Heal Country! NAIDOC Week Feature – Red Dust Healing
05 Jul 21
Founder of Red Dust Healing, Tom Powell, is concerned about Australia’s suicide rate and the impacts on families. Amid droughts, floods, bushfires, mouse plagues and COVID-19, many people in regional areas of Australia, in particular, are doing it tough.
Red Dust Healing is a unique cultural healing and mental health program, written from an Indigenous perspective, supported by Caritas Australia.
Tom’s work involves travelling all over the country – from western NSW, to the Kimberley, the south coast of NSW, holding workshops and training up facilitators in local communities to help others.
“The way to explain it is that 25 or 30 years ago, people were saying we might know someone who has passed with cancer, now we can say we know someone who might have passed from impacts of taking their own life. It is rife out there and my heart goes out to anybody who has had to deal with this situation.”
A proud Warramunga Man from within the Wiradjuri Nation, he developed Red Dust Healing during his time as an Aboriginal Programs Officer for the NSW Department of Juvenile Justice.
Red Dust Healing workshops use visual learning modules that target real issues affecting people’s lives, such as suicide, addictions, mental health, justice and juvenile justice, grief and rejection, helping participants to achieve individual insights. Participants are often trained to become workshop facilitators themselves.
“I believe if the problem lies in the community so too does the answer,” says Tom Powell. “If you train up local people, who better than to be delivering this than those that come from there or are living there.”
"I'm heading up to the Kimberley again shortly to train up local people and local communities – they're asking me to come. With Red Dust Healing, we acknowledge that the courage and strength lies in that community and empower them to be part of the solution.”
But during COVID-19 times, many workshops have been postponed which has led to innovation. Tom has now developed an online version of his workshops which are aimed at men, women, families and community service providers, schools and other organisations.
“You know COVID has kind of isolated us even more, to stay away from people, not to get in touch but you know, we should, we’ve got get in touch, stay in touch, stay connected to the people. You’ve always got to remember that you’re somebody’s someone,” Tom says.
During NAIDOC Week (4-11 July), we pay tribute to Red Dust Healing’s important work.
NAIDOC Week celebrates the history, culture and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. This year’s theme, Heal Country! calls for stronger measures to recognise, protect and maintain all aspects of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture and heritage.
Healing Country means embracing First Australians’ cultural knowledge and understanding of Country as part of Australia's national heritage. It means that the culture and values of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders are respected equally with the cultures and values of all Australians.
Red Dust Healing evaluation report found that the program:
Improved participants’ ability to express deep-seated emotions, to make better choices and consequently bring about positive changes in their lives.
Increased skills to bring about conflict resolution in family and community settings.
Participants have a stronger sense of cultural and spiritual identity, improved reconnection with culture and sense of purpose.
Impact of the training has a ‘ripple effect’ - changing individuals’ behaviour and attitudes, that in turn result in changes at a family and community level - to ensure that trauma is not passed down to children.
Red Dust Healing is an award-winning program designed and led by First Australians which has already helped over 17,000 people in over 400 communities in Australia and overseas.
“I’m humbled to be able to do the work I do and grateful to the people who have funded us, like Caritas Australia,” Tom Powell says.
“For me, it’s about giving back, you know. I talk about the idea of a tree all the time, as a visual learning tool - and what good, strong trees do, they take nutrients, they absorb some nutrients and they keep giving back. They keep giving back oxygen, they keep giving back warmth and shelter and a whole range of other things. And just never, ever forget, that you’re somebody’s someone.”
To find out more about ‘the tree’, Red Dust Healing’s key visual tools:
https://vimeo.com/432126987 Password: Tools2020