Torres Strait communities learn to heal past trauma passed down through generations

Wabunau Geth dance group from Kaurareg Nation Source: The Healing Foundation

The Healing Foundation has been working with communities in the Torres Strait to empower them to overcome historical traumas.

Communities in the Torres Strait are developing ways to address the legacy effects of past race-based government policies, such as the forced removal of children.

Between 1910 and the 1970s, race-based policies saw the widespread removal of children from Indigenous families by federal, state and territory governments.

Extensive research has shown that the Stolen Generations and other race-based policies had a serious and long-lasting impact on the cultural, physical, mental and spiritual wellbeing of Indigenous communities.

Professor Steve Larkin is the Chair of the Healing Foundation, a national Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisation that partners with communities to address ongoing trauma from such policies.

"If you're institutionalised at a very early age in an environment where you are primarily socialised in during your formative years, that's going to have an impact on how you might understand and see the world and how you engage with it.”

Grant Sara and Kaurareg Elders.
Grant Sara and Kaurareg Elders.
The Healing Foundation

Professor Larkin said the denial and the absence of the love and nurturing experienced in a normal family environment impacts on people's capacity to operate in the broader world.

“This has an ongoing impact from generation to generation and those understandings are passed on from children to grandchildren."

The foundation has worked with more than 175 communities across Australia to address the ongoing effects of past child removal policies.

Professor Larkin said the foundation is currently in the process of working with Indigenous communities in the Torres Strait Islands.

"One of the things they call for is they want truth-telling. They want this history to be known by all Australians.”

Professor Larkin said the motivation was not around wanting people to feel guilty or to attribute blame.

“It's more about understanding the history of this in Australia so other Australians might better understand the situation Indigenous Australians here have been in," Professor Larkin said.

Kaurareg people deal with community disharmony

The foundation favours a collective approach to healing, which they believe is more successful than individually-focused therapies favoured by western cultures.

After consulting with communities, the foundation assists groups in finding areas of healing to focus on such as child safety, spiritual healing, leadership and governance.

Hammond Island is traditionally known as Keriri and is home to the Kaurareg people.

Milton Savage is a descendant of the Kaurareg people and the Chair of the Kaurareg Native Title Aboriginal Corporation. Mr Savage said violence has had a large impact on the community.

"There was a massacre and Kaurareg people were being rounded up like cattle from one end of the island and pushed to the other side of the island. In 1922, the Kaurareg people were forcibly removed at gunpoint from Keriri, their island home,” Mr Savage said.

Beyond physical violence, Mr Savage said Kaurareg people also experienced other restrictions.

“We were being restricted not to practice culture, not to speak language and were not allowed even on Tiwi Islands. So it is a form of racial discrimination that Kaurareg people have suffered."


Healing Foundation projects officer Frank Cook and Kaurareg Native Title Aboriginal Corporation chair Milton Savage.
Healing Foundation projects officer Frank Cook and Kaurareg Native Title Aboriginal Corporation chair Milton Savage.
The Healing Foundation

Regina Turner is the President of Mura Kosker Sorority, a women's group which is working with the Healing Foundation.

Based in the Torres Strait, it provides family counselling and other social support services for the community. 

Ms Turner lives on Keriri and says partnering with the Healing Foundation is helping the Kaurareg people better understand the truth about their past.

"Kaurareg were forcibly removed from Keriri, their homeland and relocated. We actually saw growing up, there was a strong influence of the Catholic religion, but there was also as we grew older, we started asking questions among our custodians here.”

Ms Turner said it was important for the community to look at where disharmony stemmed from.

“You get to hear the true story and what really happened and the split between community. That's why I think it's very important that we, as the next generations after the elders, can make sure that this healing takes place."

Beyond Hammond Island, the foundation is also working with communities based on Masig also known as Yorke Island, and Iama Island.

Milton Savage says the healing process has been a powerful one for the Kaurareg people.

"Kaurareg elders telling their stories. Telling their experience, how they experienced racial discrimination and how the Healing Foundation is helping us write our story, and to establish our booklet of the healing strategy and to come up with a 10-year strategic plan for Kaurareg to heal and move forward."

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