Jan 10, 2019

Aboriginal elders share stories in bush camps to improve men’s health

The federal government has launched a series of bush camps where Aboriginal elders can gather in ‘traditional yarning circles’ in remote areas to discuss men’s health and wellbeing.

The government has allocated $1 million over two years to the program, which is designed to ensure that men have a voice in developing policy in their own communities.

At each camp, a traditional healer and an Aboriginal male health worker will conduct health checks and provide one-on-one support to the participants, all of whom will be men.

Men talking. Image supplied.
Men talking. Image supplied.

Sometimes, the men participating in the camps will be withdrawing from drug or alcohol dependency, and support will be provided to them.

The men will discuss health and wellbeing at the camps, and other problems, such as employment, money, housing and personal relationships.

Ernie Dingo instigator of ‘Camping on Country’ program

Well-known actor and Yamatji man Ernie Dingo developed the ‘Camping on Country’ reality TV program with his BushTV partner, Tom Hearn, where they filmed fireside chats with Aboriginal men about exercise, health, smoking, drug and alcohol dependency, and suicide.

Together, they have visited 11 communities and run camps for small groups of men in remote sites around Australia.

A space for elders to pass on their traditional knowledge

At the program’s launch, Mr Dingo emphasised the importance of the elders’ stories, and his hope that traditional knowledge will be passed on to successive generations.

“It’s the men that hold a lot of the stories. It’s the men who have been put aside and we need to reinstate their importance within the community and to strengthen their beliefs and strengthen them as individuals,” he said.

“But the first thing we’ve got to do is get healthy. On the inside, the mind, the body, and the soul is all there ready to go. Once we get that strength and those men standing up in our community… that’ll make things a lot easier.”

“Enable the elders to reclaim their place”

The Minister for Senior Australians and Aged Care, Ken Wyatt MP, said, “The beauty of these camps is it’ll enable the elders to reclaim their place.

A bush camp. Image supplied.
A bush camp. Image supplied.

“Historically, for 65,000 years, our elders in our communities imparted knowledge, provided the guidance, and kept communities strong. That’s why we’ve been resilient for so many decades and centuries.

“But we will continue through this program to build the place of our men again in being key people, looking after and protecting our children, giving them the guidance and the wisdom that they need.”

Camps hark back to traditional meetings

Nyoongar elder Richard Walley spoke of the dreaming trails in his homelands, and about the fact that traditionally meetings were held to discuss important matters.

“We’ve always had three meetings. They were men’s business, women’s business, and everybody’s business. And so what these programs do actually now is reinforcing back to men’s business.

“Women are starting to reinforce themselves to take the women’s business control back. Then that relates then to everybody’s business, which strengthens the whole community,” he said.

The first camp is likely to be held at Tennant Creek, with others expected in Central Australia, the Kimberley, Arnhem Land, the Gulf of Carpentaria and the APY Lands.

At each camp, a ‘video message stick’ will be created and made available to all government agencies associated with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health to help them develop programs in their own communities.

Images and video supplied.

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