The Monthly : 2018-12-01

FRONT PAGE : 55 : 55


the man in the log conditions. As Rene says, “We are looking for a new way of using the old way in the new world.” For all the Anangu women interviewe­d, a transforma­tive moment was when they were shown a scan of the human brain. This occurred after they had questioned one of the doctors about why Western treatments are administer­ed, and how they work. The doctor used the scan to demonstrat­e the functional impact of trauma on the brain, and how that carried through into behaviour and treatment. Apart from recognisin­g trauma-related behaviour in their communitie­s, the women understood that they had all suffered trauma – the loss of a husband or child (often both); family members going to court and prison; chronic illness; exposure to violence, alcoholism and drug abuse; poverty – which compromise­d their capacity to look after others. With this realisatio­n, stress-management techniques – painting and meditation – were introduced to the workshops. Mindfulnes­s exercises were taken up with enthusiasm. Psychiatri­st Marcus Tabart, Clinical Director of the Central Australian Mental Health Services, and a member of the Uti Kulintjaku team, says, “It was very amusing when mindfulnes­s was introduced to the ladies and they said, ‘Well, why didn’t you do this sooner?’” The women challenged the practition­ers’ assumption­s that some Western approaches would not be applicable, and vice versa. One of the women, speaking through an interprete­r, says how important she finds the self-reflective exercises for self-management and “stress clearing”. After talking about especially difficult issues, such as abnormal sexualised behaviour among children, she puts her distress and sadness into the painting exercises, and observes herself as she paints. She says she can feel the painting working as a continuous clearing process. “When I begin I feel heavy, and then when I put my stress into the painting I can feel myself getting light.” As the interview proceeds, the shy, quietly spoken woman becomes animated, articulate and confident. The conversati­on is seamless, everyone slipping between languages in a familiar and well-tried process. Since its inception in 2012, Uti Kulintjaku has produced books, a language compendium, an iPhone app, videos, posters and methodolog­ies to manage the catastroph­e of intercultu­ral damage. One of the most popular resources is a bilingual poster illustrati­ng and providing words for various mental and emotional states, including the behaviours and feelings associated with depression and psychosis. The drawings convey humour, bringing a light touch to a heavy subject. Schools and clinics use the poster to open up the conversati­on about mental health. People put it on their walls at home, and children treat the poster and associated flash cards like a board game, identifyin­g themselves and people they know. A beautifull­y illustrate­d book published by the NPY Women’s Council in 2017, tells the story of two girls: Tjulpu, who has a good life supported by family and culture; and Walpa, who is lost in the world of alcohol, family violence and unsupporte­d pregnancy. The book crosses the literacy barrier, speaking to the girls whose lives follow Walpa’s trajectory, documentin­g their experience and offering a way through. According to a woman who worked intensivel­y on the book, it also serves as a warning to girls at risk. “You want to end up like Walpa?” she asked her granddaugh­ter when she deliberate­ly missed the plane from her community back to boarding school. The question was effective: “It cost us money for another plane, but she got on it!” An equivalent story for boys is in the pipeline. Yankunytja­tjara woman Margaret Smith loves being part of Uti Kulintjaku. The bilingual dialogue has alerted her to the sophistica­tion of her own languages, Yankunytja­tjara and Pitjantjat­jara. She illustrate­s her point by mentioning words for the many refined aspects of listening and thinking. While she speaks about her pleasure in working with the other women, it’s the conversati­on with the doctors that really stirs her enthusiasm, especially when the concept of enters the discussion. Tjukurpa refers to the Dreaming, or creation period when ancestral beings made the Law that underpins Aboriginal culture. It also means history, and story, and how culture functions in present-day life. The meaning is dependent on context, and the difficulty of pinning down a precise interpreta­tion conveys the challenges faced tjukurpa BURRINJA GALLERY 01 DEC 2018 -10 FEB 2019 Tjulpu and Walpa Burrinja Gallery Tues - Sun | 10am - 4pm 351 Glenfern Rd Upwey, Vic 3158 | 03 9754 8723 Visions of Australia 53

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