• A new wholistic approach to Family Violence is underway in a remote town in WA's East Pilbara. (Supplied: AMHC)Source: Supplied: AMHC
A cultural-based approach to reducing family violence targets men in one of the state’s most isolated areas.
Rangi Hirini

The Point
25 Nov 2018 - 12:43 AM  UPDATED 25 Nov 2018 - 2:49 PM

It’s a sad reality for First Nation’s people that we're more likely to have some form of contact, either directly or indirectly, with domestic violence.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women are 34 times more likely to die from a violent incident than non- Indigenous women.

In Western Australia, 50 per cent of family violence homicide victims are Aboriginal, with 69 per cent of perpetrators being male.

In the East Pilbara town of Newman, almost 600kms away from Roebourne, on the iron-ore rich land of the Nyiyaparli people, a new healing centre is taking the holistic approach of putting Aboriginal lore and culture at the forefront of breaking the violent cycle. 

The Aboriginal Men’s Healing Centre's CEO Devon Cuimara says his own experience with violence was one of the motivators to creating the centre.

“Strong Spirit, Strong Families, and Strong Culture” is the centre’s motto and its focus is on giving Aboriginal men a safe space to heal. 

“It makes sense that you would have a healing centre for men who use violence," Mr Cuimara told The Point.

"We build hospitals if you’re sick, we build tabs if you wanna bet on horses and other things, we build stadiums if you want to watch gladiators beat the hell out of each other, so it would make sense if we build healing centres for men to come ... and detox from misogyny,” he said.

The Aboriginal Men’s Healing Centre combines both Aboriginal lore and culture, and western clinical practices to help men who have abused their partners. 

Traditional Western Clinical practices tend to have men talking in a group, such as men’s sheds or one-on-one therapy. A lot of mainstream approaches are viewed as culturally inappropriate. 

For Aboriginal men who are using violence, seeking help is often considered shameful for them, and speaking to a group and/or a non-Indigenous person about their violence can be harder still.

Doctor Guido Vogels, who relocated from Perth to the small mining town, is the centre’s Clinical Director. Dr Vogels uses western practices with the men in combination with traditional therapy and counselling. 

He said he moved to Newman to learn more from the Nyiyaparli and Martu Elders (who share family and language with the Nyiyaparli) about the men who he will be treating and to gain greater understanding of their cultural history and cultural ways of living.

“The basis of us coming here is that we believe that the white man’s way doesn’t work with most people, certainly doesn’t work with Martu people, certainly Martu men,” he said. 

“Aboriginal men have nowhere to stand. They’re no longer leaders in their family, they’re no longer hunters, they go from the TV chair to the fridge, and back, ... they have no place to stand, with dignity.

“That’s where Devon and Desmond come in, they need country, they need culture. Without that, even the healing thing won't work, they need their culture, they need their place to stand in the world.” 

Dr Vogels said the men engage strongly with the cultural portion of the program and that it is essential to the men's healing.

“[It’s] just like jumping into the swimming pool, they just take to it so easily. Because unlike the dominant culture, who hide in their head, or live in their head, Martu people are in their gut and are in touch with their creator, with mother earth and the dreaming,” he said.

A board of male and female Nyiyaparli-Martu Elders work with the centre to provide cultural guidance on the delivery of the program.

One of the Elders involved is interpreter Desmond Taylor. He told NITV’s The Point he too used to resort to violence, but now uses his own past experiences to help others through the healing process. 

“I think this program will be a voice for men who have been silent for so many years. It creates a pathway for them to open up and share their experience, so that they are able to break out of that cycle,” he said. 

Male elders will take participants on Country for up to six-months to carry out lore business, including learning songlines and maintaining their link to culture.

“They’re gonna bring their cultural knowledge into the program and guide them to traditional healing as well. It's gonna help them to bring back where they have left off, it’s gonna bridge that gap, where it has been lost,” said Mr Taylor.

One of the core principals of this program is keeping men on Country and connected to culture. The program's founders are hoping it will become an alternative to prison for men who commit family violence in the area. 

At the moment, the centre is based out of the Newman House as they wait for funding to build a 28-bed facility on the outskirts of the town. Once fully operating, participants stay at the facility for 12 months. They then undertake an additional three to fours years of aftercare healing programs that are also based in Newman. 

“I’m a son of a father, who is also the son of a father, my grandfather: there’s three generations who used violence… Violence stops with us, it stops with the user. My use of violence stops with me. If it didn’t stop with me then I would have passed it on to my son,” Mr Cuimara said.