By Ginni Seton
For newcomers to Redfern, the Block bordered by Eveleigh St, can feel disorientating with homeless people, graffiti and an air of residents doing it tough. Walk a few steps to the Redfern Community Centre located in the heart of the Block and that feeling of bleakness dissipates. Within this refurbished former factory, many life skill programs are offered to anyone who walks through the door.
On Monday evening, it’s the men who walk through the door seeking hope and healing through the ten-week Gamarada Men’s Program, combining traditional Aboriginal methods and spirituality with Western self-help techniques. Gamarada, meaning “comrades or friends” in the Gadigal language of the Eora Nation aims to transform the lives of men in inner Sydney and for them to assist others.
Founded by Ken Zulumovski, a descendent of the Kabi Kabi nation, Gamarada Indigenous Healing and Life Training delivers programs to indigenous men and youth to heal emotional trauma and teach effective coping strategies. Creating links between legal, health, and community services the Gamarada programs also hopes to reduce prison sentencing and re-offending. In 2010 Gamarada was recognised by NSW Department of Premiere and Cabinet with an Excellence Award for Building Leadership in Indigenous communities.
Ken started the program in 2007 after he saw a need to address the complex and multi layered problems confronting young indigenous men in the community. Now in its ninth year, the program has expanded to include a two-day workshop, anger management sessions and a program to encourage dads, uncles, male carer’s and mentors to value and encourage the education of their children.
Men who have benefitted from these programs include members of the stolen generation and their families, young people who’ve experienced abuse or family violence, men involved in the criminal justice system and men with alcohol and other drug issues;
Ken says the core feature of this program is the reliance on ancient Aboriginal healing practises.
“The options that exist for these men within the medical model are culturally inappropriate most of the time. There’s not a lot of cultural awareness that’s being taught to clinicians about how to deal and help aboriginal people,” says Ken. “The Gamarada Program is about promoting cultural renewal amongst indigenous men who otherwise are dislocated or disconnected from their culture.”
Whilst many group programs are based around talking therapies, Gamarada teaches participants practical skills in anger management, emotional control, relaxation and techniques for building respectful relationships.
Core to the ten-week workshop is the introduction of Aboriginal cultural practice. Perhaps the most significant being Dadirri, the indigenous spiritual concept of deep listening, quiet stillness and awareness. Historically Aboriginal people passed on stories orally and listening carefully was vital to sharing the story accurately to the next generation of story-tellers. Dadirri describes this process of deep, respectful listening and awareness to build community.
The men also learn the healing power of traditional dance with the group encouraged to drop their self consciousness and join together in dance. These different techniques have proven to be deeply effective for indigenous men.
Armed with these new techniques, a greater sense of community and practising ancient indigenous practises, disenfranchised aboriginal men are leaving their isolated man cave and regaining their role as functioning men in the community.