Nik Rosalski and Wayne Scrutton engaged the youth and the guards in the Youth Detention Centre in Alice Springs today in an activity of throwing the string. One of the guards said, “In twenty years, I have never seen something physical be so powerful in showing the importance of connection!”
The string was passed around the group, and each had a turn at throwing the string. As each person had a turn (youth and officers), they told a story, and a web of connecting string was formed. Most youth proudly told stories of their grandfathers, teaching them cultural stories invoking the power of the spirit of the grandfather and their country. Then someone pulled back on the string. The string unravelled, leaving a massive hole and a change from connection to disconnection. The void and need for resilience were spoken about as youth told stories of alcohol and drugs and loss of identity.
One youth spoke to having two skin names but not knowing his mother’s stories and his wish to return with his mother to learn. He became very emotional. Another youth spoke of differences culturally along with similarities between the language groups. Some talked to the ‘craziness’ in Alice Springs. Some of the prison officers from Africa spoke to the importance of water flowing between the communities. The youth then shifted their stories from the chaos, crisis and difference to caring and concern, telling stories of looking after their sisters and other family members. Wayne spoke about his grandfather ‘growing him up’ and teaching him about the Lore. The guards reminded some of the youth of the stories they had told them about their caring for families too and there was a remembering and a naming.
I was reminded of the Forte Da game – “gone” and “there” – that Freud spoke about in relation to little Ernst – who played with a piece of string and made it disappear and then come back, heralding objects gone and found again, but I also think connections too, heralding continuity in change.
I think there was a remarkable achievement of harmony and connection in the YDC between the youth and the guards, and the CASSE team. They did great work in facilitating cultural connections, emotional shifts and remembering.
Pamela, Director of CASSE Aboriginal Australia Relations Program