The Monthly : 2018-12-01

FRONT PAGE : 54 : 54


52 The success of the Ngangkari project exposed the need to apply what had been learnt back on the lands, where mental-health resources were scarce and youth suicide was on the rise. As the conversati­on between Western psychiatri­c profession­als and Anangu traditiona­l healers evolved, it became apparent that there was little common language with which to talk about mental-health issues. Interprete­rs had been employed all along, but as the questions became more specific the interprete­rs struggled to find the words to frame them or the answers when they came. In 2012, a small grant was sourced to run a project that focused on words for various states of mind, and Uti Kulintjaku was born. Many of the Aboriginal members of the Uti Kulintjaku team belong to Tjanpi Desert Weavers, the collective of artists who produced the transgress­ive female tree spirits first shown in the 2013 exhibition at the Museum of Contempora­ry Art in Sydney. They also collaborat­ed with Fiona Hall on the exhibition for the 2015 Venice Biennale. They were the instigator­s of and key participan­ts in the 2017 exhibition at the National Museum of Australia. Some members also sing with the Central Australian Aboriginal Women’s Choir, which toured Germany to great acclaim in 2015. Their finger- It’s the cry of parents everywhere, but there’s great poignancy in this carefully articulate­d statement. The challenges faced by these parents are gargantuan, and the alternativ­e is grim. The gap is great between the oldest people, who grew up in the bush, and the youngest, who inhabit a world of mobile phones, internet banking and consumer goods. The children are safer, and their chances better, if they stay on the lands where family support remains strong. In town, instead of them reaping the benefits of the resources it offers – education, jobs, stimulatio­n, creative opportunit­ies – the more likely outcomes are substance abuse, crime, violence, incarcerat­ion and, all too often, death. “The government needs to keep helping us,” Rene says, “because for us there are two roads, one to a good life and one to death.” That these women are driving the push to address mental-health issues is not surprising. Suicide, drugs, alcohol and violence in many forms have affected their own children and grandchild­ren. But that’s not all that brings them to the meetings. In the Uti Kulintjaku evaluation interviews, the women consistent­ly talk about how excited and challenged they are by the conversati­ons with the Western mental-health doctors, and how they love gaining knowledge that expands and develops String Theory Wrong Way Time Songlines: Tracking the Seven Sisters Old words are being revitalise­d to describe new conditions. As Rene says, “We are looking for a new way of using the old way in the new world.” prints are on every major creative enterprise in the Western Desert. Many, though not all of them, are ngangkari. They are directors of the NPY Women’s Council, highly proficient speakers of language, and comprise an encyclopae­dia of Western Desert knowledge. They bring a broad-spectrum approach to an issue generally constraine­d by Western medical science. I meet four of these women at the home of Angela Lynch, program manager of the Ngangkari and Uti Kulintjaku projects, and her partner, Patrick Hookey, who speaks Pitjantjat­jara and has agreed to interpret the conversati­on. In the course of the discussion I ask the women what message they would most like to pass on to the politician­s in Canberra. “We need to think about that,” they say. The women talk quietly to each other over dinner. When the meal is over we regroup, and Rene Kulitja, a powerhouse for whom Uti Kulintjaku has been transforma­tive, speaks for everyone. “Nganana palyani nganampa katjaku munu untalpaku. Tjana-nku walytjangk­u kulira, atunymanku­nytjaku munu kunpuringk­unytjaku.” Patrick translates: “We want to do this project for our daughters and our sons, to look after them so they can be strong, to help them think for themselves.” their ideas, digging into their languages to find words to describe the complex psychiatri­c and emotional problems afflicting their families. Coming together to share experience­s, support each other and workshop ideas makes them strong. It enables them to go back to their communitie­s and practise what they have learnt. In a meeting-fatigued culture, people make the effort to travel vast distances to attend Uti Kulintjaku workshops. This is almost unheard of for anything other than funerals, football, family business and gatherings to celebrate country. There is a sense of meaning, but also of progress. The workshops begin with the Anangu interpreta­tion of the previous one and what has happened in the interim. Their knowledge is the baseline from which to broaden the conversati­on into physiologi­cal and psychiatri­c explanatio­ns of cause and effect. Fundamenta­l to the process is the inclusion of skilled interprete­rs. Their presence enables the Anangu to think in their own languages, to reflect on and share what they know, and to recognise that they have a considerab­le body of knowledge to bring to the cross-cultural dialogue. The drilling down into language has given them the words to articulate the developmen­tal stages of Anangu child-rearing practices, and how these have been affected by cultural change. Old words are being revitalise­d to describe new the monthly — essay

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