Traditional healing to help tackle addiction


A culturally sensitive drug and alcohol rehabilitation centre for Aboriginal women is set to open in South Australia – but it needs to pass a final hurdle first.

Lakalinjeri Tumbetin Waal is a place of healing with a difference.

About an hour’s drive east of Adelaide, the non-medical rehabilitation facility is set on former farmland, with a gym out the back and a community garden out the front.

It’s a temporary home to dozens of men battling drug and alcohol addiction each year.

Aboriginal Sobriety Group chairman, Gary Paynter, told SBS News the centre is run by, and predominantly for, Aboriginal men.

“We have a good success rate,” he said.

“We use culture, we have talking circles, smoking ceremonies and all the other things that are culturally important.”

On the day SBS News visits the Monarto centre, five residents are standing in a semicircle around a stone pit, taking part in a smoking ceremony.

As smoke from a piece of lit bark curls around them, it allows time for reflection.

“Best choice I’ve ever made, coming here,” one man tells the circle.

“For my kids and my family, and myself.”

In more than 20 years of operation, staff say they've seen a cultural approach to recovery help countless clients.

Some employees, like Ngarrindjeri man Henry Rankine, are also role models for battling addiction.

“If people can see me from 15 years ago, what type of person I was then, to how I’ve progressed through my life and the stages and that, I think it benefits clients,” he said.

“[They] see that there is hope.”

Though this centre is for men only, the Aboriginal Sobriety Group believes there's a clear need for a similar facility for women.

Women referred to the group from around the country are currently placed in mainstream clinics.  

Case worker Lil Milera believes a cultural model would have a much higher success rate.

“I think it’s about connection,” she said.

“Aboriginal culture is about connection, and connection for Aboriginal women means to be more comfortable in that environment.

“With [comfort] comes outcomes.”

The Aboriginal Sobriety Group hopes to turn an unused building on the same property as the men's centre into a dedicated women's facility, which will be known as the House for Hope.

Despite having the building and the experience to run such a facility, it has been a difficult project to bring to life.

Last year, Adelaide-based not-for-profit organisation Big Sunday helped secure a state government grant and rallied volunteers to prepare the building for business.

Big Sunday director, Joshua Brett, says it has been a long time coming.

“The Aboriginal Sobriety Group has had a dream for a facility like this for 10 years and were never successfully able to find the funding for it,” he said.

“In their communication with us, they expressed that in order to get the funding for the program, they needed to have the facility ready to go.

“So it was a bit of a catch-22.”

When it opens, the House for Hope will be the only one of its kind in South Australia, and one of just a handful across the country.

But it needs the security of further funding to be able to open its doors.

The group is hoping to secure federal government funding to meet the need.

A spokesperson for Indigenous Affairs Minister, Nigel Scullion, told SBS News in a statement: "The Australian government supports many programs and providers that deliver culturally appropriate services for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people."

Mr Brett is optimistic the funding will come through, but says even if it doesn't, the project needs to go ahead.

“We will help wherever we can to see it get done,” he said.

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