Upasana: where do you work and what is your role?
Lauren: I work for Remote Health in the Northern Territory. I am the Clinical Supervisor for the Remote Alcohol & Other Drugs Workforce which supports 27 mostly local Aboriginal workers in their remote communities. My clients are essentially the workers, but sometimes I will see community members as part of assisting the workforce members. I work in 17 communities across the Top End & Arnhem Land and all the way down through the Barkly to the border of South Australia, but I myself live in Alice Springs. My role is to provide support and supervision in a culturally-appropriate framework. I consult on a weekly basis with Aboriginal Elders, adopted family, friends and colleagues for cultural advice in order to do my job effectively. I also have a very small business providing supervision to human services workers here in Alice.
Upasana: How do you work with people?
Lauren: I utilise a strengths-based framework which is the basis of all our work within our Workforce. Research has found that in the NT that strength’s based rather than deficit models are most successful with Aboriginal people. Strength’s based work means focusing on what is working for the client or community, rather than what isn’t working which generally Aboriginal people don’t appreciate. (see attached resource for example). I spend lots of time building relationship and rapport with the workers. I am friendly, but always firm, honest and talk straight, as I find generally that Aboriginal mob can tell whether you are genuine or not very quickly, and are excellent judges of character.
U: What are the things which have most informed your practice?
L: Cultural knowledge undoubtedly the most important thing that informs my work.
U: What is a good day at work?
L: A day on community, spending time with the workers and community members, laughing, being on country, sharing stories and supporting each other. A good day is full of unexpected joys like playing on the beach with children, 4wding across the desert, flying over Kakadu and the islands of north-east Arnhem Land, or fishing off Gove peninsula. A really good day is providing supervision that is so fulfilling for us both, that in that moment, nothing else matters.
U: What are your challenges?
L: Working with other organisations that don’t share the same values, that talk the talk but don’t walk the walk. Dealing with high level issues, such as impulsive suicide attempts and supporting workers who are often dealing with constant death, grief and loss, and clients who are their family members. Managing my own self care as I travel up to 6000kms per week! Trying to retain pieces of Aboriginal languages and knowledge of the community and kinship structures etc in each area I support workers in. And working in drug and alcohol and Aboriginal health are highly political environments, and is challenging for a mperlkere (whitefella)!
U: How has your work changed your life?
L: My work has transformed my life, I feel I am living and working a life few dream of. I have the blessing of being welcomed by local, tribal Aboriginal people, experiencing cultures that few have the opportunity to experience, and sadly few even want to experience. Each and every day I am constantly confounded by the depths of their culture, so different to mine, and how little I know and understand, and how much I want to understand it. I experience cultural challenges at that at times frighten me in their magnitude, and at other times leave me almost breathless, with such gratitude that I should be so fortunate to experience, and will remember for the rest of my life. My work stretches me, and I hope, makes me more flexible and able to flow like the rivers, bend like the desert oaks, and shift like the sands. I don’t lose my ‘whiteness’ but I hope let my otherness be my strength. My love of Aboriginal culture and people help me to find our common ground without losing sight of our differences. My grandfather (see photo) who adopted me here in Alice Springs has taught me language, culture, kinship and Tjukurrpa (Dreaming) that helps me as an outsider have a small level of understanding that I utilise in my work every day. He tells me I am Aboriginal inside, and that while I am a whitefella, there is a part of my spirit that makes me Aboriginal. My work, my life, makes me a richer person in my spirit, and inside and out, in makes me laugh, cry, sing and dance with joy. People tell me I work too hard. I tell them it’s not work, it’s love. I love too hard.