Transcript for
Culturally informed trauma-integrated healing practice – part 1

Runtime 00:42:45
Released 24/5/20

Narrator Welcome to the Emerging Minds podcast.

Dana Shen 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 practices of families and communities, and understand why our First Nations peoples are the oldest continuing culture in the world.

Rosie Schellen [00:01:01] Hi, I’m Rosie Schellen. Over the next two podcasts, we have two very special people who are joining us. Two extraordinary women who have dedicated their lives to the healing of trauma for Aboriginal communities. Thank you, Judy and Carlie, for inviting us to this special place to hear about what’s important for you. Could you tell me a little bit about yourself, Judy?

Judy Atkinson So I’m Judy Atkinson. Atkinson’s not from Victoria, my husband’s name, actually a William and Booker from Central West Queensland. Eliza Shields was my great grandmother, born around the time of the Hornet Bank massacre up in the upper Dawson. And somehow Henry Williams came up from just on the southern border of Bundjalung Country and Bunji. And he got up there and they had 15 children. And their oldest daughter, the oldest child is Annie Williams, my grandmother, and then my father came out of that.

Judy Atkinson So that’s who I am at some levels. But I’m also a mother of four and a grandmother of seven. And I have a passion for making sure that our children, Aboriginal children, have a different future in this country than what they’ve got at the moment.

Rosie Schellen [00:02:12] And what an one important passion that is. Where does that passion come from?

Judy Atkinson I tell this story a lot at the moment. At 10 o’clock in the morning in Cape York on the 18th of September 1987, we had to meet, the Aboriginal Coordinating Council met with a, in a place on the west coast of Cape York. And we had finished making a decision on how we were going to allocate 23 million dollars of housing money, which had come in from the federal government in opposition to the state government, which was the Bjelke-Peterson government. We had no data. We had no idea how many houses were in communities or how many people lived in communities. But we still had 10 minutes to make this decision to allocate this money. Really stressed and when we finished, an older woman came up to me and said, oh, girly, when you got time can I talk to you today? And then she told me that the three year-old, five year-old child actually, was, five years later a three year-old child was raped in the same community. A five year-old child had been raped and nobody would do anything. So I went back to the chair and deputy chair of the Aboriginal Coordinating Councils and said, can I look at this? I found more women had actually died through what you would call domestic or family violence than the deaths in custody in that region. But nobody was talking about that. We were in the beginning of the royal commission into Aboriginal Deaths in custody.

Judy Atkinson Then I went to the authorities, the police, department of health, community services as it was that was child protection, and said, can we do something? And they shrugged their shoulders and said, this is cultural, what can we do? And here was an older woman asking for help. And then after her voice came out, the elders were asking for help, including the men. A little while later a, same man raped a white nurse and within 10 minutes in Brisbane they were responding to that. So that’s what set me on this journey. And I’ve been on it ever since.

Rosie Schellen [00:04:13] Thank you, Judy, for that. That’s such an important journey to have. Carlie, do you wanna tell me a little bit about yourself?

Carlie Atkinson Yeah well Mum makes it a little bit easier because she’s told you about my background, my Aboriginal background. Bundjalung Yiman woman, upper Dawson River. So I won’t go back through that. But I, in terms of who I am and who I am in relation to Mum, and who I am in relation to my Aboriginality, I’ve been really lucky in our extended family. Mum has always let us know who we are as Aboriginal peoples and that that history has been a really big part of who I am as I’ve been growing up. And some of my other relatives haven’t had someone strong like Mum that’s been, that’s taught us to be really proud of who we are. But I must admit, it was not really until I got into my late teenage years where it really started to drop down. This is who you are. And not only this is who you are. This is what’s gonna lead you where you are destined to go. I think a lot of kids get to an age and they just got no idea what their direction is. And I was so lucky to fall back on that. I could have gone in any one direction and a really negative direction. But it was actually when I fell back on this is who I am, really strong culture, that I thought, I don’t want to go in that direction. And then I started to think about what I wanted to do. And even though it was a little bit different to Mum and I actually went off in another direction thinking, oh no, I’ll go, I’ll go and make my own way in the world. And I went and studied social work and psychology. And while I was doing that, I kept coming back around to her work because her work was out there already. And it was something that kind of grounded me.

Carlie Atkinson Once I was into two years of social work and I realised actually at the end of my social work degree, I actually had to unlearn a lot of stuff that I had been taught. And then circle back to Mum’s work, which is really very simple in a lot of ways, but complex. And that started my journey in the area that I ended up in, which is basically looking at intergenerational trauma. And that then took me into a PhD. And that PhD saw me travelling around all over Australia, visiting prisons and talking to Aboriginal men about the relationship of, Aboriginal men that had committed violent crimes. But I wasn’t so much interested in what they’d done wrong, but who they were and what their story was. And I wasn’t there to excuse that behaviour. It was there to make sense of how someone ends up sitting in prison. And all of them, all of them as young kids had such traumatic lives. And that realisation that also dropped me deeper into the work that I do and realised too, that we need to bring the men on board. We actually have to do this as families. Men, women and children. We talk about, for example, communities of care and communities of practice. I think we’ve got to start talking about community, families of care. Yeah. And those families of care then move into communities of care.

Rosie Schellen [00:07:26] Yeah. Such an important piece of work. How would you start working with a family to create that family of care?

Carlie Atkinson This isn’t rocket science, is it, Mum? It’s um it’s just about developing an empathetic connection. A real true, you know, just basically building up trust. Building a relationship. And a real one, not this sort of gammon type of stuff where we pretend that we’re somehow connected or we’re, or we make it really academic in that process. So how do you start working with an individual family? Just connect in. Connect into stuff that is familiar to them. And sometimes those conversations and connecting in and building relationship is about sitting around probably for longer than a lot of people feel that they have time for and just working out what you have in common and sharing some of yourself. Which was one of the things I had to unlearn from social work. And it has changed a bit now, hasn’t it, Mum? But is that you actually have to give a bit of yourself. You know, if you expect someone to share with you, then they’ve got to be able to know who you are to. Otherwise, the relationship isn’t built.

Judy Atkinson Can I respond to that as well and say that one of my first principles is to be invited in. And I get three or four calls a day from people looking for help. They’re in crisis. And so it might be on the phone just hanging out for a while. Like last night, it was connecting with the woman whose young child was severely bullied at school and just saying, how can I help? And so she’s come back to me and said, oh thanks Aunt. This is what I can do, I said. I can actually help you take this to the highest level, the Department of Education, or we can get this on a conference theme in the schooling system, on trauma-informed schooling. Thank you, Aunt. But in every case, you know, a call, we’ve just had some suicides here, Judy, could you come? So it could be a whole of community asking for help or its family asking for help. And so that’s the first principle for me is to respond to and you be busy for the rest of your life just responding for the requests. To the request for real pain that’s there is incredible. So that’s where I’m at.

Rosie Schellen [00:09:37] Thank you so much for that. That must be so difficult. How do you manage your own wellbeing through these amounts of requests?

Judy Atkinson I push myself, but I also have got incredible recuperative powers. So if I can get a good night’s sleep, wake up in the morning. Like this morning. I woke up and I thought, where the hell am I? Because I’ve been on the road for two weeks on planes, you know, from here to Alice Springs and then down to Sydney to Newcastle and back. Where am I? And then as I settled into thinking, so what am I gotta do today? Now, that may not be what people talk about in community, you know, self-care and a community that helps you, but it’s how I’m handling things at this moment. The workers have to find ways that they can help themselves. I think we can get caught up in the thing called the community, self-care when it actually should be community care. Working together, supporting each other.

Rosie Schellen [00:10:31] I get a sense from you that there’s so much you want to do in so little time. How do you balance that when you getting pulled in different directions?

Judy Atkinson I’ll tell you one thing that I think is critical to all of this. Put the children in the centre of your circle. As soon as you see, whatever the children are doing and you follow them, they take you where you need to go and sometimes where you need to go is really hard. But you see the children responding. And they might take you to their mother. Their father might be in prison or to their grandparents. And the pain in the grandparents is immense because of the generational factors. But if you put children in the centre and you engage in play with children or watch your children, going for walks with children and their dogs or things like that, which I’ve just done in another part in Queensland and having talks, children will teach you what you need to know.

Carlie Atkinson And that’s actually, that’s really interesting because I think that’s a really good question working in this area, is how do we look after ourselves? And Mum just described one thing was actually within our own families using, you know, our own children. They actually tell us. If we’re, like for example, with my twins, if I’m doing too much, if I’m giving too much of myself, they slow me down. They tell me straight up. Kids can be really quite honest. So if you’ve got a really strong community, family of care, community of care and those resources to pull on, that’s actually what keeps you safe in terms of not doing too much. I know for me, Mum, Mum’s quite incredible. She can keep going. I need to switch off at a certain time every day. And it’s usually just before the kids come home from school so I can drop in to them. I try to have weekends off and also try every now and then to to get away and just have a holiday. It’s it’s self-care, it’s more like family care. This space that we live in here is is a really strong self-care mechanism.

Rosie Schellen [00:12:32] And it’s so absolutely beautiful here. And the connection to nature here is so strong. I suppose one of the complications is that a lot of people who work in this sector, it’s work. Can you tell me a little bit about the difference between work when it’s not just work, it’s your family. It’s your community. How complex that can be?

Judy Atkinson I don’t think there is a separation. Because we’re one. We’re all one. Our voices, our experiences are all part of a whole. It’s how we manage it that that matters. And it’s hard. And I don’t know how to say no half the time. I’ve got a call coming in today from somebody who is in crisis and I’m kind of sitting here thinking, just hang on there, I’ll be there when I can. Carlie and Dave made some really clear choices about how they were going to look after, and my other daughter, Kate, has done the same thing. She’s there for her kids. She takes them out running and she takes the dogs with them. That’s important. Back in community, I watch the older kids look after the younger kids. And it was beautiful to watch in this very, very complex situation, making sure that the the older kids of eight and nine were looking after the little kids of 18 months or seven months, 18 months or two years of age so that the mothers could have time out. We don’t give kids credit for that kind of mothering sense. And that’s very much a cultural process. And that’s how children were taught, to look after each other.

Carlie Atkinson It is hard because there’s obligations. Family obligations, community obligation, mob obligations. And it’s it is really hard to say no. But to maintain some sort of self-care there’s sometimes, for me and I can’t talk on anyone else, I do sometimes have to create gentle boundaries around that and then pull in help from other people in the community so I can keep doing what I do.

Rosie Schellen [00:14:33] Which is so important. And thank you for sharing that Carlie. Judy, can you tell us a little bit about the complexity of intergenerational trauma when there is so much social injustice intertwined with it?

Judy Atkinson I said that when I was in Cape York, I started to understand something. So I came out and I did a PhD. And the first thing I did. I chose to do it where my dad grew up in the central Queensland region. Capricorn region. Was to walk around all the different agencies and talk to them. The Aboriginal organisations and agencies. I thought I was looking at violence. In the first three months I read all this stuff around violence I could find and I sat and listened. Obviously, I was invited in. And then I realised that the stories I was hearing were embodied within trauma. So I started to read trauma theory. Holocaust. Vietnam vets. World War, war zones, stuff like that. But six months, between six and nine months into it, people were coming to me and saying, we don’t want to talk about this anymore. We want to do healing. And in that, as I, I said, you give me the titles of the workshops and I’ll run a workshop for you once a month. And then we’ll sit back and we’ll analyse what we’ve done and we’ll keep repeating them until we think we know what we’ve got.

What I’ve found is that once we started to do healing, we dropped into the stories like you would not believe. And we started to map, particularly in the story mapping, the lost history Craster. We started to map from this woman here whose children were in crisis and she’d been in the psych unit and she didn’t think she was ever gonna recover, to remembering what happened to her Dad out on the mission. And then where how they got to be in that place. We started to map across country on butcher’s paper, on the floor and on the floor, generally, the stories of individual people and they shared them. So the intergenerational trauma came from the stories of people as they started to deal with loss and fried issues. At that stage, I wasn’t trying to push the trauma story. I was trying to understand what people had gone through. And then we started to engage with those communities. For example, Woorabinda. Coming over from after the Hornet Bank massacre, the Old Trim Reserve, being forced marched to Wirrpanda over a number of days to get to Woorabinda. But they all had stories. But they’d never been allowed to share them previously.

What I did then, because remember I was in a PhD at that time, I started to read all parts of Queensland and Australia, massacre sites. What was coming out of that. At the same time, in that part of Australia where I was, we were also looking at native title because native title was. So we had to map the stories there and what I’ve found in my own, you know, communal group. When we went into these claims, the old men would sit there and say, and I’m moving my body to make them like that, they’d sit up and they’d say, yes, the Fraser men come down and they, they slaughtered everybody. You know, they they wanted to shoot everybody up because they they shot up the dogs. They wanted to kill dogs. No, it wasn’t that at all. The Yiman men went down and so slaughtered the Fraser family because the young Fraser men were sexually violent and incredibly physically violent as well on the young girls. So they were taken, and the old women, matriarchs, said go and do something.

Now, I didn’t understand any of that until a) we started native title, but secondly, I then located stories around the history. Stories around that. So we’re unpacking that even more now today. The trauma stories, that the massacres sites are coming out all over the place. We’re mapping them. But what I found was from people’s stories. Sitting on the floor with butcher’s paper or mapping them with objects on the floor. What was my family story? What happened here? What happened there? And, you know, three generations and I could map seven generations now of, in places.

Carlie Atkinson When that happens over the generations, you lose a sense of safety. Yeah. And when you lose that sense of safety, your brain sitting in the old brain stem and it’s just, it’s like a little fire alarm going off with everyday things. And so intergenerational trauma is when that clear lack of safety in the mum or the dad or the uncle is passed onto the child because they see mum and dad or aunty or uncle or grandma just reacting, constantly reacting to things. And then they learn to not feel safe. The brain is just switched on all the time. And that’s what intergenerational trauma is. Particularly, and we’ve got to stop calling it post-traumatic stress disorder. It’s complex trauma.

Judy Atkinson Historic. [Yeah.] Complex, compound. And so then linking that to the trauma theories that Bessel van der Kolk, Stephen Porges, others. So understanding the brain, you know, the reptilian brain as I, I’m using words deliberately, but place in here where the fight. Stand-up and the snake. Or the flight, runaway. Or the freeze. And that’s the that’s the dangerous place because we’re stuck there. Particularly in the freeze or the dissociated state. I saw that over and over again. I saw a young woman who’d just come out of the psych unit. She was 28 years of age, come down to work with us down at the Haven where we were when we were doing all these workshops. And for three months, she never said a word. She was absolutely frozen. But she was there and her brother was there. And we did some psychodrama. We had to pull names out of a hat, you know, mother, father, the police, nurse, whatever. And her brother pulled out, I can’t remember whether it was the mother or the father. She pulled out the other side, whichever. I remember watching her and thinking, I was watching her brother and thinking, holy moly, that’s pretty heavy. But she was just frozen.

And that night she came down to the craft table where I used to sit each night because it was residential and I would sit there for people to come and talk to me. And she came down and she was like this. Quick, quick, my head’s gonna burst. And I said, oh, do you want to talk to me, Bub? And she said, oh no no no. If I talk to somebody, if I told anybody, I’d got really mad and then I’d go and kill someone. Remember, she was really mad in the psych unit. She had a diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia. I’d go really mad and I’d kill someone. And I took a deep breath and I grabbed a piece of butcher’s paper and a pencil. And I said, go and draw me something. And she came back and she had a hand clenching a heart. And out of the heart, and I’ve still got this piece of paper, it’s starting to get fade, 23 drops of blood. And I just kept looking at it because it took me a long time to find one positive word. A tiny little drop, with tiny words you could hardly see, love. The rest of it was stab, punch, hate, kill. And I went, phew, you know I mean, this is this is, I said this is a big story. What would you like to do? I can’t talk about it. I can’t talk about it. She said. And I went out the next day and I bought her paints and canvas and brushes and I said paint for me. And for three years she painted. And I would walk in and stand in front of the painting and I’d go, hey, this is an amazing painting. Tell me about it. I never said, oh, this is a painting of a clown but it’s not got a head. Tell me about it I’d say. This is an amazing painting, tell me about it.

And then the story would come as we stood in front of the painting. Every time I saw her she’d have another painting for me and I kept giving her a canvas and things like that. Got this course into the university. She immediately enrolled. She had by that time, she was starting to find her voice in our learning circles, in our discussions. I heard that her mother had experienced in the things, of things that were also painful and that her mother had come from another place. I’m talking three generations there. She graduated at the end of the year. She was really proud. She was talking in class and doing amazing assignments and then she graduated and then she came up to me and she said, I gonna do this course again next year. And I went, I don’t know whether the government’s going to pay you, you know, the fees to do the course again. You’ve graduated. She said, oh, I’ve got to do it again. And I said, why? She said, well, this year I did, 70 percent of the work I did here was looking at myself and I only learnt 30 percent of what I could have learnt in the course. I want to come back and finish what I have to do for myself. And then I also want to do the rest of the course. And I went, okay, so I went and lobbied for her. She came into the course again and she graduated. I’d known her for five years. At the end of that. Now this is the point of how holding stories is so important. At the end of that final year, she came up to me and said, can we go for a walk down the beach? And I said, sure. So we’re walking down the beach and she said, I’ve stopped it. And I took a deep breath and thought what? And then I said, oh, what have you stopped? She had stopped and gone to the police and given evidence to the police, the man who used to come in to her room as a child. So she used to put the wardrobe across her door so he couldn’t get in. It was her mother’s partner. And he kept on and on until she was 28 years of age, until she was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and put into a psych unit where they just medicated her so she never got the chance to actually talk about this story. But finally, five years of me knowing her, never pushing her, she chose to act on her own behalf. And she reported him to the police. And she stood her own ground and gave the evidence.

Now, that’s how long it takes to understand generational trauma, because our people have been silenced and they’re frightened of going to the police. They know the psych unit. They know the prisons. But, and they know the bullyman, the police. But they don’t know the power they have in themselves, and time to give them that opportunity. Part of that story also is this isn’t an easy journey we’re travelling. Healing takes time. And if we want to push it, and you can’t do this counselling in an hour, in a room somewhere. So part of that is, that’s part of the story. It’s generational. I could go deeper into the other stories of her grandparents as well, which were really traumatic. Massacres on the frontier.

Rosie Schellen [00:25:03] Thank you for that, Judy. Can you tell me a little bit about how you move or find hope when you’re trying to heal from trauma, when trauma is still happening?

Judy Atkinson There’s two things I want to say there is that there’s no magic wand, but there is a magic wand. The magic wand can be as simple as, and I’ve written about this, I think was in the TED talk I gave, walking down the street in that same town and seeing an Aboriginal woman just sitting there slumped on, in the middle of the street, you know, the main street of that town. And just for a moment, looking at her and thinking, well, there’s pain there, isn’t there? And I just kind of went over and I sat down beside her and I asked to just take her hand. I put my hand and I said, you know, do you want me to hold your hand for a while? And she nodded. And then we sat there. I sat there for less than 30 minutes while she just talked a bit. That was it. I went on with what I had to do.

A few years later, I was walking down that same street and she walked up to me with her head up and she said, do you remember me? And I said, I know your face, but I can’t remember. She said, you sat and talked to me at a time when I didn’t think there was any hope in the world for anything. You just listened. That’s all you did, was just listen. And you just held my hand. She said, thank you. I didn’t even recognise her. So it can be as simple as that.

However, if I had and I found out, you know, where she comes from one of the missions near where I was in Rockhampton, that then the next step and this is where our workers have to be, they have to be with that woman and her family to unpack the trauma stories. No judgements. Just being there and allow her to find her way. And I’m talking multiple now about people like that. So it’s both very simple and it’s very complex. And the bottom line is, is that and I found this in myself, I’ve got to get rid of all of the stuff that’s in me and just be present at that time to hear that or those stories. And sometimes it just needs a tightening of the hand, just a woah or a cry. I’m good at crying. Now, if we multiply that across Australia. If we stop running. If we stop thinking we knew everything and we were able to listen to each other. Massive healing would happen.

Carlie Atkinson And the hope too is in, you know, I mean, I certainly I look around me when it’s, you know, something else is going on and you get that sense of hopelessness. I can always look somewhere else, talk to someone else, or see something going on that fills me back up again. There’s some incredible things happening in Australia. Really incredible things. And families and people. And our mob really just doing, you know, just stepping up there and shining. And that’s what keeps me going, is looking at that and knowing that.

Rosie Schellen [00:27:46] That’s so true, Carlie, there are such amazing things happening. A little bit about that. Describe and talk to me a little bit about We Al-li and what they’re doing at the moment?

Judy Atkinson I was going back up to Cape York and I was invited to do my PhD in the Rockhampton area where my Dad grew up as a child. And so the first thing I did was walk around all of the organisations. I had a supervisor at the university, so that was good too. And we decided we would sit and talk to each other about what we wanted to do, to for me to be able to hear these violent stories. It was violence I was looking at. So there were 23 people in that room. There’s one white fella. He was the professor in psychology at Central Queensland University, and he was my supervisor, and 22 Aboriginal people from that community. My sister came in and she did this amazing painting, walking together, talking together, is creating our future.

And so we talked about how we needed to listen to each other. How our babies will always be at the roots of the tree, the focus. How our children needed to learn from sitting in circles with their elders. And then a person called Bob Muir, who was Woppaburru man who presently works for the Rockhampton City Council from Great Keppel, North Keppel. He kind of was there with us and he was watching what we were doing and we were looking for a name. And he said, you know what? This is ‘We’, fire, and ‘Al-li’, water. Woppaburra words. Fire and water. Because where, we talked about it, anger and grief, where we would, we were dealing with anger and grief. So that was the beginning of We Al-li in 1992, and it kind of evolved from that. I didn’t try to make it an organisation. We had all these meetings about our principles of, you know, what we were going to do. And we put together all of the educational programs, which I described previously. But it started in that first meeting.

And there’s a beautiful piece of artwork there with all the animals surrounding the tree. But up the trunk of the tree is the baby, the mother and the child, the couple walking together, and then the eldest sitting with children, teaching. And then Carlie came to live down here and she’s picked it up and she’s the CEO. And I’m just walking away, letting things happen and watching things. So that’s been everywhere.

Carlie Atkinson Yeah those programs that Mum’s talking about, they started at community, and they ended up going to university. Right up to masters level. And then they were taken back out of university and they’ve come back down to community now. It’s actually done full circle. So I’m actually, as Mum said, the CEO of We Al-li but I’m working with it back at community. I did have a short stint of working with these programs within the university, but it’s actually back at the community level, which brings me to what We Al-li’s about is. It’s providing healing programs of a really strong trauma focus, academic trauma focus to it as well. That also acknowledges that the personal and professional is a really crucial element in anything we do. It’s not, you can’t just go and get a little tick box trauma informed care program done and say, yeah, I’ve done that. It has to be deeper than that. So all of our programs, and it’s our main aim, is when people sit in them, is that they understand that the personal and the professional have to be worked on at the same time. So essentially what I’m saying is if you come in and do them, you’ve got to do that that self-work. And if you experience some of the things that we do in that yourself, it feels quite embedded, then if you’re out there walking alongside other people doing this work, it comes from really known sense. So it’s it’s a deeper type of learning, so. And also, it’s you know, there is a traditional basis to it. It’s always done in circle. And there’s rituals and ceremonies along with that starting and finishing process.

Judy Atkinson And the community itself gave me the titles. So they’d come to me and say, we want to do stuff on loss and grief. We want to do stuff, we did a counselling unit. We want to do stuff on family violence, family recovery. We want to do stuff on conflict. We want. So they gave me the titles. My agreement was I would put a workshop together and we would run it. It cost us six dollars a night at the Haven and on Emu Park. And we would run it and then we were withdrawn and we’d sit and look at it. How did that work? Why it worked? Now, there were two theory bases I was working with. The first one was Paulo Freire work, you know, community based education. So I talked about it as being an indigenous critical pedagogy. So critical, being able to critique the work we were doing. Pedagogy, teaching, learning, and practice. But I also started to look at what education, where the word education came from. And I say to people, you know, so what do you know about education? We don’t even know the English that we use because English came from the Latin, from the Greek. So the word education comes from the Latin word educare educere. To draw out, from, to lead, to show the way, particularly for children. So I changed what we were doing to an edu-caring approach. The second part of that was, and I’ve just started to play with this now because I’ve been in, Carlie and I’ve been kind of in South Africa looking at historic trauma at their invitation. I’ve been in the United States and New Zealand and Timor and PNG.

So indigenous peoples internationally have been profoundly harmed. It’s not just Australia. Profoundly harmed, profoundly harmed by colonisation. And I’d like to say this so it’s recorded here. In fact, what we’re doing is we’re carrying the trauma stories of our colonisers. They sailed into Sydney Cove in 1788 with a whole lot of prisoners who’d been dislocated from their land to make way for sheep and cattle, and the evolution of the industrial revolution. So we’re we’re carrying their trauma. They’ve dumped it on us. And now if we don’t talk about it, then we’re the ones that are going to keep carrying it. So the next stage of what we’re doing in this thing called We Al-li is starting to unpack, and I was doing that this morning, what is an indigenous healing practice. Practice is the activity of something. Healing comes from the old Greek Norse word, hælan, and return to wholeness. So what is indigenous is deliberate, from the UN Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous people, what is an indigenous healing practice? And we’re practicing it. We’ve been doing it for a long time. So now I’m gonna write it up in a theory base. We are.

Carlie Atkinson So it directly addresses intergenerational trauma because if we can work, and it’s not just communities and organisations, families and sometimes mum has done workshops with families and really through that, educating about self. So you can understand what’s gone on and make some sense of the story. We’ve seen whole families as a group start to heal, and that means that those little jarjums, the little the kiddies coming up from that, they’re going to have elders around them, older people around them that have made some sense and therefore are more regulated in their behaviours. Yeah. And that directly, that’s and that’s where I’m really passionate about the concept of talking about intergenerational healing, because we’ve been talking about intergenerational trauma for so long now. I think the capacity there is already happening for intergenerational healing. That’s a real strengths-based way of looking at it to.

Rosie Schellen [00:35:20] Yeah. Thank you, Carlie. You were talking a little bit before about celebration and ceremony. Why is that so important in healing?

Carlie Atkinson Yeah, it’s a really good question. Mum, did you want to answer this?

Judy Atkinson Well, first of all, I mean, that’s embedded within an, in Aboriginal ceremonies and rituals, in bringing people together, community together for healing. You know, communal conflict management processes. Conflict resolution processes. Dance, music. The Prun, P-R-U-N, in central Queensland from Mackay up to Caldwell, was a ceremony for moving through conflict between the mobs, the groups. And so the first thing that would happen is the women would start to collect the food that they were going to feed people in that area. Runners would go out to the different groups to say, come in at a certain time, you know. Half a full moon, at a certain time. And they would come in and then they would sit around and and start to get themselves painted up. And at a certain time, just when the sun was starting to go down, there would be a quick short ceremony where each group would dance onto the ground, which had been prepared. Then the next group would dance onto the ground and the next group. And once that had happened. This is all war ground. Once that had happened, there was an agreement that no fighting, no abuse would happen of the ground. The next morning, they got down to real business. Now I’ve talked about food. They danced. Songs were sung. But they brought all the pain, the distress, they the things where people were worried about each other onto the ground. So the first group would dance on and the next ones behind them from their group, their mob I’ll call it, would come behind with the, they were the Chuckras they carried the spears because it was going to be a fight. And then there was the cheer squad. They would yell out, look at that man there! He’s hurting my sister, do something!

So everybody knew what was happening. There was no secrets about bad behaviour. And people would know, those who went on to the ground to dance, particularly the men. The women were the law keepers. They called men to account. The men were the law enforcers. So women’s voices were critical to this, to calling people to account. Now, that’s such the opposite to courts of law today, where women don’t have a voice at all. Food. Dance. Story. Lawful agreement to behave in certain ways. Certain levels of punishment but protection. Unless the one unforgivable is to harm a child. So sexual harm of a child meant that that fella would know who was going to stand up, or he’d been banished already, and he would get a spear. So there was but but, you know, what you call DV, domestic violence, was dealt with there. And everybody knew that that man was behaving badly. So those things are so important. Story. Country. Dancing. I’m talking about this is what Bruce Perry says is critical for [and it’s rhythmic and repetitive] indigenous healing, movement and repetitive. Like I said, every fortnight people got together, they did the same thing. The women got the food together. The men went out and hunted. So the food was there as they celebrated themselves in the way that they danced together and cleaned up conflict. Now, courts of law don’t give people a chance to even talk about that. But it’s healing.

Carlie Atkinson And in terms of like the workshops and I said ceremony and ritual, we try and include that in there because with that knowledge, knowing that a lot of ceremony, a lot of ritual is rhythmic and it is repetitive and it’s meaning making. So whatever the facilitators do in workshops or who have, when someone’s walking alongside someone with trauma, if you can show that and you can introduce more of that or bring back what’s already there, it actually changes the brain. It actually helps to regulate it.

Judy Atkinson And that’s research. That’s Bruce Perry’s stuff.

Rosie Schellen [00:39:14] Do you want to expand a little bit on that so that it gives our listeners a little bit better understanding?

Judy Atkinson Well, Perry has shown because, you know, he’s a he’s an expert in childhood trauma and he’s shown that when there is trauma, the brain kind of gets scrambled. So, in fact, in trauma, we’ve got the reptilian brain. And then just a little bit up into here, if you wiggle around here, you can start to move into and re, kind of push in hard, I can feel it at the moment, the mammalian brain, the feeling place. Not emotions. I’m talking about feelings here. Emotions are constructed. Feelings just come up quickly like that in half a second when we are. And then up here is the neocortex. People I’ve worked with never get up here to be able to think things through. They’re triggered over and over again. So they might flip from the feeling, oh, something’s going to happen here, to the reptilian brain was fight, flight, freeze. There’s two other Fs I like to talk about, too, particularly in disaster. And this is this is an emergency services work. Emergency services, people, the U.N. and things like that will go on looking for fluid. But unfortunately, the fluid that was brought to this country was grog, alcohol. So our mob think alcohol is going to mediate the distress. So fight, flight, freeze, fluid, but it goes down to alcohol of some kind, and friendship.

And I was just reading stuff on the number of, I forget which big organisation, Oxfam. They come out and they’re working in communities that are truly traumatised. They look for friendship. But very quickly, they’re creating babies. So it’s the F word. And that’s normal. That is normal. Because when you’ve had a fire go through a landscape, very quickly all the trees will start to regenerate. The animals will get into a frenzied activity of starting to procreate because this is survival. And we humans think we’re clever, so we don’t stop and think about what we’re doing after disaster. And we’ve been living with disaster, on disaster, on disaster. My great grandmother, Eliza Shields, had 17 children. And you go and talk to a lot of families whose grandmothers after, you know, three or four generations ago were having babies like you wouldn’t believe. And that’s normal for all living species to procreate, procreate. But we didn’t have all of the things around us to help us bring those children up. We were trying to survive. So the disaster. Does that make sense?

Rosie Schellen [00:41:49] Mmm yeah it does. it’s really interesting. Mm hmm.

Dana Shen We’ve been listening to part one of an interview with Judy and Carlie Atkinson, and we’ll be continuing the conversation in part two.

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


Narrator Visit our 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 Program.

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