Aboriginal Wellbeing Conference focuses on health, bullying

WHEN opening the inaugural Aboriginal Wellbeing Conference at Ballina RSL on Tuesday, Bundjalung elder Aunty Nancy Walker pointedly observed there was no such word for 'health' in Bundjalung language.

IN SPIRIT: Speaker Beth Wrigley and Bundjalung elder Aunty Nancy Walke at the Aboriginal Wellbeing Conference in Ballina. They believe that physical healing cannot be separated from the spiritual.
IN SPIRIT: Speaker Beth Wrigley and Bundjalung elder Aunty Nancy Walke at the Aboriginal Wellbeing Conference in Ballina. They believe that physical healing cannot be separated from the spiritual. Melissa Gulbin

Keynote speaker Beth Wrigley now spends her time as a trauma-informed care and practice educator, embracing the holistic approach of her elders.

Ms Wrigley, who identifies with both her Aboriginal and Scottish heritage, quit her job as a nurse after what she described as culturally-endorsed bullying.

She believes that the language of health is all wrong - particularly as it relates to Aboriginal wellbeing.

"When we talk about trauma and mental health, what we are really getting at is social health. I believe we should be placing listening and story as central to indigenous wellbeing," she said.

The theme of the conference was lateral violence - displaced violence directed against one's peers rather than one's true adversaries at the top of the power chain.

Ms Wrigley explained the nuances of complex trauma from protracted interpersonal abuse which often manifests itself as a 'freeze' coping response - where feelings and expressions are numbed.

"Trauma pathways are laid down in the brain and over time continue to repeat. Addiction is used to ease the pain of this trajectory," she said.

Story-telling and deep listening was a way out of the cycle, she said.

However lateral violence was not necessarily specific to Aboriginal people, she said.

"In the nursing profession lateral violence in nursing is chronic. As the nurses say, 'We eat our young. We eat one another. That's what we do'," she said.

"After postgraduate studies I left my position and I left my feedback because I had been bullied terribly. The response from the director was 'I don't think you are suited to nursing'.

"You know what? I am never going back to tramp those wards and to be treated like that again," she said.



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