The Healing Colour of Country: Trauma recovery through culture, art and wildflowers

Tuesday 9 July 2019

The 2nd National and World Indigenous Suicide Prevention Conferences in Perth Western Australia in November 2018 brought together Indigenous Elders, policy makers, researchers and community members from around the world, who came together to recognise the impacts of colonisation, past policies and subsequent trauma, disadvantage, marginalisation, lack of action by governments on Indigenous issues and the need for self-determined culturally responsive healing and recovery programs for suicide prevention.

One such healing program that featured at the Conferences was the Sister Kate’s Home Kid’s Aboriginal Corporation Healing (SKHKAC) Hub.

As Menang, Goreng, Wadjari woman of the Noongar Nation and Sister Kate’s CEO, Tjalaminu Mia says:

“The Healing Hub was a popular and safe space where conference participants could gather and destress in a creative and healing way from the emotional accounts shared by speakers of the impacting issues around our collective Indigenous peoples including our youth, where personal stories of suicide in their families was shared.

Whadjuk Noongar Boodjar is country that reaches across parts of regional Western Australia from Geraldton in the north to Esperance in the south – an ancient tract of land that is both nationally and environmentally known as the Land of the Wildflowers. We as Noongar people understand and appreciate that the wildflowers have healing properties that can heal as does the color of country and this is what we introduced to conference participants in a Yarning Circle before we proceeded to take people on a journey of the wildflower and art healing sessions.”

Throughout the Conference week, participants gathered in the Healing Hub to collaborate on ‘Triptych’; a large artwork that comprises three panels, where each panel has a corresponding relationship to the other, forming an artwork that is multi-layered. The ‘under’ story is about connection of people to country, the sea and where the wildflowers form a carpet of plants similar to a spider web that connects the land in between the oceans and in-land waterways, inter-connecting to each other like companion plants which sweep across the three panels to make one complete carpet of wildflowers from this part of the world. The artwork also reflects the union of people; within the panels there are black, white and brown ochre circles that represent the community of people who came together from around the world to contribute to the artwork.

In Noongar country there were once thousands of species of wildflowers that were abundant on the lands like a rich colored tapestry covering the ground similar to a multi-colored carpet. However, due to the impacts of colonisation and settlement, the growth of wildflowers was interrupted. Despite this, there are still 84 species of flowers that are used in Noongar healing practices.

Tjalaminu Mia remembers running through fields of wildflowers when she was a young girl:

“We believe colour of country and wildflowers can heal people.  Conference participants were also introduced to the healing properties in the wildflower healing workshops which were very successful activities within the program. People reported that they felt calmer, less stressed and felt more focused after these therapy sessions. This coupled with other creative art healing sessions gave a sense of contentment.

SKHKAC also provided a series of artworks previously completed for other programs and asked participants to look deeply at the works and interpret what they were saying and sharing with the viewer: What is the story about? How does the artwork make you feel? What does it inspire in you? The responses were overwhelmingly positive “I feel good, I feel happy, I feel connected in myself.”

The collaborative Triptych artwork, which was created at the Conferences, has since been lovingly completed by the SKHKAC team, and is now ready for unveiling and handing over to Professor Pat Dudgeon, who is from the Bardi people of the Kimberley in Western Australia and the Project Director of the Centre of Best Practice in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Suicide Prevention, Poche Centre for Indigenous Health at the University of Western Australia.

As Professor Dudgeon says:

“The making of the artwork was an important collaboration between participants at the  Conferences. It was an activity that was a part of other cultural healing sessions that gave people a sense of belonging and being part of a collective. Reinstating cultural activities is vital to supporting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander wellbeing. Surveys showed that this and the other activities were greatly appreciated.”

The Triptych art piece will be launched at a special NAIDOC event on Tuesday 9th July 2019 at the School of Indigenous Studies, University of Western Australia, Crawley, WA, following a Welcome to Country and Smoking Ceremony on the banks of the Derbarl Yerrigan.

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