Healing and connection
"If we fail to strive for community-wide healing, then all future investment in social programs in Indigenous communities will be like building a house on quicksand. Any success in achieving the decolonisation of the psyche of Indigenous Australians has the potential to increase wellbeing of the broader Australian society."
Tom Calma, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander social justice commissioner 2008
Embedded in Aboriginal traditions are many powerful tools for healing. Healing happens through connection with country, culture, language, family, song, dance, art and more.
Cultural concepts of wellbeing are crucial for Aboriginal people to address all their needs –physical, emotional, spiritual, cultural, community – in the context of the devastating and lingering impact of colonisation on their communities.
Traditional Aboriginal culture underpins the Gamarada healing program. Meaning comrades or friends in the Gadigal language of the Eora Nation, it emerged out of the recognition of unmet needs and lost potential among men in Redfern.
Ken Zulumovski, founder and director of Gamarada Indigenous Healing and Life Training, was running a social and emotional wellbeing program for men at the Aboriginal Medical Service in Redfern and “this was the cornerstone of the program and where some of the first Gamarada participants came from”.
The program isn’t restricted to Aboriginal men. “Since 2007, we have run back-to-back weekly programs of 7-10 weeks’ duration. More than 1,000 men, women and youth have been through our doors,” he says. Practical techniques and life skills help participants deal with their energy, emotions and reactions, to empower them to break damaging patterns of behaviour and achieve positive goals.
He says the sessions support the organic emergence of leaders in the group, who are encouraged and trained. The program is flexible enough to be expanded and has already been adapted to address suicide prevention, depression, anxiety, social phobias, and drug and alcohol issues.
For Jason, a participant and aspiring leader, Gamarada has been life changing. He says he’s become a new person through the camaraderie, the family and the spiritual wellbeing within the program.
He says since he left jail last year Gamarada has enabled him to get back on his feet and feel confident in today’s society.
“I was in an isolated position and the only way to break out of that was to get among my own people and get back with my community.” Jason has lived with schizophrenia for more than 24 years.
“I find Dadirri … the most satisfying [part of the program]. Dadirri is a breathing exercise and once you harness the breathing in and out through the nose your senses are enlightened,” says Jason.
He loves using all his senses to connect with “what’s going on around you while you’re doing your breathing exercises, getting back in touch with Mother Nature. And I like that bit because when I stress … I do Dadirri … and that enables me to function for the day”.
“I’m on a campaign at the moment where I’m going to try and see if I can take Gamarada … into my local area, for local people around there to get some identity and spiritual healing inside themselves …” he says.
“My main concern is the homeless and the prisoners … it would be beneficial for them to seek alternative therapy into healing ...” Jason says.
“I’ll recommend this program to anyone because it’s changed me, it really has. I don’t have my family around but I’ve got support, I’ve got community and I’ve got kinship. Kinship is most important.”