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Holding on to the Strong Law

Drawing the line - Martin & Bundi draw in the sand to explain the importance of culture, country & tradition & living in two worlds

Drawing the line - Martin Jugadai & Bundi draw in the sand to explain the importance of culture, country & tradition & living in two worlds

As Australia marks Close the Gap Day on March 17, we consider the gap in the psychological crisis. What do Aboriginal men say about this gap? And what can psychoanalytic awareness offer?

Hold Onto the Strong Law

Aboriginal people are living in psychological crisis and trauma. We don’t know the statistics for psychological distress or trauma or depression. 'Why not?' is another question, but one which is testimony to the psychological crisis and its grossly inadequate recognition and treatment. We do know incarceration rates, suicide rates, domestic violence rates, which are all double or triple the national average. 'How?' is another crucial question to consider - namely, how is it that Aboriginal people are living in such psychological crisis?

Last week a young man died, committing suicide, from one of our western desert communities. I express my sincere condolences to the family.

This young Aboriginal man becomes another statistic to swell the rank of high rates of suicide among men aged 16-24 double that of non-Aboriginal men.

But he was a young man with a story and, by all reports, doing well in both cultural worlds. He died too young.

Another child, a little girl just 10 years old, in far north WA, also committed suicide.

I think we can say a few simple things about suicide in order to change minds and save lives. Here are some tools:

  • Suicide concerns us all.
  • Suicide is about intense emotional pain.
  • Suicidal acts are a cry for help.
  • Be encouraged to talk when feeling down or alone or overwhelmed or pressured or persecuted or hopeless or uncared for or alienated or in haemorrhaging pain.
  • Man down.
  • Find a mate to talk to and share your story.
  • Know that states of mind can change quite quickly.
  • Feeling suicidal is not permanent.
  • Have a safety plan. Problem solve.
  • Know you are cared for by someone.

May we share in the sorry business and may the gap be closed on psychological crisis and suicide.

May we hear from the people themselves? What do Aboriginal people say and think about the psychological crisis? In defining the problems, we extract and then impose the problems, experiences, feelings and thoughts from and on Aboriginal people themselves from their own suffering and tales to tell. It is time we heard more from the people. In this newsletter you hear a little more from the people.

Ngangkari Martin Jugadai and Aboriginal senior elder Bundi said this as they drew in the sand:

“These things I draw on the good side, hold onto them, and traditional tools. This stuff belonged to Aboriginal people for a long time, these tools and culture, this is our dreaming. Whitefellas have got a different way, that bad side of things, but the Anangu (Aboriginal) side is good. If you use these things and stay with culture you will be right but if you go down the whitefellah side you’ll lose yourself. “Where’s my country”? “Where’s my culture”? You won’t be able to think but if you learn with Anangu, with the old men, middle-aged men, after you’ll be able to hold onto country and your culture strong like the grandfather’s and ancestors'. They lived in the past according to law, to strong law, well with him you have to hold onto strong law.”

The men had been talking about the rampant marijuana use among the young men, the fights and the hopelessness.

Psychoanalytic awareness can promote the recognition of emotional pain, healing, meeting people where they are at, seeing the human in all of us and help all find a voice and transform lives; changing minds and saving lives.

Pamela Nathan
Director - CASSE Aboriginal Australian Relations Program


Men's Tjilirra Movement gains momentum

Men's Movement gaining momentum

'Tjukurrpa witira kanyintjaku' - hold culture strong! Preparing for Pulapa, traditional ceremony & song, in Haast's Bluff(Ikuntji) - organised by the MTM & the first community ceremony in ten years.

  • 80 men participating in the making of tjiilirra
  • 70% attending more than once
  • More than 50 tjilirra objects created, with 80% sold to raise income
  • 360 men participated in meetings and pulapa (ceremony and song) 
  • These are the 2015 statistics for the Men's Tjilirra Movement (MTM) - a movement that is gaining momentum, building pride in culture and tradition, and working to combat the problems facing communities.

And 2016 has started off even more promisingly for the MTM, with two big men’s meetings - attended by 50 plus men - being held at Mt Liebig (Watiyawanu) and Haast's Bluff (Ikuntji) in February, talking tjilirra - tools for living.

Jamie Millier Tjupurulla, MTM Project Manager, has been hard at work out bush with the men. Martin Jugadai, Ngangkari, Aboriginal mental health worker and cultural advisor, works alongside when he can. Nathan Brown has joined Jamie and the men with translator skills.

What do the men say about the Men's Tjilirra Movement?

They ENDORSE their Movement!

  • Tjilirra Men’s Movement makes us feel “strong and proud”.
  • It makes us happy.
  • This is a way to keep our culture and country strong and it’s good for the young fellas to learn.
  • Getting that knowledge right makes us happy.
  • When we see Jamie everyone gets happy. He comes here for us.
  • We watch them young people and they see us and we come together, like we make a men’s group and the younger men will pick up the ideas that maybe they are doing bad things and should instead learn to make tools and other cultural ways.
  • I felt happy and my spirit was great and strong. This program started and we were working with the old men and the young fellahs. Really good.
  • This, [holding a boomerang] will open men’s ears (this is an idiomatic figure of speech that means people will start listening but also thinking. The word for thinking and listening is the same in Lurritja).
  • It will get people thinking about their grandfathers, our grandfathers, our past... with this we can hold on to our past.
  • It’s also important for us [as senior men] to teach our young men.
  • Whitefella law is dominant at the moment. All the old men and their knowledge is almost gone now, we’ve got to do something to get it back.’

Watch this space! Harry Hayes and Nathan Brown are also hard at work editing and translating more film footage...

Preparing for pulapa



Camp fire after a day of tjilirra making at Mt Liebig (Watiyawanu)

Passing on knowledge, culture and law

Men's Shed leads way against violence

The Men’s Shed at Ingkintja in Alice Springs, supported by the Central Australian Aboriginal Congress (CAAC) and CASSE, has commenced the psychoanalytically informed 'Breakthrough Violence' Group Program.

The family violence program is in its fourth week. Information from the first two weeks has been collated, revealing in general:

  • Over 20 men have attended each week.
  • The majority of men had committed violent offences.
  • The majority of men had not attended a violence prevention program before.
  • The majority of men charged with violent offences were under 40.

These statistics reveal the paucity in service provision for men suffering trauma. All participating men have endorsed the program, and the sessions are sparking lively and meaningful conversations.


Our Events

Pamela Nathan prepaing to present at the House of Lords

Pamela Nathan preparing to present at the House of Lords

What is Recognition?

Sydney Ideas' 'What is Recognition' event, held on the 8th of December 2015, featured Noel Pearson in conversation with Jonathan Lear and panellists Marcia Langton, Pamela Nathan and Duncan Ivison. You can watch the video or listen to the Podcast from Radio National's 'Big Ideas', which went to air on the 17th of February 2016. *CASSE's new 'Recognition' booklet is also now available - details later in this newsletter.

Lord John Alderdice and Pamela Nathan in conversation in London

In February, Lord John Alderdice and Pamela Nathan co-presented CASSE's work to The House of Lords and to Harris-Manchester College, Oxford University. Participants included the UN and the Australian High Commission.


"Interesting presentations"
"Fascinating work"
"Inspirational presentation"


Our Booklets


Recognition - a matter of life and death in Aboriginal Australia

CASSE's newest booklet, written in preparation for the Sydney Ideas Event, ‘What is Recognition?' contributes a psychological voice to the conversation on constitutional reform in Australia. Click here for details.

"Amazing and brilliant"

The Milky Way
The Psychoanalytic Dreamtime: Life-Saving Tools

This booklet enfolds the reader in a simple story of the psychoanalytic dreamtime. Presented using metaphors and language associated with dreaming, this 120 page booklet is easy to understand and introduces some of the key beliefs and practices of psychoanalysis. Click here for more information.


Watch this space!

Coming soon...

  • More video footage on the Men's Tjilirra Movement is on its way.
  • Presentations and workshops for clinicians, workers and organisations on Violence, Suicide, Empowerment and Psychoanalytic Awareness are coming soon.


You can start working with us to change minds and save lives now!

Donations make possible:

  • A vehicle, and its running costs, for the Men's Tjilirra Movement.
  • Employment of Elders to work as cultural and tjilirra supervisors.
  • Purchasing tools for the project.

To make a donation, please contact us: phone 0450 540 366 or email enquiries@cassse.org.au.

CASSE Australia Inc (ABN: 17811 536 315) is registered in Australia as a Deductible Gift Recipient. All donations over $2 made to CASSE Australia are tax deductible and go directly towards supporting our programs.

How else can you support our work?