adelaide, or it be Wadeye in the Northern Territory. You have to know every clan group, every skin group in that community. You cannot just go to the Traditional Owners, because that’s really, to me, that’s not right, because everyone’s living there together because of policies, past policies of government, we’re forced to be there. So therefore, you have to talk to them and get their advice and listen to their advice. When non-Aboriginal organisations go out onto our communities, they’ve got this agenda from government. You need to find the skin groups. And if there’s 25 of them in one area, you get a representative, and a strong representative, who is upheld in the community, from each group, to come together as what I call our management committee. And they have to be paid. They have to be paid good money for their knowledge. And in the past, we’ve as Aboriginal people, we’ve given so much and getting nothing back. It’s that expectation that’s out there that think that we can give away our knowledge.

Rosie Schellen [00:11:21] Why is it important to make them part of the management committee? Why does this help the process?

Nancy Jeffrey [00:11:27] Look, it actually shortens the time of the process and the outcome of what they want, not what we want, or government want us to do, what the community want. And the beauty of that is, you know, half of those women or men that we have on there, the real traditional people. English is their fifth language. So they don’t understand what you’re talking about if you’re going to do jargon that comes out of a textbook. You just got to be real and honest with them and ask them questions that relate to their environment as well.

Rosie Schellen [00:12:02] Do you want to tell me a little bit what that does for community when you’re actually making them the expert?

Nancy Jeffrey [00:12:07] Well, it gives the kids something to aspire to. It gives the children to sit, to sit back and go. Can be just like her. An example of one mother who was actually my first client and she was an amazing woman, but she was having difficulty at the time, so I helped her through it. And then she came and asked if she could work with me. And I said, absolutely, let’s, let’s get you trained up, in early childcare. And her little girl just looking at her eyes and the kids on the communities, looking up to this woman, to say, we can do this. We can get a vehicle, we can get our own house, even, because you’ve got these great role models and mentors that are really keen to, to make something of their lives. And it’s there in every community, you just have to tap into it and you have to do it the right way. And the most important thing for me is that having locals work with their own mob. Then you’re going to get the outcomes that everybody wants. And you’re not going to get it with continually having inconsistent people coming out there with different messages all the time, and I call it with the magic wand. They go out there thinking, Oh yeah, I’m just out of social work school, Yeah, I can make a change in this community. And within a month they burnt out and they’re gone because they didn’t do their homework. They didn’t consult with the Traditional Owners, and they didn’t consult with the community themselves. Which is really easy to do.

Rosie Schellen [00:13:44] You were talking a little earlier about having many different language groups together. And you said that that’s part of policy. Do you want to expand a little bit on that?

Nancy Jeffrey [00:13:53] OK. So an example would be Wadeye in the Northern Territory, where they are at the moment, which they call, in the white man’s words, Port Keats. It was called Port Keats. There was meant there was 25 clan groups out there and they all had their own areas where they lived and they managed. They didn’t cross over, and it was all the protocols of traditional ways of, if you wanted to come into that country, you sat on the border. There were no lines like our Australia map. You said on that side and you waited until someone said, yes, you can come. And in saying, you can come, but you must abide by our laws. And, you know, government came in with their policies and sent the missionaries out there to, to bring our people together. So they made them, they forced him to live in this one area of Port Keats. And the riots and the wrong ways of, well, I guess, skin groups crossing over and all the white man’s influence really on the alcohol and the drugs, and they had a club out there, and, and I saw a tell a story often about the old Traditional Owner there. And he went and sat with every one of the clan groups and they were over the alcohol in the community. They’d just had enough of the way people disrespected, and their elders, and culture went out the door. As you know, alcohol does a lot of damage and mentally, physically, emotionally, the whole lot. So he had, he had the jack of it one day and he just got in his bulldozer, knocked it over. He went to prison for that. You know, it’s just like, really, you did the right thing. He absolutely did the right thing.

Rosie Schellen [00:15:41] Thank you for that, Nancy. Do you want to describe a little to me what it’s like working within these communities?

Nancy Jeffrey [00:15:48] You can go into those communities and you can tell where the white people are living. The non-Aboriginal people are living, as opposed to our mob, you know. And they’ve got six foot fences with barbed wire up the top of it, so that the locals don’t get in. You go down to the wharf on the barge day and there are crates and crates and crates of alcohol. That our people are just seeing come in to this community, but they’re not allowed to. And I know it’s the Traditional Owners that don’t want that. But then in saying that, my rule is, you want to go to a dry community, then you should be prepared to be dry too. This shouldn’t be a licence for non-Aboriginal or Aboriginal people working on community, because that was the expectations of us.

You know, you can get you can get a permit to drink. No, this is a dry community. So, we have to do what the people want us to do because you have to role model that. You can’t go out there and sit on your veranda and crack a coldie and, and expect people not to see that and then break in and then blame them, too. You know what I mean?

Rosie Schellen [00:16:58] Yeah, I really get what you’re saying. What are some of the secret garden within these communities? The strengths and the skills that might not be visible.

Nancy Jeffrey [00:17:08] There’s so many strengths. And, you know, there’s our survival. There’s our knowledge in teaching our young ones the right way and not the wrong. There’s strength in their moieties. You know, in knowing who you can marry and who you can’t. In the non-Aboriginal world, it’s your first, second, third cousins and all of that sort of stuff. But at, with Aboriginals, in most communities up in the Territory, they know they bloodlines and that and it’s not second and third cousins in that. You just you just can’t cross that line. When you cross that line, then everything’s lost. The bloodlines lost the. The stories are lost. The stories are mixed. So, and that’s another strength is our stories, the stories that we carry with us. And just being able to connect to country is a huge strength that non-Aboriginal people don’t understand, quite a lot of. You know, like when we go into another person’s country, we’ve got to acknowledge that. Yeah. One of my one of my rules as a manager of, when I was a manager for 17 years on communities was that we don’t go into a community unless we’re invited.

And that’s their strength that they should hold and no government or anyone should be telling them. They should be able to say, yeah, come on in. You’re going to, and if it’s for the children, they are so open and want help, and they won’t say no. If you’re the right person. So I think that’s a strength, they see through us. And their language, they keep their language so strong. And I envy that because we never got that. We you know, we didn’t know.

Rosie Schellen [00:18:48] I think you put that so lovely about respecting and acknowledging different people’s country. But that also has a system, doesn’t it?

Nancy Jeffrey [00:18:56] Yeah. There’s already an ingrained system that’s already been passed through the generations that people just don’t understand. And like when we had to explain to our head office they’re going, why are we paying these women? They are there, we’re training them. No. Yes. You got to pay them. This knowledge that we’re tapping into, that, you know, it doesn’t belong to us, belong to them, sorry. Or myself either. Being an Aboriginal woman doesn’t mean that I’m going to, go to another community and they’re going to go, yeah, she’s just like us. Doesn’t work like that. It’s it’s an earnt it’s an earnt respect. And if you do the right protocols that are expected on those communities and yeah. You’ll succeed.

Rosie Schellen [00:19:42] So in many ways you’re talking about the trust you build?

Nancy Jeffrey [00:19:45] Yep. And it can take a long time. And for example, when I first started with the organisation and, you know, and I won’t name the organisation, but in 2004 with the play scheme on urban Darwin, urban communities that have. And I watched him for 30 years, have nothing for these kids. And these kids never went to school. It was a cycle. It was just, it was horrible to watch as an Aboriginal person outside of that.

And when I got the opportunity to go into these communities, even though they knew me, they knew my family and knew all our stories. It still took 18 months before they trusted you. You know, really fully trusted you. But the thing that people don’t understand is our mob are watching. Someone’s always watching those children on communities. You know how they say that the whole child is a community’s responsibility. It’s like that on all of our communities. Seriously, it’s umm. Yeah. And then when the intervention came, it just, destroyed so much strength in our men our men went low. They didn’t, their self-esteem was, and they’re still trying to get back up there. Rosie, and it’s a really, it’s a hard fight for them. You know, you had all these horrible signs outside our community saying that no pornography, no grog, no. And could you imagine, as a non-Aboriginal person, if, if the government came to your place and put that sign out front of your gate, what would you do? It’s like, you know, no, it’s not good enough.

And I was actually there in Wadeye when the army came in. And it was so intimidating. It was scary. The woman ran with their kids because they were in fear of another stolen generation, because their children had an ear ache, they think, oh, they’re going to take them from me. And can say I’m not looking after them and all of this stuff. It was so scary, really, really scary for them.

Rosie Schellen [00:21:41] Yeah, I bet it was. I suppose that has people thinking of themselves. What value do I really have here?

Nancy Jeffrey [00:21:47] Yeah. What can I bring to this?

Which is, yeah, no, and it demolished them in strength, which was really, really sad to watch because there was some really strong men and they stop standing up and they stop talking and they’re only just, and that that that’s back in 2008. And they say they were only just starting to come back in strength. And, you know, it’s taken a long time.

Rosie Schellen [00:22:12] Yeah, that healing it’s it does take a long time, doesn’t it? It’s something that doesn’t just happen with a magic wand. You want to describe a time or a non-Aboriginal worker that did a really good job in these situations?

Nancy Jeffrey [00:22:25] You know, that example of the management committee? That was her idea. And when she said it to me, I’m like you, so get it. And she’s done that for all her life. You know what? I’ll give you a really good example and one of the urban communities in Darwin, and she come for a run with me just to see how I was operating. And she’d only visit once a month from Brisbane, and she would let us take control of that will, you know and. Anyway, she come for just a just drive, out to this community and then she sat in the car because I said to her come on, you got to go talk to her, you’re the social worker. And she said no. No way. She said, I have no idea how to speak with this woman. You go and do it, Nancy. You know, I, I went over to her. This beautiful woman, she said. I don’t want my kids to go back to country because every time they go back to country, they get sick. And she said, Nancy, can you mind them for me? Can you care for my kids? And I, me, in my own heart was like, yes, in a heartbeat, you know. But then I was like, boss, come here, you know, come here and listen. Just, see what she’s got to say and she just taught me a really lovely way to say, no. I can’t do that.

You know, the child protection laws and all of that kinship placement and all of that has to come into play. And I thought, wow, that that just changed my whole thoughts and concepts of, she wasn’t my manager, or she was my manager. But really, she was, she was as equal as I was. But I had the knowledge. Does that make sense?

But if I went to her, her city, she had the knowledge. I didn’t. So it was it was a journey where you did together. And sometimes she would sit back and let you do it and lead the way, and yeah, ask our advice on how it should be done. Which was, where I started my healing journey. I’ve been able to get rid of this chip on your shoulder because, you know. My family was so used to call us the black and white minstrels because half of us were really dark, and half of us were really fair like myself, you know. And it was it was really hard growing up, not in Darwin, but in in Melbourne in particular after that, after the cyclone. You know, going to school with my brother and identifying as brother and sister. That just, that put this real horrible chip on my shoulder about the whiter Australians, you know, and thinking, oh, my God, you’re not all like my dad. What’s going on here? It’s wrong. And this white woman changed all of that for me. Changed the whole, and she started my healing journey of going, you know what? Yeah, we are the experts, and yes, you do have to listen to us. And we’ll do it in a really nice, soft way and not just say, you know, get angry about it. Just take your time and. Yeah.

Rosie Schellen [00:25:34] Is what you’re describing two-way learning?

Nancy Jeffrey [00:25:36] Yeah. Two-way learning. And that’s what it’s always about. And I remember, in Tiwi Islands, we took this big Director, came over to us. And we had no vehicle, back in those days, in the middle of the wet and we walked from the airport and he’s like, do you do this? Yes, we do. This is what we do. This is what we have to do because we’re on a shoestring budget because you won’t buy vehicles. Anyway, I took, to this little yarning circle with our women and they knew that he was coming, and they were happy with that. And he was standing there, and we had two employees over there, who were just amazing women who helped me do a young parents programme. And anyway, one of them looked up and said, you sit down. Don’t stand up like that, sit down here and listen to us.

And she said, you know what? She said, your organisation might have this big name across the world. She said, but here in Tiwi’s, it’s us first, you mob underneath. So always remember that. It was just, it was gold. It was just gold. He was just gobsmacked. And then the beautifulest thing happened was there was the biggest thunderstorm. Hit and lightning, and he was running for cover and we were just walking through. And then by the time we got to Darwin, back to Darwin, which was a 15-minute flight, by a little plane. He had ordered two troopies for us over there. Vehicles. And yet, we lobbied for it for so long, with our head office and they’re like, no you don’t need it. Come out and we’ll show you. So, yeah, it was a really it was a huge, huge learning curve.

Rosie Schellen [00:27:19] Yeah. Thanks for that, Nancy. Do you want to just tell me a little bit, what do you think it would mean for this worker to know that you respected her in this way?

Nancy Jeffrey [00:27:30] Oh, look, she’d say no, it wasn’t me, it was you. And that’s what she would do. She honestly would. But she has been a real, integral part of all of our lives up there. And even in my job now, she has, she’s believed in us. And without her believing in us, we’d still be back. And I’d still be back with that chip on my shoulder, going around, swearing at everybody and saying they all, you know.

But it’s not like that anymore. It’s like, you know what? We can do this. And my kids can do it. And my grandkids can do it. And I’m gonna show them how they can do it.

Rosie Schellen [00:28:09] That’s a really an amazing legacy, for your children and your grandchildren.

Nancy Jeffrey [00:28:13] Yeah, I hope so. I hope so. Rose, I hope one day my little larrikin. My oldest granddaughter stands up and says, I’m here because my grandmother taught me all this, you know, it’s going to bring me to tears a little bit. But one day it will happen, and she’ll be able to do welcome to country in her country and stand proud, to be, even though she’s well, she’s darker. But, you know, even though she’s light skinned and can be proud of her heritage and where she comes from, and all of them really.

Rosie Schellen Thank you so much, Nancy, for sharing with us today. It’s been an amazing listening journey and a real joy.

Nancy Jeffrey Excellent. Thanks, Rosie.

Dana Shen Thank you for joining us in our podcast series, Listening to stories of healing.

Narrator Visit our Web site at to access a range of resources to assist your practice. Brought to you by the National Workforce Centre for Child Mental Health, led by Emerging Minds. The National Workforce Centre for Child Mental Health is funded by the Australian Government Department of Health under the National Support for Child and Youth Mental Health Programme.

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