Barry, a Gamilaroi man originally from western NSW, remembers his early years as a time of enormous hardship. He didn’t have a stable home or support network and was mostly brought up by his grandparents.
“My mother went through a tough period in her life. I sort of moved around a lot as a young boy,” Barry says. “I had a lot of bad periods and I then lost my younger brother in a car accident.”
He became a father in his late teens and was suddenly faced with responsibilities for which he wasn’t ready. He started drinking heavily, behaviour that he’d witnessed previously.
“I became an alcoholic from about 17 unknowingly, binge-drinking on weekends when I wasn’t working.” Barry says. “I was still holding onto some of that stuff of being abandoned, losing brothers and sisters, grief and loss. I was masking that all with alcohol, instead of dealing with it.”
When his relationship broke down, he became a single father and for 15 years, he brought up three of his daughters on his own.
“I had to make some changes – not for me, but for my daughters,” Barry said. “I just thought to myself, why keep doing this? That ripple effect will travel, it will flow on to my girls and my grandchildren.”
The death rate of Indigenous Australians between the ages of 35 and 44 is up to four and a half times higher than that of the wider population. Additionally, loss of culture, personal trauma, and the ongoing stresses of disadvantage, racism, and exclusion contribute to a heightened risk of mental health problems and substance misuse.
Thankfully, Barry and others like him, were able to take part in Red Dust Healing – a cultural healing program, which encourages participants to examine their own personal hurt and allows them to heal from within. This addresses family and personal relationships, and what may have been lifelong patterns of violence, abuse and neglect.
A 2018 evaluation of the program demonstrated that it improved participants’ ability to express deep seated emotions, to make better choices and consequently changes in their lives. The program increased skills to bring about conflict resolution in the family and community settings and that participants had a stronger sense of cultural and spiritual identity.
“I don’t think I’d be where I am today without the program,” said Barry. “It’s taught me to deal with my problems and addictions. I can’t change what I’ve lived through, I can just make myself a better person today.”
Red Dust Healing has won numerous national awards in mental health and human rights, helping more than 16,000 people like Barry across Australia. For Barry, it changed his life and helped him to recognise his hurt and anger stemming primarily from rejection and grief. It provided a safe space to talk and connect with others who’ve supported each other in their healing journey. The program has also helped Barry connect back with his culture, language and stories.
“It’s a cultural healing program written from an indigenous perspective, but it is for everyone no matter what your background is,” said founder, Tom Powell. “It gives people tools to better understand their lives and to deal with some of the hurt, and some of the rejection.”
Today, Barry facilitates Red Dust Healing workshops and is a mental health professional at a regional hospital. By reconnecting with his culture and finding his purpose, he is now a role model for his daughters and others in his community.
“Red Dust is basically everything to me. It empowers me, gives me tools for everyday problems and coping mechanisms,” Barry says. “It has also had a positive ripple effect. With me changing, I can change my children’s lives, and my grandchildren’s and so on.
“Thank you to those who support Caritas Australia and Red Dust Healing.”Jump to next article