Telling Story in Borroloola

Health Service Providers

Telling Story is an innovative strength based approach grounded in narrative practice principles which centres people as the experts in their own lives. It assumes that people have many skills, competencies, beliefs, values, commitments, and abilities that will assist them to reduce the influence of the problems in their lives. Telling Story honors individuals and community agency and narrative practice is considered a best practice framework for working alongside Indigenous Australians.

In May 2018 Telling Story were engaged by the the Roper Gulf Regional Council to develop and deliver a ‘Grief Loss and Trauma’ Project in Borroloola . The three part project was funded through a NT Department of Health- Alcohol Action Initiative Grant.

As part of this project, the staff at Mabunji Safe House were involved in a Tree of Life workshop. Stories of strength and resilience were co-created using a Tree of Life analogy. Staff found the workshop beneficial and were keen to facilitate a similar workshop for the young women in their Community on a scheduled weekend camp. Staff wanted Telling Story to support them develop confidence and competence in using this methodology. Telling Story successfully applied for a NT PHN grant to engage in this capacity building opportunity to support Mabjunji Safe House staff.

Telling Story co-founder Sudha Coutinho is a mental health practitioner with over 30 years experience working alongside her Indigenous colleagues in the Kimberley and Top End. She worked closely with staff prior to the workshop to support them facilitating these conversations. A handout was created outlining the sections of the Tree of Life. It included questions to act as prompts to support richer enquiry about each part of the ‘tree’. Sudha said she was excited to see the women embrace the method and increase their confidence in facilitating these strengthening conversations.

Sudha pointed to the many consultations, including the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Indigenous Suicide Evaluation Project ( 2015) , where Indigenous people and communities have clearly articulated that what makes them strong is far more important in approaching suicide and risk-taking behaviour than a focus on risk factors, psychopathology and other deficit approaches. It is well understood that deficit thinking is a barrier to improve health outcomes for Aboriginal Torres Strait Islanders whilst strength based approaches are the most commonly used, accepted and successful concepts to counter both explicit and implicit deficit. Telling Story embraces these recommendations through the Tree of Life workshop.

The Tree of Life workshop was facilitated by two permanent Mabunji Safe House staff, Irma Johnson and Jade Davey , who had participated in the original workshop. Twelve girls participated in this workshop. Another two staff members, Gret (Margaret) Allwood and Lizzie Hogan ( Mabunji Coordinator), joined the workshop and provided extra support and guidance.

All girls in the workshop were from the Garrwa Language group, as were the two primary facilitators. Both facilitators felt this was a strength of the workshop . When discussing their ‘roots’- where they came from, and their ‘trunks’- what is valued; the focus was the strength derived from being deeply connected to identity, culture and family. The young girls echoed what the older women had spoken about in their earlier workshop that ‘without family and culture you can be lost’. Staff spoke about feeling proud of the girls speaking about the importance of their culture in this way.

When discussing hopes and dreams, the girls were asked to consider this in context of either themselves, their family or their Community. Photos were given in a frame as a reminder to each girl of her hopes and dreams. They included personal hopes such as “I hope to be a AFL player”, “when I grow up I wanna be a good teacher”. Hope for themselves and their Community, “I hope to be a hairdresser and to come back to Borroloola!!!”, “I hope to talk to others and make them feel better”. Hopes for their Community life, “I hope that kids get better home” - when it was explored what this might look like - she spoke about ‘kids feeling safe, having a house, no fighting.’


My articulating ‘hopes and dreams’ it  also identified the storms which currently existed for the young women and in the community such as family fighting and  housing security . There was an atmosphere of support for each other and their agency, individually and collectively, to achieve their hopes and dreams.

The staff were very positive about the experience of facilitating the Tree of Life workshop and the discussions which ensued with the young women. They felt the themes continued to be explored over the weekend activities. Other activities included a presentation by the local police about ‘safe’ relationships, ‘kitchen’ face packs and a day trip to a waterhole out of town. Telling Story facilitator participated in the weekend activities and supported staff continue to explore strengthening conversations in less formal settings.


Mabunji Aboriginal Corporation supported the weekend through the use of a vehicle and providing catering. Staff and young women all agreed they would like to have a similar weekend again and were interested in having the camp on country for the whole weekend. Mabunji staff felt the Tree of Life created a good platform for important weekend discussions.


Mabunji staff  were positive about the benefit of the Tree of Life workshop and felt their confidence had increased in facilitation. They were interested in having a similar workshop for some of the older women in the community and will explore funding options for this to occur. 

The collaboration between Telling Story and Mabunji Safe House was a community led  social and emotional wellbeing  promotion and prevention activity . Through the NT PHN grant Telling Story supported the building of capacity for women at Mabunji Safe House to facilitate the Tree of Life workshop.

Telling Story is planning further projects with the Borroloola Community including the expansion of the Borroloola Archive of Strength, Hope and Resilience. You can view current stories collected in the Archive on Vimeo.

The questions
Telling Story would like you to consider when watching the videos are:

  • What stood out for you or caught your attention when your heard this story?
  • What do you think this story says about this person’s life and what they hold precious or value?
  • Did an image or a memory from your own life come to mind when you listened to this story?
  • Is there an action you will now take in your own work or life as a result of hearing this story?
  • What message would you like to give the storyteller about their story?

Messages can be left on vimeo and they will be returned to the storytellers.

Mabunji staff are keen to capture some of the young womens stories of strength, hope and resilience which were uncovered through the Tree of Life workshop and have applied for further funding to achieve this aim. Borroloola men are also interested in  Telling Story listening to some of the marginalised men in the community to unearth and celebrate less spoken about stories. The Mens group in the Community have already secured funding for the men’s project.

If you are interested in hearing more about Telling Story, please contact:

Sudha Coutinho - Telling Story