It’s just after 6pm on a Monday night and Damien is making his regular journey to the Redfern Community Centre in the heart of The Block. It’s here where he will join other hopeful men to share their stories of despair and resilience.
Damien was raised in foster care. As a teenager he suffered from abandonment issues which very quickly turned into anger. As time wore on his anger worsened. He was unable to adequately deal with his rage, taking it out on those closest to him.
“As a young adult I didn’t know how to vent my anger. I used to bottle things up and explode. Before I came here I had a job every 3 months, I would react to something. But now I’ve been in a job for 3 years,” the 38-year-old, told NITV News.
Damien has been going to Gamarada Men’s Healing Program on-and-off for the past two years. ‘Gamarada’ means friends or comrades in the Gadigal language.
“It’s culturally needed, young Indigenous men have a strong culture and it’s still alive, but some of us are just forgetting."
“I’m learning to speak my mind instead of bottling things up. I’m using techniques to vent in a different way. It’s taught me how to speak when I need to and when I need to walk away. I don’t have to be an angry person,” he says.
The program tries to equip troubled men with practical skills and empowerment within their community, with a focus on building inner strength; discipline, willpower, and self-control.
“Participants come from probation, parole, juvie who are dealing with a whole gamut of issues such as family violence, gambling, homelessness and suicide,” says Kabi Kabi man Ken Zulumovski, the founder and CEO of the grassroots men’s charity.
Ken started the program in 2007 after he saw a need to address the problems confronting young men in the community. Now in its ninth year, the program has developed into 10 weekly sessions with at least one new participant joining each week.
“The program offers pathways from isolation, addiction, and contact with the criminal justice system into a positive and healthy connection with community and other services,” he says.
In the course of two hours the men confront aspects of grief and loss, dadirri (a Daly River word meaning mindfulness), leadership, anger management and goal-setting. Gamarada’s charity status means meals are provided and take home food and drinks organised by volunteers.
The charity also uses traditional Aboriginal methods and spirituality as a central component of the men’s learning, development and self-healing.
“It’s culturally needed, young Indigenous men have a strong culture and it’s still alive, but some of us are just forgetting. So we need to connect,” Damien says.
I felt welcome to come, it’s a rare group. It’s long lasting, sustainable, you can just have a look, and there are no expectations.
Although the focus is on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men, all men are welcome.
“I found out I was Indigenous when I was 13, I felt a connection to the circle straight away. But it’s for all different ages and cultures,” Damien says.
“I’m a part of the leader group now. When I first started I was in need of support. Now I’m more on the other end. I’ve learnt from other people.”
“I now work in health and advocate for certain things, particularly for men getting healthy.”
Despite not receiving any government funding, Ken, who pours some of his own money into the charity to keep it running, is optimistic Gamarada will keep building stronger, healthier men for years to come.
And Damien is more than happy to continue to advocate for the program.
“It’s easy to speak for coz it does such great work. I felt welcome to come, it’s a rare group. It’s long lasting, sustainable, you can just have a look, and there are no expectations. You just gotta make that initial contact,” he says.