Transcript for
Culturally informed trauma-integrated healing practice – part 2

Runtime 00:41:14
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 [00:01:02] Hi, I’m Rosie. Welcome back to the Listening of stories of healing podcast series. This is part two of our conversation with Judy and Carlie Atkinson. We will be exploring the valuable work Judy and Carlie are undertaking with organisations to embed culturally-informed and trauma integrated healing practices in their work. Carlie, did you want to talk to me about the work you were doing with We Al-li and Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal organisations?

Carlie Atkinson Both Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations and also mainstream organisations, but all the organisations that we work for, particularly the non-Indigenous, there’s obviously non-indigenous people working in those organisations. And so we do spend a lot of time running workshops with non-indigenous people who are working alongside or have some sort of area that that connects back to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. And I think that’s actually really important. And we make sure that we send in facilitators that are Aboriginal so they can talk from their own because we use story a lot, their own lived experience. And it’s quite enlightening. I suppose it’s you know, some people might even call it the beginning phases of cultural safety or cultural competence or cultural knowledge. But we entwine that with the trauma-based theory. So it’s incredibly enlightening for people that haven’t had any education in school about what it is to be an Aboriginal person. What the history is. That’s also part of what we do before we start to get into the trauma stuff. We ground it in the history. And of course, we do that more with non-indigenous people so they’ve got a context to what that trauma looks like, particularly over the generations. And for some people and actually for a lot of people, it’s actually the first time they’ve heard the actual proper history. And it’s very [even for our own people]. Yeah. [Even for Aboriginal people]. Yeah. And it really is quite confronting but I think it’s really important that we work alongside indigenous and non-indigenous people. We need to do this together. We need to walk together. And we can’t assume there there’s known knowledge because it’s certainly not taught enough in school.

Rosie Schellen [00:03:11] That is so true, Carlie. You spoke earlier about cultural competence and cultural safety. Do you want to explain this to our listeners a little bit about what cultural safety looks like? What does it feel like?

Carlie Atkinson Let Mum answer this because she started to really unpack that at the beginning of the We Al-li programs, and she then moved that up to the concept of cultural fitness.

Judy Atkinson So I get really kind of itchy when I hear people talking about cultural awareness. We got to work well beyond cultural awareness now and it’s the preferred term of a lot of government organisations who say, you know, we’ve just gotta do some cultural awareness training and you can do it online for an hour. That is bullshit. So cultural sensitivity is kind of starting to be sensitive to the differences in cultures. Even the differences in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures. So let’s just put Torres Strait Islander people aside for a while. Even the differences in Aboriginal cultures because there’s a big difference between Bundjalung compared to being up in the Kimberleys, compared to being in Central Australia, compared to being in Tasmania. Because culture is a living entity. So in Tasmania, you’ve had the sealers come in and abduct the women and put them on. And so the culture that is there continues in that interaction between these abusive sealers and what’s happening on people in Tasmania now. So that’s safety, the sensitivity and safety is about that. So how do you create safety in a room? So we come up with a whole set of principles for participation, which we actually have people negotiate. That then brings us to the level of competency.

Judy Atkinson But the big one for me is being fit. And it happened at the airport the other day. There was a lady standing in front of me and she said she’d just flown in from Central Australia and she’s a nurse and she goes out to communities. And I told her, what I do. Now I didn’t say I’m an Aboriginal person, so she would have assumed I’m a non-Aboriginal person. So she immediately told me some pretty horrible horror stories about sexual activities in a community that I knew. And I know that’s not happening there. Being culturally fit is a) being fit in ourselves to not take on stories that actually don’t belong there. That’s one thing. Or to question stories. And don’t go into a crises when you suddenly find something like the stories we’ve been sharing today. Being fit is, and I’ll go back, I won’t name the community, to knowing that in that particular community there is a long history of sexual violence by white men on Aboriginal kids. It goes back four to five generations. So being culturally fit and this happens with government departments, with the police, with government workers, oh you know, this kid’s behaviour is just part of this community. No, it’s not. It’s located in history and is located in the colonisation of that place, which is continuing today. Colonisation has not finished.

Judy Atkinson So being culturally fit is being strong enough to ask the hard questions. And I like to joke about and not let your face go into an absolute kind of like holy, when you hear something and it shocks you.

Carlie Atkinson So it’s being responsive, isn’t it? [Yeah]. So. [And being able to hold]. I mean sometimes talk about being culturally responsive. So that’s actually really important. It’s moving beyond cultural awareness, cultural sensitivity, even including cultural competence and actually being fit, being responsive to what’s happening.

Judy Atkinson But not putting blame on the stories you’re hearing, because that’s what’s happening in just about every place I’m working. There is K2, the Kimberleys by non-Aboriginal workers, oh, do you know what’s been happening here? And they don’t look any further than what’s happening here now. So being fit is being willing to go back and really hear the hard stories and know that they may come from, now I’m talking as though I’m a non-Aboriginal person, it may come from my culture, it may come. And this is the Territory in particular in the 2007 intervention. Don’t blame the kids on the street in that town. Go back and dig under the service and find those things. So being responsive is actually allowing, not allowing your prejudices, your lack of willingness to look deeply at yourself.

Carlie Atkinson But it’s also up to us going back to that, because I I still do like the concept of creating cultural safety. It is up to us, for example, in the work that we do, you know, as an example, workshops is actually creating that safety. So it’s up to, for example, facilitators in this context to go in and make sure sometimes the very practical things are done around what safety looks like. So it could be an environmental thing. How is the room set up? Is there ways people can get out of the room if they need to? Is there a sense of harmony within the room, you know, you got horrible noises going on or fluorescent light sometimes can really tick people off.

Judy Atkinson Or two people working together so the facilitator at that time keeps holding space where she just nods to the co-facilitator who follows a person who’s just gone out. Those kinds of thing.

Carlie Atkinson Having food and water there and good food. So sometimes it’s little stuff too. But those little stuff make the place feel safe. And as Mum said, you know, agreed upon principles, values that, you know, you’ve worked out yourself that you’re not going to do. For example, what’s in what’s said in the room stays in the room. That if someone. [Or not close down a conversation if you’re uncomfortable]. Yeah if someone actually brings up something that’s incredibly uncomfortable and it makes you uncomfortable, you don’t close that down. That kind of silencing. Oh, we can’t talk about that. Oh, that makes me feel uncomfortable so you should stop talking about that, actually creating.

Judy Atkinson Or this is not the right place to talk about something. [Yeah]. It’s always right place.

Carlie Atkinson And that’s when you work with kids exactly the same. It’s just not shutting down the reality of the lived experience and cultural safety for kids. And I was talking to you earlier before about a school where they pretty much dismantled and rebuilt the classroom. They made it culturally safe.

Rosie Schellen [00:09:24] Do you wanna describe that classroom? Give us a visual picture of what that looks like.

Carlie Atkinson Just beautiful. So it was a normal school classroom at, you know, desks all lined in a row, you know, fairly boring little classroom. They pulled the entire classroom apart. They put beanbags in there. They put wiggled chairs, bright colours. They made special little spots in teepees where people could go and have time out if they felt like time out. They would, they created themes, regular themes. And one of them was a jungle theme. And they decorated the whole room with, with animals related to the jungle that were hanging there. The kids then pretended to be those animals for that week, or two weeks I think it was on. It became a lounge room. It became a safe space. Yeah. A gorgeous, fun, happy, safe space. It wasn’t this regimental classroom setting, which is not actually necessary. And this is, these are primary school kids. And that’s what kids need. They need to be able to feel that way. And the change with just that environmental change, not to mention all the other amazing changes that were happening with the teachers and how they were talking with the kids, just the environmental change made an enormous amount of difference. So when I said before, they might be little things, but they’re big things. A space has to feel comfortable and appropriate.

Judy Atkinson I actually saw one of the worst instances of racism that I can remember with the, my companion was Judy Knox. And she said, oh I’ll just go down and get us some food. And she walked into the shop. This is what I was told later. And then she came back to me and her head was down and she was like, really distressed. She said, they won’t serve me. Now she’s clearly an Aboriginal woman who looks like, you know, an a Pitjantjatjara woman. And I said, what do you mean they won’t serve you? She said they’re just ignoring me. I’m standing there and they’re ignoring me. So I said, come on. So I walked into the shop with her. And they immediately looked at me and said, can I help you? And I said, yes, you can. My work companion here and a colleague at the university, I was being a bitch, has just come in here to get our dinner but apparently, for some reason, you’re unable to serve her so I come in to see why we can’t get food. Now, would you please serve her?

Rosie Schellen [00:11:36] Carlie, is this is an experience you’ve had before?

Carlie Atkinson We were in Meekatharra and we’d just arrived there and Grandpop took me in to, we’d probably only been there two days, we walked into a shop and I would say within five minutes I was separated from him by the shopkeepers. And he was a big man, big hands. I remember looking out the shop door thinking, why is Grandpop standing over there? And he looks really small all of a sudden. Yeah, they had assumed that this black man had taken this little, what looks like a white girl, off him. Yeah, I remember that at five. That really clearly just thinking I’m a different colour to my Grandpop. Hadn’t even considered it before. And that’s how he was treated.

Judy Atkinson This is an embodiment and it’s in the embodiment of our people right across the country. That the shame and I’m using that word a lot now, the embodiment of shame. Had a long talk to Judy about this, she said, oh shame, is an Aboriginal, you know, it’s the way we describe things. [Because I’d never seen Grandpop’s shame before]. I said, no, this is this is a product of colonisation. Do not dimiss it as just being, oh, you know, oh, shame, shame job. Nup, that’s not what it is. It’s the embodiment of deep shame.

Rosie Schellen [00:12:47] Thank you for that, Judy. Carlie, do you want to talk to me a little bit, if you’re working with a non-Aboriginal organisation and you were trying to give them tools to be culturally responsive and culturally safe? What are the things that you would be looking at?

Carlie Atkinson Yeah, look, first up it’d be about taking them on a journey of self-reflection and we have a number of different activities and they’re quite confronting. And I won’t talk about the details of the activity because sometimes that can be a bit traumatic in itself. But, you know, everyone in the room agrees to do they have been, you know, they have permission. Or they give us permission to do that. So firstly, we would actually get them to look at themselves. Locate themsevles. And then locate themselves within the history that they’re now being told. Because it’s incredibly important for them to understand that. Mum, you, I can see Mum in the side, corner of my eye.

Judy Atkinson No, no, no I’m just smiling. The number of white women who’ve just burst into tears and cried and. This woman come in and she was a non-Aboriginal woman and she started to cry and say, how terrible history was and, you know, and it was like she was taking power away from everybody in that room. And I said, well, I’ll just give you one prescription, look at yourself and do something about that. You can’t change the world, but you can change you and then you will be able to hold the space for others. So it’s about not playing, and I’m being harsh here, not playing victim. Taking power away from the people who really need to have the work done. And I see that a lot. You know, non-Aboriginal workers employed, being paid three times as much as an Aboriginal worker would be paid, or working with them because their volunteer, and then they kind of get all kind of sooky and sorry, and go, oh this is terrible, you know. History is terrible. Look what it’s done to you poor people. And I’m thinking, get over it. You’ve got a job to do here. You’re being paid to do this job. Look at yourself. What is happening in you, where you’re playing the victim. When victims have been named for you in this place here now. The children, the young people. What are we as a collective going to do about that?

Carlie Atkinson Yeah, that’s that’s actually, there is a lot of looking after in organisations. There might be only, for example, an organisation might be 50 people in that organisations and two Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander people working in that organisation. They end up having to hold all the other workers. And that load, that cultural load is just too much. And that’s something that we found. We did a project a little while ago that lasted two years right across Australia with all the Aboriginal family violence and prevention legal services and the non-Aboriginal workers within those organisations. Really good people. But they were having to be held by the Aboriginal workers and and the Aboriginal workers were looking after community, family, doing their own job and also doing that. So going back to what you’re saying is very much about locating it in history. Doing some practical activities where it really starts to kind of hit home what this is about. But from an empathetic connection. Yeah? Because whether you are Aboriginal or non-Aboriginal, there is something that someone can connect in to, whether it’s loss, grief, pain. Whatever it might be, we do find a way so there’s a connection.

Carlie Atkinson Remember we’re all sitting in circle and generally there’s Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people sitting in that circle. And so using that circle, us not being the experts in facilitating that process, everyone in that circle are the expert. So that sharing of stories and the non-indigenous people will start to share there’s too, and connect in. And then there’s a relationship built between that. So it’s really important in the work that we do. We actually build the relationships between indigenous and non-indigenous through locating it in history. And then actually feeling it through activities.

Judy Atkinson So there’s a slightly different part of that as well. So it may be the lawyer or lawyers who are feeling very disempowered because the system itself has disempowered them. So that’s a connecting theme between us all. Yeah, well, you know, you got this degree in law and your our legal person here. And so, yeah, you’re feeling like you can’t win a trick when you go into court. Yeah. So how about the two of us or all of us get together and we start to hit the judges and the magistrates about changing this system? Because the system itself is enabling the violence, the abuse, the trauma.

Carlie Atkinson That’s what that lawyer, for example, what Mum’s saying about, and in relation to what I was saying before about some of the services that we’re working with out, particularly in remote, that non-indigenous lawyer, I’m just talking in general. So she might be young. She just finished her degree and now all of a sudden she’s working out in the remote community and the supports aren’t there. And so the Aboriginal people, they hold that. But the organisation itself has set her up to fail. They have not given her the tools to be in that situation and then continue to be in that situation. So and that’s what Mum was talking about. And We Al-li’s really strong about and, I think, there’s a lot of organisations now that realise that systems transformation needs to happen. It’s one thing saying that you’re trauma-informed, but you need to be trauma-integrated. The whole system. The, you know, the policies, the procedures, everything that you have within that organisation has to reflect that trauma knowledge. For your staff as well. You’ve gotta look after your staff. And so you don’t go and plunk some new graduate out on a remote community without any of the skills or any of that support, and that’s self-support too, knowing, which is a reflective process. It’s, I really feel for those lawyers that have been put in those situations.

Judy Atkinson But let me just draw this out a bit further. I think it’s important for the kids. And I’ve written stuff about this so I can give you copies of this. It’s actually in one of our packages. So a lawyer that I’ve been doing work with the lawyers in the legal services. So this lawyer rings me and says so-and-so is going to court on Monday, you know, whatever. Would you be able to write a psychological assessment on her? And I said, no. What we need is to get the police records so that I can actually write a report to the courts that the legal system, the policing system failed her totally. She was up on a charge of hitting her ex with her, he wasn’t her ex, with a stick, with a baton. And so I went through five hundred pages and condensed it down to five page, ten, nine pages for the magistrate. So the lawyer went, wow. You know, I mean, I hadn’t even looked at this. Because I’d done the lost history map with the woman. It goes into court and the magistrate says, wow, can I get a similar report on him? Because they hadn’t charged him. They’d charged her. The police were now labelling her as a nuisance caller and she was running from him all the time. So his violence on her was dramatic. Now so I’m bringing the kids in. She was terrified of what he could do to the kids because he was a drinker. And when he he had put out that that he now had legal custody of the kids, which was a lie, and the police had written up in the reports that it was a lie. But he was a drinker where he got people into drink and the girls were there. Their nine and twelve year-old girl was there all the time. So she was terrified of their sexual safety. Now well, now I’ll go back to the lawyer. She was going, wow. And she felt so good when the magistrate commended her on how she went in to draw out some other elements of this case. Dismissed the case. Sent sent the young woman home again. But then asked why the police had not had him in and charged him for his breaching.

Judy Atkinson So the police had acted really badly. I’m talking policing. I’m talking the law, let’s put the lawyers here. The lawyer has asked for help, like give me a psychological assessment. Because she feels disempowered going into the court and having to speak to the magistrate. I do an assessment of what the police did not do well, which then calls for the police in that place to, in that state or the territory, to actually be re-educated. It goes in front of the magistrate. The magistrate goes, wow, I want records here. The magistrate then says that we’ll dismiss this this charge, but we need more of these because we need to be able to send people to programs, not to prison. She spent nine months in prison on remand until she got up to court. So it’s it’s a complexity in it, but it means that we ourselves need to think about how we’re going to respond to a request. Give me a psychological assessment. Why should I give a psychological assessment to a woman that the system itself has failed? Then I built the sense of competency in the lawyer. She was so pleased. And the magistrate, I educated the magistrate. These are all part of it.

Carlie Atkinson This comes back again to that, well systems transformation is gonna require that when people that work in any human service related activities, whether you’re lawyers, whether you’re working, you know, obvious ones, whether it’s counselling, that the actual systems need to change. And people that have those jobs, they have to be really thoroughly trauma informed and trauma integrated. Because you’re basically sending them out there without the skills. And that’s not helpful for them. But it’s also not helpful for the people they’re walking alongside. It really sets people up for failure.

Carlie Atkinson So, you know, with this lawyer that Mum just talked about in that story, she had a bit of a light bulb moment. It’s like, well, they didn’t teach me this in law school. But, you know, when you think about it, you know, lawyers are working directly with people that are more than likely traumatised or have complex trauma. So that should be a not not an elective in law. It should be actually a core requirement. And with doctors, too, and nurses. Anyone working alongside people. It shouldn’t be something that you just, oh I might, I might train in that stuff after. it should be core.

Rosie Schellen [00:22:49] That is so true. There are so many learnings that should be core material. How would you bring all of that learning together?

Judy Atkinson I’m gonna come back to where, New South Wales where we’re the living. And we were, I was pulling my hair out. Margaret Hayes, who I worked with beautifully. We knew that we had to do something more. And the police were failing. So I started to find good police who would respond to the needs of children. And then somebody at a high level in the police in New South Wales decided to reinforce and to endorse that this was something they had to do. So right throughout western New South Wales, we’ve been working with a really good group of policemen and women who are doing some great stuff.

Judy Atkinson However, and this is, so we had a disclosure of a young person that there had been sexual abuse in a situation. And I knew from previous experience because one of the stories that we’d sharing, and I can’t remember whether it was the lyrebird one or the one of these, that sometimes the police come in and they don’t actually do a good interview with me. So the young person might take off. But in this case, what I did is we got talking on the phone, Margaret Hayes and I and I said, right, I’m gona make sure they do it right this time. So I rang the head guy and I said, do you know what? This is your chance to show that you can really do a good job here. So he sent his second in charge who came in that region in a pair of daggy old jeans and a T-shirt, sat on the floor with the young father and said, you know, well, how do you feel about them coming in? Because, you know, once they come in with their interview apparatus, their recording gear it’s very, very formal. I’ve sat through a number of those with young people. And they can’t legally engage in trying to draw stuff out. But he sat on the floor with the young fella and a young fella said, yeah yeah, I’ll do it. And then they came in a few days later and they set up all the equipment and they did a brilliant interview. The young fella finished and he got and he walked to the door and he turned and he looked at them and he patted himself on the chest. He says, I’ll call him Billy because that’s my Dad’s name. Billy, you did it right. You told the truth. Hah, that feels so good. That’s all he said. And he walked away.

Judy Atkinson Now, the outcome of that is that he went back to a place where he had named the offender, who was then interviewed and charged and is now in remand in prison for his sexual offences and the drug dealing that he does. But he uses that to negotiate sex with kids as well. But that young fella decided to go home to that particular place. And he started to talk to other young people about giving evidence to the police. And every single child that he spoke to, a young person in that area up to 14 years of age, had been so offended by that, had been offended against by that man. So now there’s another investigation happening. So my choice is to work with, find good cops. Find good police, find good and work with them.

Carlie Atkinson There’s some really good people working in the police. So in answer to your question, the first thing that came up for me was building trust. And how do we build trust? We build relationships. And that’s exactly that example she gave. So that that police officer took off all the paraphernalia which could be triggering and had daggy old jeans on and that. And he sat down the ground as a human to human. Building a relationship. And so that says yeah. So the more that we work with the police officers and they need the training, too, and a lot of them are getting the training. And enlighten them around what you know, what trauma is, what complex trauma is, what the history is, different ways that we can work with people that’s not going to re-trigger them or you know. So we want to resist, obviously, re-traumatising people in that process, which can happen a lot with interviews. I think we can work really well and side by side and build that trust. But yeah, I mean the police force certainly has with our mob ah, you know, a reputation. And it’s, you know, for good reason. And it’s happened over a long time. But we’ve just got to keep building that. And my cousin Mark, for example, he he was, was he a detective at some stage?

Judy Atkinson He was the lead detective on ah, investigative detective on child harm in Cape York. And he did it for 12 years and nearly went under and decided to make a change. [Oh, it’s too much.] He yeah, he saw the deaths of children and things that were really tragic. He’s now a school-based police officer. He negotiated what he’s doing and he takes young people out on canoe trips, hikes, 10 day hikes, you know. So he’s actually building and [he’s building the relationships] he knows that country really well. Yeah, but it’s not just the police we’ve got to build relationships with. It’s doctors or it’s social workers. It’s psychologists who are rigid in what they’ve been taught when they go through university. And we’re opening up because the whole trauma story is just unfolding. It’s not there. They weren’t told about it, but it’s choosing to work with them.

Carlie Atkinson And it’s and as I said before, it’s knowing that those skills, if they become core within all of those professions and others, that it actually gives, it helps, it helps that worker. Yes, it’s of benefit for them so they know what’s going on, how to respond. Because I think sometimes the responses by various professions is just not knowing what to do. And so it does come across as not not useful. But it’s a lack of knowledge too.

Rosie Schellen [00:28:18] Carlie, you spoke earlier of a worker, Margaret, who does some amazing work. What is it that she brings that makes that possible?

Judy Atkinson I’ve asked her that question many times and she says, Judy, the ingredient is just to love them. They might be the most crazy little hairy-arsed kids doing horrible things. But she says you see beyond that and you know that there’s something driving this behaviour. Love them because they will smell it on you. They will know it deep in their heart. And I see kids run up to her when they see her three or four years later and just run up to her and get her the biggest, Aunty Margie, Aunty Margie, you know, just come out of detention, juvenile detention or some place. She just went back to where she works and she went down to the PCYC to see the kids, because the police are now working on the weekend to keep the kids safe by running stuff with the community over the weekend when the drugs hit town, right. And these, she walked in and these kids who everybody would claim as the worst bunch of kids you could ever think in your life. Saw her and they just went crazy. They ran up to her. They were calling out, Aunty Margie, Anuty Margie. I love you. I love you, you know. And they were cuddling her and and because she loves them. Bottom line.

Judy Atkinson That’s something we crave in ourselves. The second thing is, and I’ve got, she and I’ve got a host of stories that she’s shared with me. Kids do some crazy things. They’re starving. She knew that on, after she she was there a little while. She knew on the Friday afternoon that they would start to get really agitated in their behaviour because she knew and they knew, not because they could articulate it that on the weekend, the drugs hit town. So it’s going to be crazy where they live. So their starting to get angsty. So she would find ways of working with them to settle them down, knowing that on Monday all, it would get really crazy again when they came to school because they’d been acting out what they had seen or what had happened to them on the weekend.

Judy Atkinson She provided food for them. Now, other people might think this is wrong, but knowing that there was no food in the house, the money was going on drugs. Because this town has been targeted by the drug dealers. She kept the kids safe. She would watch the kids behaviour. And there’s a story of a little fellow who had seen his mother stabbed a number of times, quite a lot of times. And he came into school this day and he’d stolen the knife from telecom. He had this big knife. And he was running around with it and I would say to her, well tell me what you did? Because he’s, the whole school’s gone into lockdown because he’s got this big carving knife or this big knife that cuts, you know, cord. What did you do? And I love this story. So she’s very calm. The school’s in shut down because she has to. Because she’s school principal and he’s running around in a frantic energy in the playground with this knife. She walks without looking at him. She walks a little way away from him, and she’s walking along gently and she says, I always knew you wanted to be a ninja. And it kind of pulled him out, he was in a dissociated state with this knife. He had just seen his mother stabbed the night before and he stopped enough for her to continue. Now, throw, show me how you can throw that knife so it stands up in the ground. And he kind of shook his head a bit because he’s still in a slightly dissociated state. And then he threw the knife. Now, if it had been me I’d have raced over and grabbed the knife. She said, you were really good, but you didn’t quite do it. Go and pick the knife up and try again. He goes. He throws the knife again. Now, this time, he’s coming out of his disassociated state and he’s starting to engage with her and he throws it the second time. But it’s still kind of leaning over a bit. And she says, you know what? You’re going to be a pretty good ninja. I think you’ve got it. So the first time she just reinforced that he was great. Had the possibility to be, you know, a great ninja. The second time and he throws the knife, she says, yeah, but you’re not quite there. And then he looks at her now he’s connected to her. And she says, come on, you can do it. I want you to throw that knife so it stands up in the ground. He throws the knife. He’s fully engaged. She says, yep, you are a ninja. Now, will you pick the knife up and bring it over to me please. And he walked over and picked the knife up and gave it to her.

Judy Atkinson Now, I wish that all police knew how to disarm somebody in that way. What it is with her is she, I’ve said to her, how do you do this? First of all, she’s really calm. And she has such deep love for these children, even when they’re little ratbags. And then she works out a way that she’s not going to confront him, but she’s engaging with some part of him here that’s thinking enough to hear her words. She also knew him enough to know that he wants to be a ninja. So she able, she brought that to his attention. And then she allowed him to disarm himself. Every time she called the police or the fire people in to engage with the kids when they got on the roof and were doing bad things, it ended in a disaster.

Carlie Atkinson What is beautiful about this particular teacher, and lots of teachers actually, that work with kids, if they if there is a really genuine love and this particular teacher has his sayings, some trees need more water. Just coming from that place. And the ability to be calm yourself, as Mum was talking about. Because if you’re not calm yourself, you’re going to escalate. So if you’re going to de-escalate a situation, if you’re heightened yourself, and we know that just from our interactions with other human beings. If we’re going up in energy, then it’s just you just got no chance with kids. They are smart. So you’ve got to bring your energy right down and then make that connection, as Margie did. But, yeah, that that concept of genuine love and genuine care, because they’ll see you coming from a mile off. And kids who’ve had, you know, a bit of a hard time, they are incredibly perceptive. Remembering they’re, you know, they’re hypervigilant in the senses around them. So they will pick up B.S. straightaway.

Rosie Schellen [00:34:37] Thank you for that, Carlie. So in parting, what wisdom would you provide if you’re mentoring a non-Aboriginal person?

Carlie Atkinson Well, I’m going to say one thing, there’s many things but I think the most important thing is take the time to build real relationships with whoever you’re working with or walking alongside. That goes for a colleague, someone that’s a client, if that’s the preferred term. But take the time to build the relationship. You can’t rush that. And if you can do that, then the safety and everything after that will flow and that will flow naturally.

Judy Atkinson I’m just thinking of kids, and I think that we as adults have to get on the floor with kids and play with kids. That we never have a judgement about their behaviour but inside our head we’re saying, what’s behind this behaviour? This behaviour is telling us stories. Be prepared then to follow those stories. Be prepared to be the growly lion with them. Be prepared to be the snake crawling across the floor and pretending with them. It’s kind of, it takes you out of being that kind of big adult who thinks they know everything. You know, I love how Bruce Perry talks about sitting alongside the child on the floor where she’s been in a distressed situation and he’s drawing and she’s drawing. And then finally, when she’s ready, she says to talk to him and he starts to talk to her.

Judy Atkinson That applies to communities as well. It applies to children in schools. It applies, I would change the education system so we gave teachers the capacity to be the growly lion with the child as the child is getting rid of all of the energy that’s gone in over the evening when dad’s come home drunk or something or things aren’t so good. The other thing that I would be doing is letting people know, and universities, have gotta change I’d say by that. But letting people know that actually if you’re willing to get down at the level of where it’s happening, they’ve got all of the tools they need in themselves. Don’t be frightened of making mistakes. Mistakes we made make are our best learning. So keep making the mistakes when you’re on the floor with the kid being that whatever, the snake, the growly, or whatever. But also know your theory to your practice. Know the theory back to front and inside out. So when you hit with a situation that’s kind of like, you know, how the hell are you going to get out of it? Your mind just kicks back into the safety of the theory. This is happening here now. And if I stay with this story, we’re going to get to where we need to go, because I trust that child. I trust that person. They know where they need to go, but they’ve never been given permission to do this.

Judy Atkinson We’re in the most massive change process. We’ve just had the fires. Fire! Anger! Like cleansing country. Amazing. And then we’ve had water. Water, grief, you know. Cleaning. Regenerating and things like that. I believe totally from being an old woman who’s a bit grumpy that we’re in a major change process. Indigenous peoples have the answers to, not just the Australian nation, but around the world when we come together. And we need to with respect, listen and learn from each other. We have the capacity to heal this country in a truth telling. And it’s not a truth telling driven by government. In our own communities, on the ground. When we start listening to our kids, to our grannies, their kids and then our little kids today, we know that this country has failed, the First Peoples of this country and Australians, generally. We’re talking about all sorts of other people as well as the Forgotten Generations, the establishment, you know, the removal of children. The prisons. We’re just building more prisons. I just want to say it again. We have a major capacity and amazing capacity to change this country. We were established as a penal colony at 1788. Those prison hulks brought into this country all of the trauma, all the pain, all of the distress that came out of England from the prisons there. And the Marines and the others that came, and others came after that from different parts of the world with their trauma. So they’ve brought their trauma into this country and we’re the ones that are holding it and we’re hurting ourselves as we hold it. If we do a truth telling. Country, community, family by family, and then looked for the healing ways that we can work together, we can change this country.

Judy Atkinson If you gave me a magic wand right now, what I would do is I would go down to all of the young people in our communities, each one of them separately. And I’d say, listen, I want you to put a play on for me. I’m just going to give you a theme. The theme could be The Wizard of Oz or it could be Australia, past, present and future. Let’s call it Australia past, present and future. I want you to put this play on and we’re going to get all the community to come and watch after you’ve put this play on. You’ve got to make a song. You’ve got to do a dance. you’ve gotta do your costumes. But you’re the people who’ve, your group, your teenage group, have gotta put the play together. So then you run it for that community and they will be as raw and as hard as you could possibly think. I’ve seen that, you know, I had. And then they put behind the screen, a flimsy screen, the behind that in this play, they acted out the parents fighting and what the kids saw.

Judy Atkinson What I would do once I’d done that in this place, I would have all of these others and then I would put on in a region those plays. So everybody watched it. And then I would take it down to the capital cities or the districts and have everybody watch it. And so all the kids were telling us, all the young people were telling us past, present, and future Australia. What is it we want? And then I would bring them together in Canberra and I would make the politicians watch these plays by our kids to give them a voice on where they want to go, past, present and future.

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


Narrator Visit our website 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 Program.

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