Pamela Nathan, Director of CASSE’s Aboriginal Australian Relations Program, and Anne Kantor, CASSE’s Deputy Chairperson, were invited to present CASSE’S work to the Victorian Association of Psychoanalytic Psychotherapist’s (VAPP) at their professional development evening in August 2016.

Anne Jeffs, on behalf of the VAPP Professional Development Working Party, prepared the following report on the event:


On Monday 15th August we were fortunate indeed to have Pamela Nathan present her powerful, passionate, deeply serious and thought-provoking essay: Recognition: A Matter of Life and Death In Aboriginal Australia, as well as showing an affecting short film on the Men’s Tjilirra Movement, a Movement facilitated by the psychoanalytic organisation, CASSE (Creating A Safe and Supportive Environment). Pamela is the Director of the Aboriginal Australian Relations Program section of CASSE, and Anne Kantor, who chaired the evening, is the Deputy Chair of CASSE, and is a central part of the Aboriginal Australian Relations Program.

The essay, originally written in preparation for Pamela’s involvement as a panellist in the Sydney Ideas event – What is Recognition? Noel Pearson and Jonathan Lear in Conversation – hosted by Sydney University in December 2015, looked at the concept of recognition from a psychoanalytic perspective, drawing on the thinking of Donald Winnicott and Jessica Benjamin (amongst others), as well as drawing upon the philosophy of Hegel, and the searing Pulitzer prize-winning novel, Beloved, by Toni Morrison (1987).

Wrapped around, woven through and underpinning these written texts are direct voices of Aboriginal Australian people, as Pamela looks at the state of play of recognition in Aboriginal Australia including the trauma trails of Terra Nullius.

Pamela’s essay is more than an erudite and scholarly piece of writing. Something in its power, its tone, its’ importance feels more in the realm of poetry —perhaps a poetic manifesto. As such, a precis can do nothing but reduce it to much less than it is. To give you a flavour, I will quote directly from the beginning of the essay, and a little from the end:

The essay begins:

There is a terrible price to be paid for renouncing the recognition of another person. Recognition is as essential to life as oxygen. For an individual who receives

no positive recognition it heralds psychic and emotional death. Psychic death involves the denial of oneself as a human being. The novel Beloved by Toni

Morrison exposes the worse atrocity of slavery, the real horror, is not physical death but psychical death {Pamela later quotes Beloved’s poignant lament “There

is no one to want me to say me my name”}. A community or society that receives no positive recognition heralds a communal psychic death and equates to a denial

of freedom….A lack of recognition heralds a ‘nobody’s’ landstate of Terra Nullius—and a nobody state of mind becomes sovereign. Recognition is about validation

and being. Recognition is only possible in a peopled land of equal and different relationships—a land belonging to and populated by people. A world without

recognition spells death to humanity and to life itself….(p.4)

The essay concludes:

….Recognition does cut to the heart of what an individual needs to have a sound mind- let alone the well-being of our national psyche. To treat the mind we need

to address issues of recognition at a personal and individual level. Then healing can come. To treat our national psyche we need cultural and constitutional recognition. (p.26)

I urge you to follow up by reading the essay in full. Anyone who has felt at a loss in terms of how to engage with the issue of relations with Aboriginal Australia, will find in this essay a very helpful guide; those who are already engaged will find much to further- and deepen- their thinking.

The essay has been published in The International Journal of Applied Psychoanalysis, March, 201 (online), and is also available for purchase through CASSE (see details below).

As well as the essay presentation, we were also shown a short film on the Men’s Tjilirra Movement. The Movement lies in Australia’s remote central and western desert region populated by the Pintupi and Luritja people. Tjilirra are traditional tools of ancient ceremony and survival and, today, symbolise tools for living. The film highlighted the importance of connecting to land, spirit and ancestors as a way of re-establishing meaning in these men’s lives. The audience were keen to discuss the essay, film and work of CASSE with Pamela and Anne. One member responded by stating that they felt the work was ‘the most important work in the world’. Out of context, this may sounds hyperbolic.

Within the context of the essay, the film and the CASSE work, it felt like recognition.


CASSE thanks the VAPP for the opportunity to present to its members. The essay Pamela presented is published in the CASSE booklet: RECOGNITION: A matter of life and death in Aboriginal Australia and is available for $10.