The Monthly : 2018-12-01

FRONT PAGE : 60 : 60


58 in such a facilitate­d and focused way. The brain imagery showing the effects of trauma also had a huge impact on the men. Jamie Nyaningu, the only Anangu man whose interview I observe, speaks passionate­ly of the need to manage traumatise­d kids properly. According to the team psychiatri­st, the men are already doing the right thing – calming people down, providing care and support – but need to enhance and develop these skills. Jamie talks of a trauma toolbox, and finding the tools to put in it. The interview is held in English, which Jamie speaks well enough, but he flags, struggling to articulate his thoughts. When asked if he has anything more to add, he says, “I might be worn out, eh! I’m tired.” I’m tired too, just from listening. It underlines the value of the interprete­r. Stephan Rainow, from Nganampa Health Council, first worked with Anangu in the 1970s, helping to build the communitie­s during the homeland movement. Invited by the men to be part of their team for the Uti Kulintjaku project, he says the model should be adopted by every organisati­on, as the level of discussion is something people want and need. “People should be talking about this stuff, what’s driving the cultural engine.” Instead, the fatigue caused by relentless, endless meetings about housing and budgets and the like is contributi­ng to the mental-health issues that Uti Kulintjaku is trying to address. Behind the revelatory experience­s of the Uti Kulintjaku workshops is the hard slog of writing reports and grant applicatio­ns, the constant pursuit of funds to keep the multiple strands of the project going, the logistical challenges of getting people from remote desert communitie­s to town for the workshops and supporting them while in town, and of mobilising crews for bush trips. Angela Lynch says it’s difficult to put a tangible value on the most significan­t outcomes of the project, which are incrementa­l rather than quantifiab­le. For example, informatio­n and strategies teased out in the workshops in Pitjantjat­jara and Ngaanyatja­rra trickle out into the communitie­s via word of mouth. The same informatio­n, limited to English, doesn’t travel. It’s a critical point, but a fine one, and hard to position on the performanc­e indicators around suicide prevention. Ngapartji-ngapartji – working together – is fundamenta­l, and the mutual respect and affection is palpable. People’s lives have interwoven over time, in some cases 30 or 40 years, as they have committed to work towards whatever is possible. The white members of the Uti Kulintjaku team are as challenged and enthusiast­ic as the Anangu, their minds stretched and their sense of awe amplified by this engagement with a parallel reality. The excitement, humour and shared aspiration­s are implicit in every conversati­on and interview. “This is one of the most exciting and encouragin­g and hopeful developmen­ts that I’ve seen in Central Australia for the 21 years that I’ve been here,” says Marcus Tabart. Without the Uti Kulintjaku process of listening, thinking and understand­ing clearly, “The Man in the Log” may never have struggled into the Anangu repertoire of ways to approach the fractious terrain of contempora­ry life. Maybe, back in the days when we were all more connected to the mythic world, these stories didn’t need to be made conscious for them to work their healing power. It would be ironic if an Aboriginal metaphor about a man trapped in a log shows all of us a way forward. The people and the project are inspiring and humbling, and make my own work seem self-absorbed and irresponsi­ble. I can do self-absorbed and irresponsi­ble, I tell myself, as I pack up my notebook and voicerecor­der. I’ll pay my dues with an essay to get the story out there. If people could learn to listen properly they would understand that Uti Kulintjaku offers a glimpse of this unique cultural potential, where ngapartji-ngapartji, based in generosity and trust, enriches both sides of the encounter. Sadly, the revolution­ary work of Uti Kulintjaku doesn’t translate easily into convention­al funding parameters, and crossing the borders of South Australia, Western Australia and the Northern Territory complicate­s things. The Northern Territory Primary Health Network withdrew support for Uti Kulintjaku in the 2018 July funding round. The NPY Women’s Council has reapplied in the latest round, and is awaiting the outcome. Small grants have been sourced to continue some threads of the project, but as things stand the future of Uti Kulintjaku is unpredicta­ble. As Jamie Nyaningu says, “It’s like driving down the road on the rim, but you still keep going.” M the monthly — essay

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