My Story My journey toward founding Hope and Resilience Counselling began in 1986.
It’s a long story and I’m going to tell you most of it. This is Part 2 of my story. If you haven't read Part 1, scroll down to blog with the photo and click on "Comment".
After leaving Long Beach and a short sojourn via the East coast of America, the Philippines, Nepal, India and Hong Kong, I returned to Australia and got on with my life. I spent time discerning a call to the Catholic priesthood. I worked at various jobs and eventually trained to become a Registered Nurse.
I still traveled overseas. I traveled to many developing countries and had a desire to work with the poor in some of those countries. The usual problem was finding funding to do that.
In my travels, I often wondered at the different ways people responded to poverty and suffering. I remember visiting garbage dumps in the Philippines and Korea where people lived and worked. They went about life with a smile on their faces. I remember one Korean lady at a garbage dump near Seoul, laughing and patting me fairly firmly, on the bum. I had done something (I’m not sure what) which she found hilarious.
I remember visiting places in India and Egypt where there were lots of beggars. You were warned not to give money, but it was hard not to because many had disabilities (deformities, no legs, no arms). If you did give money you were suddenly surrounded by dozens of other beggars. It was frightening and overwhelming.
Through World Vision, I sponsored children living in the Occupied West Bank of Palestine. I visited twice. On the first visit, the mother of one of the children was very excited to see me and took me on a tour of the village to show me her small block of land – no bigger than the size of a tennis court, but to her it was like a million acres where she could grow her own food.
For my safety on those visits, I was escorted by World Vision Staff. You couldn’t go in alone. Whilst being welcomed by the families of the children, I remember being eyed with suspicion, by others. In the forefront of my mind was an acute awareness of the years of conflict in Israel and the West Bank. Was I on the side of the Palestinian people? Was I for them or against them?
Of course, Australia has its problems.
I wondered how I personally could say “sorry” to the stolen generation of Aboriginal people. While I was nursing, I decided I would go bush and work in remote Aboriginal communities. Mimili is the first community I went to in north-western South Australia. Mimili is in the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) Lands. Before I went, I tried to learn some of the local language. English is a second language. Some of the Aboriginal people don’t speak it. I can’t remember if it was Pitjantjatjara or Yankunytjatjara that I tried to learn from a textbook. All I can remember is, I didn’t learn much, and it didn’t do me much good.
Nothing prepared me for what I was about to experience. I found it hard to believe I was still in Australia and not in a third world country. The year was 2008. The conditions people lived in were terrible. The level of chronic disease was high. Mimili was a dry community with no alcohol allowed because of the damage alcohol had done in the past.
In the past petrol sniffing had also been a problem in Mimili. The introduction of opal fuel had helped address the problem, but the aftereffects were present. Petrol is a solvent. The consequences of petrol sniffing can include serious and irreversible brain and organ damage. The cerebellum - the part of the brain that controls movement and balance, is damaged resulting in users being unable to walk or talk properly. That is what I witnessed.
When I was there in 2008, Mimili was several years post petrol sniffing. According to the Menzies School of Medical Research, which has done a lot of research into Aboriginal Health,
“sniffing also causes behavioural and social problems. Sniffers often get into trouble for vandalism, violence, robbery and sexual assault. They find it difficult to stay at school and hold down jobs.”
Petrol sniffing has not been the only form of substance abuse. I saw some of the above problems in Mimili and after working in other Aboriginal communities over the next four years including one community where petrol sniffing was still happening, I had witnessed all of those problems.
So, if petrol sniffing is the behaviour, what is the “why”? Why do people sniff petrol? “Poverty, boredom, unemployment, feelings of hopelessness and despair have contributed to the problem” according to the Menzies School of Medical research. If you want to know more go to their website: https://www.menzies.edu.au/page/Research/Indigenous_Health/Smoking_alcohol_drugs_and_other_addictive_behaviours/Petrol-sniffing/
I was very naïve, and culturally unprepared when I went to Mimili. Living and working there, was like living in a fishbowl. I realised that there was racism within me. I made some faux pas and later found out that some of the locals had wanted to run me out of town. The health service was able to convince them to let me stay, apparently stating that I was only there for a couple of weeks and soon would be gone.
There is a saying that people who go and work in remote Aboriginal communities are either mercenary, missionary or mad! Perhaps I was all three. There certainly were some other strange people out there, and I’m not talking about the Aboriginal people.
I think for some, going to work in remote communities was an attempted escape from their problems, to get away from it all. Remote area nurse salaries were quite high. These days I can only dream about the money I made back then. Despite the high salary, there was and probably still is, a high turnover of nurses.
The high salary never compensated for the isolation and lack of support from one’s employer. I can also say that for much of the time, I never felt completely safe – there was physical violence and psychological abuse. I found the Aboriginal people to be very angry, and for me, it was like continuously treading cautiously on eggshells. I understand why Aboriginal people are angry, given the history of attempted genocide and mistreatment post British colonisation.
In relation to anger, the Gottman Institute in the US has published an interesting blog on its website (go to https://www.gottman.com/blog/the-anger-iceberg/). The article is more to do with anger in relationships, but it is also applicable to communal and cultural anger. As I mention on another part of this website (under Counselling Services then click on Anger Management), there is nothing wrong with anger in itself. It is a valid emotion. Anger can right wrongs and bring about change. The issue is how we deal with and express our anger – especially if it does lead to violence and abuse. Gottman’s “Anger Iceberg” suggests that underneath the anger there are a whole lot of other emotions that need to be acknowledged, expressed and addressed.
I have recently read an article by Brisbane academic Dr Chelsea Bond, lecturer at the University of Queensland: “The Audacity of Anger”. Dr Bond argues that anger is needed to bring about justice and change for Aboriginal people. Dr Bond considers anger versus hope. She states that
“hope doesn’t actually get Black women anywhere ……. Hope is as passive as the social world we occupy insists we have to be….They tell us not to be angry, to have ‘hope’ by simply re-imagining ourselves out of our location within what hooks refers to as the “imperialist white supremacist capitalist patriarchy” – when in fact, what we want to do is tear it (or burn it) down (you know, metaphorically). It is our anger, not hope that will fuel that.”
Bond’s comments on “Hope” are somewhat troubling and disturbing for me. Afterall, the word “Hope” is included in the name of my business and is at the core of my counselling practice. I am forced to consider “How do we live out our hope?”. What I wonder is “Whilst anger may bring justice, will long term anger bring healing and reconciliation?” Of course, that’s if people want healing and reconciliation?
To read Dr Bond’s article go to https://indigenousx.com.au/chelsea-bond-the-audacity-of-anger/ . The “Audacity of Anger” is not a read for the faint hearted or easily shocked, or perhaps it is?