If you missed it, here is an excellent review of the film by Professor Sandy Toussaint.
Aboriginal Healing, Sharing Culture
The making of Putuparri and the Rainmakers as told by the director Nicole Ma and Director of Photography Paul Elliott. There are three sections, 'Finding the Story', 'Hidden Gems' and 'Shooting in the Desert' lasting just over seven minutes.
If you missed it, here is an excellent review of the film by Professor Sandy Toussaint.
'Putuparri and the Rainmakers is a stunning story of Aboriginal culture, life and law' by Professor Sandy Toussaint
Yesterday, I had the pleasure of meeting Professor Sandy Toussaint, who is the Associate Director of the Berndt Museum at the University of Western Australia. Sandy told me about this new documentary by Nicole Ma, which is about Putuparri Tom Lawford, a man caught between two worlds. Here is an excellent article that Sandy wrote about this film for The Conversation. Check the film out when it comes to your area.
'Putuparri and the Rainmakers (2015) is about the courage of Putuparri Tom Lawford, a Kimberley Wangkajunga man whose determined love of family, culture and traditional lands takes him on a hard yet profoundly rewarding journey all the way back to his desert home.
Directed by the Chinese-born film director Nicole Ma over a decade, Putuparri’s grandparents, Wirrali, activist and artist Nyilpirr Ngalyaku “Spider” Snell and Dolly Juguja Snell, define much of Putuparri’s story and the film’s fine-grained narrative.
Integrated throughout, we see footage of 40 artists and claimants working collaboratively on the distinctive painting of the Ngurrara Canvas at at the Pirnirni desert site prior to National Native Title tribunal hearings in 1997.
The film is evocatively framed, moving between the different worlds Putuparri inhabits, including Fitzroy Crossing and the extraordinary beauty of Kurtal, a significant waterhole in Western Australia’s Great Sandy Desert. It’s here that his people have held rituals to bring rain for generations.
Group photo from Fitzroy Crossing: L-R Dolly Snell, Japeth Rangi, Spider Snell ,Tom Putuparri Lawford, Nicole Ma. Courtesy of Ronin Films.
The complexities of Putuparri’s life, including his responsibilities as a future leader, the need to reconnect with Customary Law, the expectation he’ll pass that knowledge on to future generations, and family and work commitments, are honestly and poignantly portrayed. Ma’s film encourages viewers to listen closely to Putuparri both in Fitzroy Crossing and in the desert.
One of the film’s focal points is a six-day journey from Fitzroy Crossing to Kurtal by a small group of elders in a four-wheel drive convoy across cattle country and rough terrain.
For several elders, it’s the first time in 40 years they have returned to their traditional lands; for younger people, such as Putuparri, it is the first visit to a place he has heard about since childhood.
Ma’s careful footage cogently shows the way in which less senior women and men gently care for and guide their elders by physically assisting them to enter the waterhole. Coolamons (intricately carved wooden vessels) are used to dig deep for cool water which is then raised high so it can be spilt over their heads and splashed back into the water, symbolising falling rain and new growth.
Putuparri, we discover, is a much-loved person who has suffered loss, sorrow, grief and distress. In his own words, a dark and destructive period as a “fucking alcoholic […] it really messed me up” generated extremely hard, depressing and regrettable times, not only personally, but also for close loved ones, especially his wife and daughters.
Putuparri’s family deliberately make arrangements for him to travel to the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra. It’s here that the magnificent five-by-eight-metre Ngurrara canvas produced at Pirnirni as supportive evidence for their Ngurrara native title claim, passed in 2007, is held.
Putuparri’s task, along with others such as Murrungkurr Terry Murray from the Kimberley Aboriginal Law and Culture Centre, is to return the canvas to its storage home at the Mangkaja Art Centre in Fitzroy Crossing.
This responsibility, combined with extended visits to Kurtal, and tutelage from his grandparents and other traditional owners, provide major turning points in Putuparri’s life, and in the film.
One of the film’s many qualities is the way in which Ma captures the beauty, diversity and visual distinctiveness of local life. There are wide-screen shots of the iconic Fitzroy River alongside images of the local supermarket, a road-killed kangaroo, children at school on sports day and the Mangkaja Arts organisation.
Among the several friends and family telling stories is Putuparri’s sister, the well-known performer Ningali Lawford-Wolf.
While Putuparri’s story takes centre-stage, the film continues to pay homage to his grandparents - Wirrali (now deceased), and Spider and Juguja Dolly Snell. Juguja, this year’s recent winner of the Telstra National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art award for her Kurtal painting, makes a heart-felt and authoritative plea near the film’s conclusion:
"Young people gotta look after that country, and that culture. That’s a big culture, that one."
Ma’s nuanced, respectful and powerful film shows that Putuparri is not only listening to the words of his grandparents and observing their devotion; he is also ready to pick up the significant mantel they will leave with him. Putuparri puts it this way:
"We gotta take on the fight; standing at that place [Kurtal] is like going home."'
When was the last time you did absolutely nothing for 10 whole minutes? No texting, talking or even thinking?
Mindfulness expert Andy Puddicombe describes the transformative power of doing just that: Refreshing your mind for 10 minutes a day, simply by being mindful and experiencing the present moment. (No need for incense or sitting in uncomfortable positions)
I am deeply troubled by the racism I see and hear about in Australia. Here is an powerful and moving piece of writing on this topic by Caitlin Prince on her cracked... blog. It is a must-read.
Thanks to Pip Gordon for flagging this excellent piece. Pip says on her Facebook page, "A blog worth a read and a deep reflection. My eyes being opened some years ago have never allowed me to ignore this since. Ignorance is never an excuse."
'It feels like this is a conversation I'm only beginning to have; a conversation I’ve somehow been in the middle of ever since I was eleven years old. I was in a social studies class sitting on the floor of an air-conditioned classroom watching a documentary. An Aboriginal woman was weeping about the children that were taken. There was a strange salty ball knotted in my belly. When the program finished and the lights were turned back up a kid next to me said that ‘All Abos are drunks anyway, they can’t look after their children.’ A chorus of agreement rose in the room.
Mostly I remember the shock; still soaked in the woman’s tears I stared around my class of upper middle class white kids. It was the first time I noticed racism...'
Read more... (and please feel free to comment on Caitlin's blog)
I missed this interesting article which appeared in the Guardian last week. It is excellent news to see youth activism amongst Indigenous peoples on the rise.
'With the majority of the country’s aboriginal population under 25, young people are embracing indigenous languages as representatives seek to make cultural issues a focus of the coming election
Quinn Meawasige says he has spent his life walking with “one foot in a moccasin and one foot in a sneaker”.
The indigenous activist and youth council representative with the Assembly of First Nations (AFN), Meawasige learned to balance both those worlds when he discovered his Aboriginal roots and heritage in a self-imposed stint in rehab as a struggling teenager.
Meawasige, now 21, is far from alone among young indigenous Canadians who are forging a new path paved with old traditions.
There are over 1.4 million aboriginal people in Canada, with the majority of the population now under 25.
More than 45% of on-reserve youth say learning a First Nations language is very important to them, and just over half of them can understand or speak a First Nations language.
A 2014 report from the British Columbia Language Initiative - which seeks to revitalize the province’s First Nations languages - found that the number of semi-fluent speakers had risen significantly since 2010.
The embrace of the language comes as Canada’s aboriginal youth are increasingly finding their voice in culture and politics.
“As an aboriginal youth of this generation, we’re saying culture, language has to be on the forefront of our approach to exercising our rights, the healing that needs to happen within the community,” he said.
“It’s a wave of young people who want to retain their language, who want to contribute to Western society but also make sure they’re rooted and grounded in their culture,” said Meawasige.
Indigenous activism has taken many forms, from the electronic powwow music of A Tribe Called Red to the flash mobs of the Idle No More movement.
Ashley Callingbull made history this year by becoming the first Aboriginal woman to be crowned Mrs Universe - and then calling on First Nations people to vote Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper out of office in the 19 October federal election, criticizing what she called his government’s adversarial approach to First Nations. [Harper was voted out of office - DC]
Mrs Universe, Ashley Callingbull, speaks in September.
Brian Maracle, program coordinator of the Onkwawenna Kentyohkwa Mohawk language school outside Toronto, said he’s witnessed the shift since the school opened in 1999.
“Sixteen years ago, our typical student was a middle-aged grandmother,” he said. “And now our typical student is someone in their 20s, maybe even a teenager.”
And he’s noticed his younger students are using the language in new ways.
“They want to be part of this new culture with social media and rap and things like that. They want to do it their way. I’m really surprised at the determination of these young people to use the language and use the language only. They want to function entirely - in our case Mohawk - that’s how they want to live their lives.”
Still, of Canada’s roughly 60 indigenous languages, only Cree, Ojibwa and Inuktituk - an Inuit language - are currently predicted to survive.
Khelsilem, 26, a Vancouver-based indigenous artist and educator, is among the young language revitalization activists trying to keep his own Squamish language from dying out.
He founded the Skwomesh Language Academy, an adult immersion program geared towards spreading the language, which is at the very brink of extinction. That included a pilot project funded through grassroots donations that allowed Khelsilem to live with two other indigenous youth for nine months in an immersion “language house” where they immersed themselves in speaking Squamish.
Khelsilem’s hunger for the language was first stoked by his grandmother.
She lost her ability to speak Squamish in the residential school system - a network of boarding schools for Canada’s aboriginal people that lasted for more than a century and was described by a government Truth and Reconciliation Commission as “a period of cultural genocide”.
Victims of the policy of forced assimilation were first punished for speaking their own language and then found themselves unable to communicate with their elders - or pass on their language to their own children.
Khelsilem’s grandmother lost her own language but insisted that he listen to old cassette tapes of people speaking Squamish.
Khelsilem links the current interest in learning Aboriginal languages among his peers to the political activism of the 1970s and 80s when social justice movements inspired Canada’s aboriginal population to embrace their own identity after decades of what he calls “internalized racism”.
“So you get these kids who are raised by those parents and they started looking around and saying, OK - what do we have that is ours? What do we have that we can claim as ours and we can also be proud of and learn and practice? And language was one of those,” he said.
“I think that’s where a lot of it comes from - this very strong history of our people starting to feel proud of ourselves again and becoming more visible and becoming stronger and becoming more active.”
Aboriginal groups are also pushing to bring culture and language issues to the forefront of Canada’s federal election campaign.
This summer, the AFN presented its policy priorities to the federal parties, which included a demand for more funding for language revitalization and the establishment of a National First Nations Languages Institute.
So far, only the centrist Liberal Party [which won the recent election in Canada - DC] has made a specific campaign promise to directly increase languages funding, though the other major parties have made promises that would boost funding to culture and education.
The Canadian government spends about $9m a year on two aboriginal language preservation programs, a financial commitment critics argue falls short of the need.
But Hjalmer Wenstob, AFN national youth council co-chair, said members of this generation aren’t waiting for someone to bring their culture and language to them: they’ve gone in search of it.
“The truth is our youth can say I love you and they mean it, and they know what that means - and they can say it in their language,” he said.
“It’s a generation of such movement, a generation of such change.”
This is essential reading for people to understand what is happening to Indigenous peoples in Australia. Sadly, far too few people know about these issues. This article appeared on the SBS NITV website.
'Connection to country is the founding pillar of Indigenous identity. But threats to this connection have been making headlines throughout 2015. Here is a breakdown of the issue.
01. Background: Indigenous Australia and country making headlines in 2015
In 2010, the Western Australian government conducted research to deem which remote Indigenous communities in the state were unsustainable, according to a leaked document as reported by the ABC in 2015.
In 2011, the federal government prepared a document titled Priority Investment Communities – WA that named 192 of 287 remote Indigenous communities as not sustainable. Most of these communities are located in the Kimberley region in the state's northwest.
In 2014, Western Australian Premier Colin Barnett flagged the closures of about 150 remote Indigenous communities after the Federal Government said it planned to cease providing essential services to those communities and make it a state responsibility.
The Australian Government funds about two-thirds of the state's remote Indigenous settlements but announced in September 2014 that it would transfer that responsibility to the state government.
In 2015, then Prime Minister Tony Abbott said the federal government supported the Western Australian Government's possible service cuts.
"What we can't do, is endlessly subsidise choices, if those lifestyle choices are not conducive to the kind of full participation in Australian society that everyone should have," Mr Abbott said.
SOS Blak Australia campaign
In response to Tony Abbott's support for the potential closures of remote Indigenous communities through Western Australia and subsequent disapproval from the communities, Indigenous leaders banded together to form the SOS Blak Australia campaign.
"We who live in the remoter areas of Australia do not believe it is a lifestyle choice but an intrinsic fundamental human right to live in our own communities and our own country. We hold significant cultural obligations to our Ancestors to maintain Sovereign ties to our lands," a statement on behalf of the communities reads.
"After successive breaches of human rights conventions and the forced removal of the Aboriginal Community of Oombulgurri in 2014, we maintain a vote of no confidence in both the incumbent state and federal governments in their actions toward Aboriginal people."
In March it launched a global call to action to stop the potential closure of the communities. Protests around the country took storm and social media engagement mushroomed. In May, communities around the world converged to protest the flagged closures.
The campaign says on behalf of the remote communities they:
02. Major resource projects affecting communities in 2015
Adani's Carmichael Coal Mine
The Carmichael Coal Mine and Rail project of Adani Mining Pty Ltd was given the green light in October this year by Australia’s Environment Minister Greg Hunt.
The Wangan and Jagalingo people initially rejected a land-use agreement with Adani Mining over the $16-billion Carmichael Coalmine project. In April 2015 the National Native Title Tribunal ruled that Adani's remaining mining leases could be granted (but that ruling did not mean that it must be granted), without further consideration of native title issues.
The project was approved in July 2014 by Mr Hunt but was set aside in August by the Federal Court over threatened species yakka skink and the ornamental snake whose habitat was at the intended site.
The Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) says that the mining project, which is set to be dug in Galilee Basin in Queensland, will have a severe impact on around 10,000 hectares natural environment. Endangered species, such as the largest-known population of the southern black-throated finch, are expected to take the brunt, it said.
"To approve a massive coal mine that would make species extinct, deplete 297 billion litres of precious groundwater and produce 128.4 million tonnes of CO2 a year is grossly irresponsible," ACF President Geoff Cousins told media.
The project has estimated that it will produce a total 2.3 tonnes of thermal coal.
Ichthys LNG Project
The Ichthys LNG Project is an oil and gas project, and Japan's largest investment project in Australia, about 220 kilometres off the coast of Western Australia.
It is a joint venture between INPEX, major partner Total, CPC Corporation Taiwan and the Australian subsidiaries of Tokyo Gas, Osaka Gas, Kansai Electric Power, Chubu Electric Power and Toho Gas.
Ichthys, which is currently under construction, says it expects to produce about 1.6 million tonnes of LNG per annum and a total 8.9 million tonnes of LNG. It is set to produce a maximum of 100,000 barrels of condensate per day.
Gas and condensate will be transferred to Darwin through a 900 kilometre pipeline for processing then exported to global markets from a facility in the Browse Basin, north of Broome.
In September it came under fire from the Maritime Union of Australia. They were concerned INPEX would not provide enough jobs to locals and launched a campaign to ensure INPEX would commit to a binding agreement to ensure the venture would provide jobs to locals.
Ichthys responded saying it would. Its 2015 reconciliation action plan says that it has:
03. Why is it important for Indigenous Australians to stay on their lands?
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have a special connection to the natural environment. The land is a part of them and is at the core of their spirituality.
Their ancestor's spirits created the land and everything in it, which makes every part of it sacred. Every part of the world is interconnected – people, plants, animals, land mass and the celestial.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people inherit totems, a natural object or living thing that is a spiritual descendent, according to which tribe they are from. Indigenous Australia was made up of more than 250 tribes, says the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies.
The Australian Government itself acknowledges that "land is fundamental to the wellbeing of Aboriginal people".
"The connection that Aboriginal people feel to our country is one of the hardest concepts to explain to the layman. Trying to frame this concept is modern language is like trying to grasp a two dimensional cup out of a piece of paper, it’s the layers that make the cup palpable not the drawing of it.
Connection to country is inherent, we are born to it, it is how we identify ourselves, it is our family, our laws, our responsibility, our inheritance and our legacy. To not know your country causes a painful disconnection, the impact of which is well documented in studies relating to health, wellbeing and life outcomes. Modern constructs of identification do not work for us, in fact they dismantle the fabric that holds us together.
For example it matters not that my licence says I live in Sydney, it matters that I am guest in this place, I respect it because I am from the Arrente and Luritja lands, and it is this knowledge that enables me to identify who I am, who my family is, who my ancestors were and what my stories are. We are indistinguishable from our country which is why we fight so hard to hang on." Journalist Catherine Liddle
04. The WA issue: how are decisions on Indigenous issues made?
Western Australian Government
The Government of Western Australia’s Department of Aboriginal Affairs leads policy on issues affecting Indigenous Australians in the state and advises the state government on the state and direction of services to them, under the 1972 Aboriginal Affairs Planning Authority Act.
Section 17 of the 1972 Aboriginal Heritage Act and Regulations 6-10 of the 1974 Aboriginal Heritage Regulations work to preserve Aboriginal sites and objects.
The Western Australian Government has introduced the 2014 Aboriginal Heritage Amendment Bill to parliament.
Under the 1993 Native Title Act, native title claimants can make an application to the Federal Court to have their native title recognised by Australian law.
Native Title recognises the traditional rights and interests to land and waters of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Before 1992, Australian law did not recognise Indigenous peoples having rights to land and water bodies that they had inhabited for thousands of years.
It was formed when the outcome of the High Court of Australia's Mabo v Queensland case (1992) of Australia's Mabo v Queensland case (1992) favoured the Meriam people's claim to Murray Island.
Western Australian Heritage Council
The state government's Heritage Council, advises the state on matters concerning its heritage and makes decisions pertaining to heritage using the 1990 Heritage of Western Australia Act.
None of its members are Indigenous.
The Aboriginal Cultural Material Committee
The Aboriginal Cultural Material Committee falls under the WA Government's Department of Aboriginal Affairs and was established under the 1972 Aboriginal Heritage Act to evaluate the importance of places and objects alleged to be associated with Aboriginal persons and make subsequent recommendations to the minister.
As of 2015, three of its six members are of Aboriginal descent, the state government confirmed to NITV.
The Western Australian Government confirmed to NITV that 35 sites had been deregistered from the Aboriginal Heritage Register.
"The Aboriginal Cultural Material Committee has previously made decisions on the 35 heritage places affected by the Supreme Court decision," a spokesperson told NITV.
The move was made in line with Section 5 of the 1972 Aboriginal Heritage Act, the government said.
There have been reports that 1,262 heritage claims has been rejected under Section 5. The government would not answer NITV directly when asked to confirm this.
Instead the spokesperson said the Aboriginal Cultural Material Committee was required to assess if a place meets any of the subsections of Section 5 of the Aboriginal Heritage Act.
They added that the status of an Aboriginal site or heritage place could only change to Stored Data/Not a Site-status through an assessment by the Aboriginal Cultural Material Committee that had determined the site did not meet Section 5 of the Aboriginal Heritage Act.
A vast array of rock art is under threat from commercial developments on the Burrup Peninsula meets requirements for National Heritage listing.
The Department of Aboriginal Affairs Aboriginal Heritage inquiry system has two categories, Registered Sites and Other Heritage Places. The Other Heritage Places category is comprised of two subsets: Lodged and Stored Data/Not a Site places.
"The government has been working for several years to improve the register to ensure that the places it contains actually meet the requirements of the act, still exist, and that they are in the correct location," the spokesperson told NITV, adding that 14,000 locations are on the the Register of Aboriginal sites, and more than 35,000 are in the database.
"The federal government works with the Western Australian Government to ensure that current levels of support for remote area communities are maintained.”
In a move that stirred controversy, the Aboriginal Heritage Amendment Bill was introduced into parliament in November 2014. The bill gives the executive of the Department of Aboriginal Affairs considerable power.
It can declare under Section 18C that Aboriginal sites do not exist. It, nor the Aboriginal Cultural Material Committee, do not have to consult with Aboriginal native title holders or custodians when considering a heritage site.
''We Are At The Crossroads Of Aboriginal And Torres Strait Islander Peoples' Survival' by Tauto Sansbury
Here is a recent article by Tauto Sansbury, Narungga elder and recipient of the 2015 NAIDOC Lifetime Achievement Award, from the Huffington Post.
'I believe that we are at the crossroads of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples' survival. The impact of current government policies of forced removal and closure of communities, of deregistration of thousands of Aboriginal sites, will be absolutely catastrophic for us.
It will also make Australia poorer as a nation.
Traditional Owners from around the country met in Alice Springs recently to partake in AWAKEN: Talking Country - a forum to discuss matters of great concern regarding what's happening on traditional lands throughout Australia. This was at the heart of the words of all who spoke.
We talked about the removal of people from country against the will of the original custodians of the land and the total lack of understanding of, or care about, connection to country that is constantly demonstrated by governments - national, state and territory.
Everything that they are doing is against our will. True consultation and negotiation simply does not take place. It flies in the face of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, particularly in this instance, Article 10, with regard to Indigenous peoples not being forcibly removed from their lands.
And in a cowardly act to ensure that people leave their communities, which have been their traditional homelands for thousands of years, the government removes essential services; this started in Oombulgurri, where houses were bulldozed with possessions still in them.
Whether there is real lack of understanding, or whether it's just a pretence on the part of those who wish to take our lands, the result is dispossession that will lead to cultural genocide.
To some of the people in these targeted communities, English is a second or third language, yet they are being thrown off their lands and are supposed to assimilate into white communities, where they are basically aliens in their own country.
The deregistration of Aboriginal sites in Western Australia, taking place under flawed legislation, is another example of cultural genocide. The WA government is steamrolling over the rights, beliefs, cultural values and heritage of Aboriginal people in that state.
Take the Burrup Peninsula, home to between 500,000 and 1 million rock engravings, yet the government wants to see this destroyed for the sake of development. This is nothing short of criminal, and I don't think it would occur in any other so-called developed nation on the planet.
So what does all this mean to the individuals who are affected by removal from country? Basically, our people are having their cultural links and roots, their very identity as Aboriginal people, stolen from them. They are being made to assimilate into the broader community just as in the past, when families were broken up and sent to different parts of the country during the mission days.
Let me share with you my own story as a case in point.
I was born 66 years ago on an Aboriginal mission, Point Pearce on South Australia's Yorke Peninsula. By now, I should be a fully initiated man, speaking my native tongue, telling my stories and handing them down to my children and grandchildren, performing my song and dance and ceremony.
Well, I'm not.
Being born on Point Pearce you were not allowed to speak your native tongue or practise your culture, customs or tradition. The church didn't allow that and neither did the missionaries. So I have lost these aspects of my life, and it has left a great hole in my heart.
Yes, it was cultural genocide.
What is happening today, with the closure of communities, the destruction of our sacred sites, the threats to our heritage areas, is continuing this cultural genocide that has been a daily feature of the lives of Indigenous Australians since the arrival of Captain Cook in 1770 and the invasion of our land.
But we will not be silenced. And we will continue to speak up and fight the fight for our very survival.
"I'm grateful to be here today, connected to myself and to the world around me, because this still sometimes feels new to me. This being human-thing, after spending 14 years lost in the aftermath of a DSM label.
My journey into and out of the mental health system has taught me a tremendous amount about what it means to be dehumanised and what it means to reclaim one's identity. And it's instilled in me an unwavering vision of a future..."
A marvellous inspirational and deeply moving talk from a very brave lady, Laura Delano. If you are interested in any way in mental health / wellbeing, then please set aside 30 minutes to watch this talk.
Laura Delano is a psychiatric liberation activist, writer, and community organizer. She entered the “mental health” system as a thirteen-year old and escaped it fourteen years later, after accidentally stumbling upon Robert Whitaker’s book, Anatomy of an Epidemic.
Today, Laura works with individuals looking to free themselves from psychiatric labels and drugs, and communities seeking to build alternatives to the “mental health” system.
She lives near Boston, Massachusetts, where she’s founded a mutual support group for people coming off psychiatric drugs, and can be found at her website, www.RecoveringfromPsychiatry.com, on Facebook here and here, or on Twitter. She serves on the boards of the International Society for Ethical Psychology and Psychiatry, and Mad in America, Inc.
In Journeying Back To Self, Laura has written the story of what happened in her life after being labeled "Bipolar" at fourteen up until the point at which she accidentally discovered Robert Whitaker's Anatomy of an Epidemic thirteen years later, in May 2010.
The story of how she left the "mental health" system is being saved for a larger writing project, and in the meantime, Laura now writes more generally about her experiences as an ex-patient. New readers to her blog might want to start here: story from its beginning.
Here is an excellent description of how colonialism impacted upon a young Aboriginal Australian as summarised by Richard Broome in his seminal book Aboriginal Australians: A history since 1788.
'In Dareton, new South Wales, In 1965, eleven-year-old Malcolm Smith and his brother ‘borrowed’ pushbikes leaning against a bus shelter and went joy-riding. This small act led to the involvement of the police, welfare officers and the court.
Malcolm’s widowed father, who was in seasonal work and thus not always present, was judged as an unfit parent. The boys were taken and placed in a series of homes and foster care placements, where their Aboriginality was undermined, even denigrated.
As a confused youth, Malcolm found himself behind bars, where his Aboriginality was somewhat confirmed by other Koori men. The gaol door revolved and he was finally reconnected with family, as best any fostered youth could.
In 1980, in the hope of pleasing and defending his sister, he outraged her by killing her boyfriend, who had been bashing her. He was sentenced to four years for manslaughter.
In Long Bay gaol he expressed interest in the Bible and was given a tape of the Book of Matthew. He began to paint religious images but became delusional, said he was Jesus Christ, then claimed he was evil. Mental turmoil mounted, reflecting his alienation from family and his Aboriginal cultural roots.
Self-hate engulfed him and, driven by the passage in Matthew: ‘And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out’ (Matthew 18: 9, King James Bible), he drove the handle of an artist’s brush into his eye and brain while in a toilet cubicle, collapsed and died.
He became one of 99 cases investigated in 1990 by the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody. 
How did a joy-ride unleash such a terrible chain of events? The short answer is that Malcolm was a colonial subject - although it is a little more complex, as his brother did not suicide.
However, both took a joy-ride that led to their being taken out of the family and placed into a system that managed Aboriginal people, because it viewed their culture and Aboriginality as inferior, and requiring of alteration - even eradication.
His father’s love and desire to have him back was of no account. Malcolm was the victim of the practices of colonialism and the ideas of superiority and racism embedded within.
The psychological pressures of this set of colonial practices led to defiance through repeated crime, to be sent back to his Koori mates in gaol; and then to self-hate: the twin responses to colonial pressures first identified by Frantz Fannon and Albert Memmi in their 1960s classics about the colonial condition. 
 J. H. Wooten, ‘Report of the Inquiry into the Death of Malcolm Smith’ Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody Reports, AGPS, Canberra, 1989.
 A. Memmi, The Colonizer and the Colonized, Beacon Press, Boston, 1967; F. Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks, Grove Press Inc., New York, 1967.'
I ask, "How much has changed to day?" As I understand, levels of child removals, incarcerations and suicides amongst Indigenous people of Australia are at record levels.
An inspiring, beautifully written story from Mad in America about being drugged by the biological psychiatry industry and a courageous battle through drug withdrawal to recovery
‘Part One: Becoming Psychiatric: Easy as 1-2-3
Living with a mental illness is hard work. I know because I lived as a psychiatric patient for over thirty-seven years. Working to become well turned out to be even harder. I know because it took everything I had to recover. Even though eighteen psychiatrists treated me, my health only got worse. I recovered completely after hiring a private psychologist. Now, I take no psychiatric drugs and see no psychiatrists.
My almost-completed book, which I call The Daisy Project, tells the story of how I first became a patient in my home province of British Columbia, Canada, why I was sick for so long, and the hurdles I went through to fully recover. This blog provides a brief overview of my journey.
My problems began after my own mother sexually abused me when I was very young. I grew into an emotionally immature, awkward fifteen-year-old and spent hours crying in the privacy of my bedroom. Seven years later and in my last year of university, I made what I believed to be a responsible decision: to seek help from a psychiatrist.
Everything about me was wrong. What I said, what I did not say, what I did and what I did not do. I felt so badly that I wanted to die. When the psychiatrist asked what brought me to his office, I could not utter one word when I really wanted to tell him how awful I felt. It took a few sessions before I could tell the specialist about the sabers that I imagined were darting from the skies directly toward me.
The psychiatrist prescribed Stelazine, a newly approved antipsychotic drug. I started to sleep better. As I would soon graduate in the class of 1965 from the UBC School of Nursing, I found a job and place to live. The psychiatrist approved and sent me forth to work in my new position as a pediatric nurse. I was a scared twenty-three-year-old almost certain of trouble ahead.
As predicted, work was a disaster. I cried in the toilet stall during meal breaks. The psychiatrist added an antidepressant. I dozed off during coffee breaks. The psychiatrist added a stimulant. My hands shook when I prepared injections. The psychiatrist added anti-side-effect medication. I could not think clearly.
The psychiatrist increased the dose of the antipsychotic. My flattened emotions masked my hurt when other nurses shunned me, a supervisor taunted me and another made a sexual pass at me. My anxiety increased; my despair grew; my emotional pain deepened. I quit the job.
As sick as I was, I wanted to make a difference in the lives of people like me. I went to work in the provincial psychiatric institution. I listened to the stories of patients. I observed the behaviour of psychiatrists. I questioned the rules and regulations of administrators.
I was an undercover agent spying on the deepest secrets of the institution and witnessing the pain of those living within its chilling atmosphere. At the same time, I was often lost in my own world and I wanted to kill myself.
To avoid ending up institutionalized myself, I did everything I could to get better.
I stopped seeing a psychiatrist who was angrier than I was. My family doctor sent me to another. I stopped seeing him too, as he was far too familiar. When I asked my family doctor for a third referral she told me the doctors were good doctors and she refused to send me to a third. I protested with a sit-in. I left her consultation room and sat in the reception area, prepared to sit for as long as I needed to get a referral. An hour later, the doctor wrote the referral.
As well as seeing psychiatrists, I attended mental health support programs. When an administrator cancelled a program that was actually helping me, I protested to senior officials.
Twenty-five years of psychiatry had not helped. I learned why when I asked my thirteenth psychiatrist what he could do for me. He told me that he would not commit to success; that way, he said, he would have no failures. Why, then, had he and other psychiatrists prescribed me high doses of twenty different psychiatric medications, sometimes five or six different drugs a day, if they could not commit to success?
The psychiatrists had a duty of care, especially when it came to the side-effects of the drugs. My body ached and the only relief was to pace hallways or walk for miles. My speech was slurred, my lips quivered and sometimes I choked on my food. I walked with a shuffle and I had a blank look on my face. I had spells of blindness and I could not drive. What people said did not make sense. I was always forgetting things too.
So what did the psychiatrists do? They fiddled with the dosages or changed the drug and told me to get back to work.
The term “side-effects” downplayed the serious damage that extended into my family. They talked about me behind my back and my husband was ready to walk out. My health deteriorated and the psychiatrist gave me electric shock treatments. I ended up living on a disability pension. If my psychiatrists were practicing evidence-based care, they were not paying attention because there was no evidence that I was getting better.
Whatever happened was obviously my responsibility and I had to take up the challenge. In 1990 I wrote in my diary, “I have been told I am gutsy, some say powerful. To me this is a compliment, but I am shaking in my boots.” I continued with my gutsy pushing of the doctors, and they continued not knowing how to help.
Finally, in 1995, I asked my sixteenth psychiatrist what he thought of my going to a psychologist. He told me not to open a can of worms. As soon as I got home, I made an appointment with a registered psychologist.
The psychologist knew exactly what to do. He was consistently respectful and listened carefully. He adjusted the therapy according to how I was doing and he never gave up. I started to talk, to make friends and to stand up for myself more than anyone had ever thought possible. However, my anxiety continued. By this time, I had come a long way on my journey to wellness and I would not let go of my dream for a full recovery.
I had an impressively difficult job ahead if I was to succeed. In the mid to late 1990s the pharmaceutical industry was funding organizations to advocate for access to newer and more powerful drugs. At the same time, mainstream physicians were questioning whether psychiatry belonged in the medical profession.
Psychiatrists did not use X-rays and blood tests to diagnose mental disease, rather they talked with patients. Psychiatrists also faced tough competition from psychologists and counsellors and to appease the medical profession and to be distinct from their competition, psychiatrists began relying heavily on medications.
Added to the corporate and professional pressures of the time, my psychiatrists seemed to lack in-depth knowledge about the drugs and when I questioned them, they tended to avoid responsibility for their prescribing practices. I wondered if I would ever overcome the barriers and recover, or just continue getting sicker.
Part Two: Tough to Overcome
My body revved in high gear, non-stop, 24-7. My private psychologist knew exactly what to do. He handed me a computer print-out that pointed to my two prescribed benzodiazepines, also called benzos, as the cause of my agitation. After reading the papers, I realized that the six psychiatrists who had prescribed the addictive medications did not recognize that my mental and physical problems were serious reactions to the benzos.
A month earlier, I had stopped my tryptophan, a sleeping sedative; buspirone, an antianxiety drug; and bupropion, an antidepressant. However, when I had tried to stop my benzodiazepines, Ativan and Rivotril, the withdrawal was too much and I went back on them. Yet, I really wanted off everything so I talked to addiction services. They could not help.
I called the women listed on the computer print-outs. One told me to go slowly and another said to lower my expectations. A third, who had studied the medical literature on benzodiazepines, offered ongoing telephone support during the withdrawal period. All three women told me how hard it was to find a doctor who knew how to taper people off the drugs safely and effectively.
Obviously, it was my responsibility to get off the powerful drugs so I asked my pharmacist for help and he gave me a copy of Benzodiazepines: How they Work and How to Withdraw by Dr. Heather Ashton. Taking benzos was torture and tapering the drug doses to get off was likely to be worse.
I found a psychiatrist who agreed to help but when he spoke of his “fast, easy method,” I sensed trouble. I asked him to read the Ashton Manual, which detailed a step-by step approach to get off the medications safely and effectively using diazepam [Valium] as the transition medication. He agreed to follow the regime. The withdrawal was on.
To get through the process successfully, I placed my anger where it belonged: directed at the physicians and the health-care system. Managing the symptoms was my responsibility.
I was agitated and disorganized, so I hired a homemaker. I educated my friends about the irritability and agitation from withdrawal. I asked for their help. To lull myself to sleep, I knitted dishcloths. To help with the muscle aches, I took warm baths. To keep physically fit, I attended yoga classes. To help with my attitude, I took short walks in a nearby field, stepping carefully so as not to fall. I breathed deeply as I revelled in the swaying grasses and smiled at the bushtits flitting in the trees.
Mostly I postponed major decisions, but my difficulty managing money was so urgent that I had to arrange assistance. When life was too much, a friend took care of my dog. I stopped driving. I prayed, which was a spiritual practice that I found helpful. Every morning, I reminded myself that I would be a new woman in a year.
The psychiatrist blamed me for the agitation and I feared he might stop the prescriptions. I had heard of doctors abandoning their patients and leaving them to go through withdrawal cold turkey. So when I was in the psychiatrist’s office I tried to sound calm by speaking slowly and lowering the pitch of my voice. I told him just enough so that he would keep writing the prescriptions for the lower and lower doses of diazepam.
Finally, on May 19, 2001, I took my last psychiatric drug. To celebrate the achievement, I called my friends to tell them of my success. I packed all my unused pills into a big bag and took them to the pharmacist announcing, “I did it.”
I ordered a medical alert bracelet inscribed with the message that I had multiple drug allergies. Later in the afternoon, a truck delivered a bouquet of flowers. My triumph over psychiatry was official.
When I thought back on the withdrawal of the previous nine months, I realized that I had gone through horrendous withdrawals on four other occasions.
The psychiatrist had stopped the Parnate in 1976 and the pain was like lightning shooting through my body. The psychiatrist stopped the Ritalin in 1977 and for a year I could not stay awake. The psychiatrist stopped the Trilafon in 1986 and I was in hospital for eight weeks. The psychiatrist stopped a whole bunch of antidepressants in 1994 and I could hardly breath, had horrible stomach cramps, violent vomiting and sometimes went unconscious.
The acute withdrawals were over. Still, it would take months or possibly years to fully recover from the problems brought on by the benzos. Although the problems with sleeping, keeping calm and my memory difficulties were likely to linger, I was proud to be off all my psychiatric drugs.
For thirty-seven years, the steam-rolling effect of my medications had snuffed my feelings, stilted my thoughts and stifled my personhood. My achievement brought me back to life. Colours were brighter. Music sounded livelier. The fragrance of flowers excited me. I was ecstatic about my future, unaware that I was about to learn that there was more to the new life than joyous excitement.
Part Three: My Life My Way
Life is good now. It has been twelve years since I last visited a psychiatrist or last taken a psychiatric drug.
At first I was angry, really angry. To address the years of inept, wrongful and sometimes abusive care, I wrote letters to the Minister of Health, the Chief of the Health Authority, the Office of the Ombudsman and politicians.
I requested funding to pay for therapy from my private psychologist as I needed to recover from the emotional damage caused me as a psychiatric patient. The officials said no. It was naïve to think that the government would pay without a long legal process with expensive lawyers. I had to accept that bad things happened to good people, including me.
The bad things changed me. I did not trust anyone, including doctors, and I constantly watched for danger. Some might have said that the excessive vigilance was paranoid, but paranoia occurs when there is no valid reason to constantly watch. I had excellent reasons.
The psychiatrists, who were supposed to help me recover from the effects of my mother’s sexual abuse, actually added to the trauma, albeit in different ways. They had hugged and badgered me. They had shouted at me and a family doctor had sexually assaulted me.
The psychiatrists had not listened and tended to jump to conclusions. The psychiatric drugs made it very hard to protect myself and I left their offices feeling less than human. Once I stopped seeing them, my confidence grew and I lowered my guard.
The childhood and psychiatric abuse altered my neurological, hormonal and other bodily functions and it was difficult to say which abuse left what mark. The doctors used medication to fix the changes and the taking of prescription pills became a habit. I took pills to calm me, pills to sleep, and pills to make me happy.
A few months after stopping all medications, I was a bundle of nerves and I opened the cupboard for a pill. Living on autopilot as I had been doing for so long had to stop. I switched gears from absentmindedly resorting to pills, to purposefully calming myself without using drugs by breathing the way the psychologist had taught me.
One of my biggest challenges was to keep calm, and to this day I must monitor my activities. I pay close attention to what I watch on TV and limit my time with other people. I seldom go to the local farmers’ market and I hardly travel at all.
I was a social person who now had to put together a quiet life. For the first few years of my new life, I decorated my home with my own sculptures, paintings and quilted fabrics. A kind visitor said that people should pay to see my place. Nowadays, I walk my dog, Anna, every day, visit close friends, attend church lunches and volunteer. I garden, sew and bake.
Sleep was another challenge. For over thirty-seven years sedating drugs put me to sleep and stimulating ones woke me up. Caffeine was a huge problem. One-half a cup of tea would spur me on for two to three hours, then a dopey feeling would overcome me and it took another day and a half to resettle. It was five or more years before I could get several nights a week of six or seven hours restful sleep. Luckily I was retired and I did not need to be alert on the job.
I worried about brain damage. How could I have swallowed an estimated 360,000 pills of powerful chemicals and not have some form of dementia? A year after getting off the drugs, I asked my psychologist to test my intelligence. The results went up significantly from the tests done when I was on medications. My brain was working just fine.
The psychiatric drugs had caused a lot of damage and I did not ever want to take any drug that might do the same again. Whenever a doctor wanted to write a prescription that I knew might harm me, I told him or her that I was “allergic.” When the doctor asked how I knew, I said that the drug made me agitated. He or she accepted my reasoning.
I have based my memoir, The Daisy Project, on my personal records that pile four feet high. I have the records from my physicians, hospitalizations, employers and disability insurance providers. I have the spreadsheets from the Ministry of Health that list the details of my prescriptions and visits to doctors.
Throughout my illness, I kept a diary. While writing my story, I studied the records in depth. I learned that I was a tough woman who got better because I asked questions, expected answers, asked more questions and never gave up asking.
Today, I am an active elderly woman and I speak out about the harm done to me by a mental health system that was supposed to care. My hope is that others who are now where I was can learn that it is possible to recover and to even muster the courage to speak out.’
Professor David Clark is Founder of the Sharing Culture initiative.