Letters from Alice

“Alice in Wonderland” – 15 October 2013

In Letters from Alice // 2013.10.15 // Read More

Mbantua Festival was a real treat …. traditional dancers rarely seen from mobs all over territory, spear throwing …. art and craft, including on classic bush canvases …. car bonnet lids, discussion groups, good tucker and two great concerts including Missy Higgins, Jessica Mauboy, Warren Williams and bands ….

Back to work really makes me feel like Alice in Wonderland …. last week had to convince another psychologist that interpreters were needed when doing a mental health assessment on someone who could not speak English! …. and that checking the credentials of someone making a recommendation for someone to be committed as an involuntary mental health patient was not being “unreasonable and difficult”….

Just spoke to colleague on phone who recently fled the territory after many years to take up a senior position interstate …. she always thought things were really bad in terms of accepted professional practice in the NT which is why she left , but is now realising how much worse it really was now she is back in mainstream interstate ….

Nice to have it confirmed that I am not the problem here ….

“A Special Kind of Healing” … that works – 11 October 2013

In Letters from Alice // 2013.10.11 // Read More

Opening night at Mbantua Festival with first performance of the “Bungalow Song”…. story of the “half caste” children taken away from parents around the Central Desert to live at the old telegraph station …. a wonderful performance …. beautiful lighting using the verandah of the old building, its forecourt and surrounding desert to tell the story with old film footage and songs especially written …. sung and acted by a cast of very talented local children …. some grand and great grand children of those that were taken …. narrated by old people who had lived there as children …. the sadness and tragedy balanced by some hilarious moments and songs …. and an inspiring conclusion by Harold Furber who introduced more of the original children who had come back to Alice for this event….

…. When the bungalow closed they deliberately divided the children and sent them as far from the central desert and their families as possible …. Harold and others there that night had been sent to Croker Island off Arnhem land …. google the story of what happened to them there during the second world war!

So many Aboriginal people that night said to me what an extraordinarily healing event it had been …. not just for those that attended but all those hundreds contacted around Australia and realised that what happened to them was being recognised and remembered …. this is the kind of therapy that actually works …. (and ticks all the boxes in what we know about processing trauma) …. and yet we still have money wasted on endless therapy “sessions” done by white fellas ….

“Dear Mr Mundine” – 10 October 2013

In Letters from Alice // 2013.10.10 // Read More

Another week of varied activity in Alice with “Circus Oz”, an afternoon of great fiddle playing (with unusual “humour”) and local country singer sitting in the bush setting at “Olive Pink’, all male cabaret, poetry night, usual art house cinema at Araluen, Desert Mob Art festival, etc etc … plus local footy final of course…

Got up at dawn and attended beginner’s guide to bird watching …. what a difference when you know how to use binoculars properly! …. 12 different birds in half an hour and a group of tiny wrens(?) passing a butterfly around their “group” to share it …. poor butterfly but had no idea they would cooperate like that over food…

Another round of experts (this time Baker Institute from Melbourne ) dropping in to Alice to talk to all the white fellas about what we either already know or could find in a journal about Aboriginal health problems …. such a pity that when they visit Alice they don’t insist that organisations only send Aboriginal staff to the event, and make their expertise relevant and useful to them …. not as endless power points but appropriate learning and exchange of info so these “experts” leave with a deeper understanding of the issues and Aboriginal staff obtain practical info they can use to improve outcomes…

Warren Mundine was in town too …. Friday night public event .… very little time for questions so…

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Discrimination/Bullying and Manipulation/Inappropriate and Ineffective use of Funding – 25 September 2013

In Letters from Alice // 2013.09.26 // Read More

Great “Bush Bash” Saturday with bands from the bush in town for a big gig sat night … highlight were the “Desert Divas” … young women with amazing voices and range of styles …

Felt sad and angry reading the local paper last week with the comments by some locals and new immigrants when a local Traditional Owner complained that the river bed (which is a sacred site) was being used by some Indian and Nepalese migrants to set up volley ball net and then leave their rubbish behind … at first I thought it was just ignorance … but then the migrants deliberately went and laughingly posed for the paper playing volleyball, the quotes suggested they were also ridiculing that the river was a sacred site …

Based on comments on their facebook page the local paper claimed the local community were wanting to use the river bed for recreational activities … hardly a representative sample …

To give you another idea of what Aboriginal people can be up against in Alice read this account of an educated Aboriginal woman working in Alice …    Read More

“Missed Opportunity?” – 18 September 2013

In Letters from Alice // 2013.09.18 // Read More

“Was this a fundraising event for a bus?  A chance for CAAC and CASSE to promote themselves and get media exposure?   Or just another talkfest going no-where?”


Hi Judy

Lots on last week with Festival …. on Tuesday night an Aboriginal friend and I made the effort to get to a forum in town on tackling domestic violence in Alice – which is apparently worse than almost anywhere else in the country …. Aboriginal women are 45 times more likely to be victims of domestic violence than non Aboriginal women and the general feeling is that things are getting worse not better …. however it should be pointed out that these women are victims of DV by not only Aboriginal men ….

The forum was organised by CAAC and an organisation called CASSE …. according to their website CASSE use a psychoanalytical approach to “Creating a Safe and Supportive Environment”…

The panel was made up of various people in our town including the Mayor, the CEO of CAAC, a Supreme Court Judge, a rep from the Chamber of Commerce, a well respected Aboriginal man who was a candidate in the last election, and a Professor from Ireland? and a Professor from America?    Read More

“Another Goodbye” – 17 September 2013

In Letters from Alice // 2013.09.18 // Read More

Hi Judy

Sad last debrief over a drink with an astute, honorable and very valuable mental health professional (Social Worker) leaving the N.T after some years …. traumatised by the dire situation for the children … but compounded by the lack of professional integrity (and competence) she encountered in so many of the “professionals” she had to work with …. utterly worn out and despairing at the collusion between managers and professionals to keep the status quo … (another example of what I was talking about in the radio interview) …. I will miss her support and clarity of thinking so much …. even though she is happy to give me some supervision from interstate it is not the same as knowing she was always “there”…

“So much Happens in Alice” – 15 September 2013

In Letters from Alice // 2013.09.16 // Read More

Wonderful last night of the Desert Festival (Opening parade last wednesday with the giant caterpillar was great fun …. the kids from Mutijulu in from the bush doing a great circus gig, …. Aboriginal children enthusiastically playing the drums …. local kids with their decorated bikes sure brought back memories of my own home town parade) with another “Film night in the river”…. moved to inside the “Big Tent” on banks of river due to fears the high wind would take the “blow up” screen up into the night!  A couple of “interesting” local short films …. and then “Satellite Boy” about an Aboriginal boy’s journey to save his Mother’s land from mining and reconnect with his culture and Grandfather … a lovely feel good story, great acting and a delight to see David Gulpilil as the Grandfather …. the hip hop video from “Rock hole” got all our feet tapping and left everyone on a high watching kids, mums, dads, Grannies and Grandfathers doing their song and dance …. grins all round as we all squashed up to make room for everyone who had come to see this free event….

SO much happens in Alice …. including within just last few weeks “Bike Film Festival”, Eco Fair, Henley on Todd “Boat” Regatta in the dry river bed …. Children Singing under the stars,  Australian Ballet …. every week so much .… coming up is the all male Cabaret “Its Raining Men” …. choirs in the Gorge and of course the four day “Mbantua Festival”  (all the Desert Cultures represented – including their dancing)  is coming up …. including a night of the “Bush mechanics”….

This town has a lot of sadness but the participation and connection in the community, creative spirit and fun is extraordinary …. and only five minutes to everything, no traffic (peak traffic is half a dozen cars waiting to cross bridge at 8 am …. or perhaps waiting for train twice a WEEK) …. want to get more of an idea go to www.alicesprings.nt.gov.au/events

“Free Speech?!” – 10 September 2013

In Letters from Alice // 2013.09.11 // Read More

Hi Judy

 Yes I know it can be hard to believe what I reported about forensic testing of sexual assault victims…..you may find this interview I did on local ABC radio helps understands what is going on…..

 As a result of this interview I got a letter from a solicitor saying he had been instructed by a group of psychologists working for an NGO in town not to talk about these issues….


ABC Radio Interview

“Acceptable Practice” – 7 September 2013

In Letters from Alice // 2013.09.10 // Read More

 Hi Judy  (See Introduction)

Well you will be pleased to see I have finally listened and decided to let you know how things really work out here in the Central Desert….it is a tough gig for any professional but particularly if you take a Code of Ethics and Practice Standards seriously….

 Since first coming out here in the early 70’s – visiting, travelling, living at Angatja (an outstation in near SA/ NT/ WA border on APY Lands) and now working here full time for 6 years (based in Alice but working in dozens of remote communities) I have come to the sad realisation that too many professionals in health, psychology, social work and  teaching are part of the problem not part of the solution…..while politicians and bureaucrats have played a part in the mess out here it is the insidious collusion between many managers and professionals that really stops things changing…..

 To give you an idea of how distorted what “acceptable practice” is out here…..

 I was at a conference on responding to sexual assault in Alice recently (we often have very interesting PD here run by Centre for Remote Health – Flinders University with lots of visiting mainstream academics talking on their thing – although our “unusual circumstances” mean that I suspect they learn as much from us as we do from them…)

 In a general panel discussion with local SARC staff it emerged that if you are a sexual assault victim, of any age, needing to be forensically examined then you will have to fly to Darwin on a commercial flight……they reassured me that people were allowed to change their clothes (from the assault)…..although they could not wash…..and although no-one accompanied them on the flight “someone” would take them to the airport and “someone” would meet them in Darwin…..when I expressed my shock that a traumatised victim was to be treated like a piece of evidence to be sent for testing, the response was a calm “ we realise the situation is less than ideal”……

 No–one could tell me if leaving people contaminated with “evidence” for up to 72 hrs increased their risk of infection from STI’s , hepatitis or AIDS ?????

 When I persisted with questioning to find out why this appalling situation existed I eventually discovered this was not as first suggested that no suitable trained people were available, but because of some bureaucratic dispute and game playing…..

 Just writing about  this now is really upsetting….will leave this now   ….