Letters from Alice

“Missed Opportunity?” – 18 September 2013

In Letters from Alice // 2013.09.18 //

“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

Unfortunately both the Professors proceeded to tell us things we already know, and suggest things already being done here …. yet again the knowledge and skills already in Alice, particularly from Aboriginal culture, were by implication diminished ….

…what I found quite strange is why an organisation like CASSE, that states its work is based on psychoanalytical principles, would be invited by CAAC to form a close working relationship for the next 5 years?

CAAC receives $40 million per year and funders are demanding that projects be evidence based best practice …. Psychoanalytic approaches may have their place, but they have repeatedly been found to be the least cost effective way (and often completely ineffective) at bringing about sustained behavior change… ??

There are so much better evidence based approaches available… ??

While CASSE may have something to offer, and CAAC is to be commended for organising a forum, this forum appeared to create an atmosphere of CASSE and CAAC having exclusive control tackling the issue and finding solutions …. the meeting opened with a box being passed around for people to put “only notes” in to raise money ($250,000 ) for a bus comprising 3 “offices” to take CAAC and CASSE around communities to talk about DV …. personally I have always found a shady tree where the whole family or community could talk about these issues not only quite sufficient, but the openness of the setting invited new thinking …. in a way that a tiny office in a bus cannot …

There were really great contributions from people in the audience … however extremely important and large sections of the Alice community (Aboriginal and Non Aboriginal) were noticeably absent …. at the end of the meeting we were told everything had been video recorded and “they” would take into consideration what had been said ..???

As Damien Ryan (Mayor) pointed out the discussion needed to be broadened and meetings of smaller groups formed to discuss the issue further ….

However his suggestion was ignored, no register created of those who had attended, and no indication that the audience could participate in any process to deal with the issues ….

Whatever the initial intention, and the evident relief by the audience that at least we were talking about the problem, the outcome left many in the audience, including some staff members from CAAC, feeling rather bewildered ….

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?

Very disappointing!

Domestic violence is a community issue …. we will change nothing unless the community utilises all the knowledge, skills and experience already available in Alice Springs …

Over the years I have listened under shady trees to many senior Aboriginal people and their families explain the issues, and the pathways to solutions using the values of their cultures to guide them, essential in achieving real outcomes …. principles and practices that I have found work not just in the Central Desert but also in my work in mainstream Non Aboriginal contexts too (both in NT and other States).

From a three day conference I organised for senior Walpiri men and women some years ago, I learned about the fundamental cultural values that should determine choices and behaviour for all Walpiri people (these values later confirmed by senior members of other tribes as universal for Aboriginal people).

At another time on the APY Lands, under a shady tree, a senior Aboriginal couple distressed by what had happened to their daughter the previous evening, drew a picture in the sand to describe what needed to happen to change things and how it should be done to ensure sustainable change (years later research from my world began to come to the same conclusions on how to approach these issues…)

Paraphrasing from memory…..

“……… is a bit like tracks out bush … those tracks are made from what everyone does …. our people and their families … visitors … council … all them government Toyotas … everyone … a track may still let you ‘go along’ but you can get so much dust you can’t see where you are going … and so many holes, that ‘going along’ becomes too hard … too tiring … too dangerous … if you want to fix that track you have to stop … let the dust clear … look at all the good parts first … why are they good?… make sure the track is covering good country with good hard ground*… no use just patching it up … look for weak spots … why does the track keep breaking there?… get the track back on hard ground so work is not wasted …then grade that track  **proper way … to keep track safe and strong for everyone … white fella and blackfella…

Note:      ** “proper way” was explained as using Aboriginal identity as a guide for living including behaviour and choices.

*  “good hard ground” was explained as living by cultural values …. later these were further articulated and clarified for me by the Walpiri meeting and senior members of other tribes as:

Respect and Responsibility for:

  • Law and country
  • Each other
  • Self

It was recognised that while cultural practices were very important reflections of these values, changing environments (e.g climate and food sources) over thousands of years had meant some practices had needed to change and would continue to do so …. what was critical was that any changes in behaviour and practices still reflected the cultural values …

The nitty gritty of how you changed things from childhood to adulthood was also explained with a fundamental criteria being for white-fellas to also listen and take note of Aboriginal people “properly” …


The audience last Tuesday at the forum also identified lots of holes and bull dust and ways to fix them …. what is needed now is a unifying body like the Council to take up the issue so that all of Alice feels they can contribute to a holistic and strategic process to change behaviour that affects and costs us all …. as one of the audience explained this is ultimately about health and wellbeing … physically, emotionally and spiritually ….

Just hope this happens …. Alice could teach the rest of the world and those Professors from overseas a lot!

Comments are closed.