FISH looks at health from a broad perspective. FISH Aboriginal Elder Koodah Cornwall states:
“if your spirit is broken it does not matter if you are provided education, training, employment or even housing; it will not be sustainable. You need to first heal the spirit to enable people to deal with past trauma and know who they are and be culturally grounded. Then and only then do you have a solid base to move on from.”
FISH is working with the remote Aboriginal community of Bawoorrooga in the Kimberley, WA, to create a national prototype for sustainable Indigenous housing, education, training, and enterprise. FISH and Bawoorrooga have nearly completed constructing the first SuperAdobe (earthbag) home in the Kimberley, with the community members’ involvement from design to completion. The program incorporates a newly-planted food forest orchard of 400 plants, of 30 species.
When FISH was approached to assist Bawoorrooga Community in 2017, the community was suffering acutely from the trauma of losing their home to fire, along with their possessions, including clothing, photographs and artwork. This disaster occurred against a background of intergenerational trauma and mental health challenges that pervade much of remote Indigenous Australia. Eighteen months after FISH first engaged with Bawoorrooga, the community leaders proudly gave the following feedback:
“We’d like to thank everyone for helping us heal. All that is behind us now – we’re moving forward. We hope for this sort of project to happen in other communities that are battling like us… We’ve always got a big smile now. Before, it was really a downfall. Now, we feel our ‘lien’ (spirit) is going up and up as we build these walls. We feel ‘wideo’ (happy) – like your soul is really strong… It’s really happening now – things are growing.”
Bawoorrooga community has been restored as a place of cultural leadership – a well-known meeting place for traditional healing, Indigenous art, and knowledge of country and homeland. Since its establishment, Bawoorrooga has regularly hosted Aboriginal youth groups (with a focus on support for juvenile offenders), where participants are taught traditional bush skills, spirituality and connection to land.
“You get healed from homeland – it’s a safe place. That’s why we came back here – for our kids to be safe… We want to be self-sufficient on our homeland – show the government we can do it. To be independent. While we’re up here on our homeland we can control things like diabetes. We go out fishing, hunting, eating bush food, cleaning up, always active.”
The project enhances physical health. The team is physically-active every day and the newly-planted orchard provides fresh fruit and vegetables. There is a strict (and adhered-to) policy of no drugs/alcohol, which community leaders state has only been possible because of the wholesome environment created by the project.