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Yana Bullang - STRONG WALK – A Rite of Passage 2015 (Yana Bullang in Yugamabeh Language means Go Strong)
Yana Bullang- STRONG WALK: The Rite of Passage Project is a therapeutic-arts based project delivered on the foundation of ritual. It combined theatre, culture and Therapy elements with trauma informed practice to create a holistic approach to working in community. Thanks to the support of Arts Queensland this year, Creative Director Libby Harward was able to employ a creative team of artists to contribute and collaborate with the residents in the therapeutic community, Mirikai. Artists Meredith Elton, Alicia Jones, Nina-Rae Smith, Jason Haggerty, Jacinda West & Luther Cora each with their own life experience, cultural backgrounds & individualized arts training, each brought entirely unique learning to the Rite of Passage this year.
Photo: Jo Driessens
‘This work enhances our therapeutic practices within the Rehab service, we often get bogged down by dealing with issues within the community and interpersonal relationship difficulties between clients we try but we do not always get to celebrate success as often as we would like, I found it very moving and a spectacular way to showcase the wonderful work we do how we are all effected and connected by healing people and saving lives.’ - Case Worker Mirikai
Photo: Jo Driessens
The project runs as a series of workshops in theatre, visual arts, music & trauma theory which leads into the ceremonial one-night ritual based performance in which the residents of Mirikai present to their family, friends, staff & other members of community at the end-of-year Lives Lived Well Function.
This show was an incrediable experience, not only was it visually amazing to watch - as amazing as shows I have seen at QPAC it was so very meaningful and I found myself deeply moved by it. My son was in it and I believe it was transformative for our whole family. I can not really explain what happened but I felt very strongly moved and changed. - Father of Participant
The Aboriginal component of the show felt real, it was like a handing over of a spiritual way of expressing through the body and a connection to something bigger. I feel after watching this performance like I got an understanding of what we have been through as a community and family in a way words can not explain. - Mother of Participant
The role of ritual based theatre is given to residents to symbolize their journey from addiction to recovery and create meaning from their experiences. How we experience, play-out, feel & visualize the practice of ceremony and ritual in this day and age is highly important in our day-to-day lives and often goes unnoticed. Yana Bullang - STRONG WALK allowed space for the community to acknowledge this unique ceremony; a recovery journey shared by many but entirely unique to each and every person.
To commence the 2015 Rite of Passage artist and local Traditional Dance Troupe led by Yugamabeh man , Luther Cora danced to the participants and performed a traditional smoking ceremony to cleanse the residents and the space on which the ritual would be taking place. This Traditional practice was performed for the aprticipants in front of the audience. The significance of this dancing and cleansing by Luther & his dance troupe was that the audience merely bared witness. The purpose of these elements were designed & performed for the residents (participants) not general community.
The Rite of Passage was an amazing experience for me. The smoking ceremony was something I never thought I would experience in my life. I felt really moved by the passion the Aboriginal Artists had for their culture - Male Participant, 28
Photo Jacinda West - Eaglehawk Moments
We were a guided through the performance itself by a series of twelve rites, each with their own name and significance to the addiction-recovery process. These were created by Participants over the course of the workshops and developed with the creative team. Below is a brief outline of the Rites as created by residents of Mirikai and the creative team for
1. TRADITIONAL CLEANSING
“This is where I am cleansed of my past”
2. DIFFERENT STORIES
“None of us became addicted on purpose, we all have different stories”
3. A PROMISE
“I thought drugs could take the pain away”
“It pulled me in, it was everything I asked for”
5. FUN & ESCAPE
“I escaped and became likeable”
6. TRAPPED & TORTURED
“Addiction had control over me suddenly”
7. MINI DEATHS
“Everyone I was with including me died inside, we tried to help each other but kept pulling each other down”
“The demons in my mind took over”
“I hit rock bottom and resigned to reality, I needed help”
10. HOUSE ON THE MEND
“I finally can stand on my own two feet”
11. LETTING GO
“Acceptance and letting go of things I don’t need anymore”
12. LIGHT WITHIN
“Finding my inner peace and passing it on”
Photo: Jo Driessens
A particularly meaningful point of collaboration and shared learning occurred in Rite nine –the surrender ritual. Meredith elton held a space of meditation during the workshops in lead up to the evening, utilizing her prior training in process oriented psychology as an awareness practice and approach to facilitation she encouraged residents to engage in the process of deepening this beautiful scene allowing them to find the strength to fall to the ground and let the earth hold their pain, then finding the strength to reach out and accept help.
I felt so many mixed emotions but mostly I was just grateful to have been a part of not only the rite of passage but also the process as a whole because I was there from the very start. I watched it grow and everyone grow. It put the whole house on such an uplifting high and I felt togetherness but also having had a chance to be heard and have people understand parts of my story and journey inspired and empowered me to keep looking for ways to share my story. -Courtney Participant, 20
Photo : Jacinda West Eaglehawk Moments
Codi White, a psychology student from Griffith University on the Gold Coast conducted a series of evaluations on the majority of participants, artists and staff involved in the project over course of the workshops inclusive of and until thereafter the Rite of Passage performance. The studies concluded that participants as a group showed improvement in individual wellbeing, interpersonal wellbeing, social wellbeing and overall wellbeing domains. Improvement was also found in an increase in the non-reacting skill of mindfulness and participants as a group increased in self-kindness, mindfulnessand overall self-compassion. These are important skills from Trauma Integration.
Photo: Jo Driessens
For someone who is recovering from addiction, engaging in arts, theatre or the practice of music-making allows for an new avenue of communication and self-reflection. When we first make the journey into recovery we often struggle with internal conflicts and difficulties, so having an alternative pathway to communication that still offers us a method of expression is incredibly beneficial to mindfulness and growth. No matter what artistic talent or experience we as individuals may possess, the role of arts in healing the collective trauma of drug and alcohol addiction is highly advantageous when applied appropriately and validated by surrounding peers or community.
Photo: Jo Driessens
It is important to now re-visit the word community. The Rite of Passage is an annual event, which has developed some hallmark status amongst Mirikai staff and local Gold Coast community members. The residents who have participants in the past projects often choose to come back and volunteer their time; offering their skills in arts, crafts, music and/or general event planning! There is a feeling about the Rite of Passage that no one can quite grasp unless one has participated in the event itself… its emotional, and it’s beautiful, and no one year’s Rite of Passage can be re-enacted the next year – it’s one of those “you have to be there” feelings…