By Clare BruceMonday 2 Mar 2020
Above: Barry’s life has been transformed through the Caritas-supported Red Dust Healing program. All photographs: Richard Wainright, Caritas Australia.
A childhood fraught with hardship, poverty, loss and despair, had Bateman’s Bay man Barry on a path to destruction.
An indigenous Gamilaroi man originally from western NSW, Barry had no stable home as a child, and was brought up by his grandparents in a very tumultuous situation.
He was just a teenager when he fathered his first child, suddenly facing responsibilities he wasn’t ready to deal with—and soon became a heavy drinker.
“I became an alcoholic from about 17 unknowingly, binge-drinking on weekends when I wasn’t working,” Barry says. “I was still holding onto some of that stuff of being abandoned, losing brothers and sisters, grief and loss. I was masking that all with alcohol, instead of dealing with it.”
Barry’s life began to change when he signed up to Red Dust Healing – a remarkable cultural healing program established by Tom Powell, an indigenous man from Narromine with a passion to see broken lives restored.
Supported by Caritas Australia, Red Dust Healing helps participants to uncover their personal hurts, walking them through a journey of restoration, teaching them to express their emotions, resolve conflicts and make better choices in life. For indigenous people it helps restore their sense of cultural and spiritual identity.
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Founder Tom Powell explained the program as a journey into understanding.
“It gives people tools to help us understand our lives so that we can ultimately make better choices,” he said. “It helps us understand where we get our strength, where we get some of our hurt, and how to deal with rejection. I believe if a problem lies in a community, so too does the answer. Red Dust gives people tools to help them understand their life but more importantly empowers them to be part of their own solution.”
For Barry, Red Dust Healing was healing, life-changing, and like nothing else he’d done before.
“I’ve been through so many programs and forums and, you name it,” he said. “But Red Dust Healing is absolutely life-changing. I wouldn’t be where I am today without it.
“It’s taught me to deal with my problems and addictions. It empowers me, gives me tools for everyday problems and coping mechanisms.”
“I’ve been through so many programs… but Red Dust Healing is absolutely life-changing. I wouldn’t be where I am today without it.”
Part of the program is “The Mat”, in which participants walk through a visual ‘map’ of their life, and release their pain – an experience that Barry says was both one of the toughest things he’s ever been through, and a path to healing.
“When Uncle Tom asked me questions around my upbringing I got really teary,” he said. “When we cry, it releases that trauma, I believe.”
The ripple effect of the program is that Barry, and others like him, are now a strong role models in their own communities. This has led to young people living healthier, more resilient lives, decreases in domestic violence and substance abuse, and increases in employment and community cohesion.
“With me changing, I can change my children’s lives, and my grandchildren’s and so on,” Barry said.
Today Barry is a facilitator himself with the Red Dust Healing program, and also works as a mental health professional at a regional hospital.
Red Dust has helped over 16,000 Australians to change their lives, and is one of the many community development programs supported by Caritas Australia, the international aid charity of the Catholic Church in Australia.
To contribute to the many life-changing projects Caritas supports, you can give to ‘Project Compassion’, the annual Caritas Appeal held in the leadup to Easter each year. Head to www.caritas.org.au/projectcompassion.
To find out more about the work of Red Dust Australia, watch the video below or head to thereddust.com.