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A different way of healing

10 August 2020 at 8:16 am
Maggie Coggan
As the director of Dardi Munwurro, Alan Thorpe is helping Aboriginal men to heal from the wounds of intergenerational trauma, and regain a sense of self and community. He’s this week’s Changemaker. 

Maggie Coggan | 10 August 2020 at 8:16 am


A different way of healing
10 August 2020 at 8:16 am

As the director of Dardi Munwurro, Alan Thorpe is helping Aboriginal men to heal from the wounds of intergenerational trauma, and regain a sense of self and community. He’s this week’s Changemaker. 

Being heavily involved in community his entire life, Thorpe has seen first hand how ineffective Western systems of support are for Indigenous Australians facing and dealing with the effects of intergenerational trauma spanning hundreds of years.

He’s seen men in his community going to jail, losing their families, and falling off the rails without any way to get back on track.  

For the past 12 years, he has worked in communities and in the justice system to build over 20 targeted leadership and family and domestic violence programs that go against the grain of Western and mainstream thinking, and instead focus on healing the spirit of men.  

This was no easy feat, and many of those years have been spent convincing people and proving that Aboriginal-led solutions that focus on the core issues of healing actually make a difference to the lives of young men, their families and communities. 

In March, Dardi Munwurro launched Brother to Brother, a national hotline to assist Aboriginal men seeking help and support during the coronavirus crisis. 

The hotline has averaged around a 100 calls a month, which Thorpe says is a testament to the impact they are having, and the need for services that target young Aboriginal men. 

In this week’s Changemaker, Thorpe discusses his career journey so far, how he overcomes challenges, and his hopes for the future. 

How did Dardi Munwurro come about?  

I played in the AFL for a long time but had grown up in community and saw the trauma and the systemic and intergenerational issues that affect Aboriginal people throughout their life. I became really fascinated with the Western models and approaches, which I just felt weren’t making much of a difference. I was really determined to explore different approaches and models of change that could work culturally. 

Healing some of those intergenerational issues is really complicated, and the Western systems are just not built for our way of healing. It took about 12 years to really build something because it was different, it was innovative and creative and didn’t work the way the mainstream systems work. 

What kind of impact do you think you’ve been able to have on the lives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men?

The purpose of Dardi Munwurro is to build spirit and to build men’s self-esteem and identity. It’s about dealing with those underlying issues that stem from intergenerational trauma and the impacts of colonisation. And so our aim is to give men an understanding and a place where they can heal, as what happens when you do personal work is that it frees you up for other opportunities. Because when you look after the internal, the external looks after itself. 

Men can hold jobs, they get confident in themselves to go and find a job and find accommodation and more importantly, connect with themselves and connect with their families.

 What do you love most about your job?

When you hear about the significant changes men have brought about in their lives, it makes you feel proud and it makes you want to keep going. But it’s also about hearing from the families. They tell you that they’ve got their dad back, or their husband back. And even though he might have gone off the rails for a bit, because of this program their husband has broken the cycle of incarceration. So the effects of supporting a man has the effect of supporting a family. I think that’s what I really love because when you get a man in a good place, you get the family back. It makes me a bit emotional to talk about actually. 

How do you stay grounded and calm as a leader of an organisation when things get stressful? 

I’ve got to do the same work as the men who go through our program, because I’m no different, I’m just another man. I just want to be a good dad and show up like anyone else. It’s important to see my blind spots and understand what goes on for me at a spiritual level. I’ve just got to keep regulating and filtering and having my support networks around me, be expressive and just be okay with who I am. 

You can hold onto resentment and anger because of the historical stuff but you can’t let that manifest because it can destroy your life. I think it’s about being aware of how that can impact you, and confronting it. 

What’s one thing you would like to see happen before you leave the organisation?

I want to see our young people get a good start and I want our young people to be free from the issues that so many of us are dealing with at the moment. 

I want our young people to be in a safe space and be proud of who they are. It’s why I do the work. If it’s 230 years of distrust we’re facing, then it might take 230 years to fix it. But I just want to be able to say I contributed.

Maggie Coggan  |  Journalist  |  @MaggieCoggan

Maggie Coggan is a journalist at Pro Bono News covering the social sector.

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