The Catholic Agency for Justice, Peace and Development

Red Dust Healing: Dealing with Drought, Bushfires and COVID

Photo: Tom Powell, founder of Red Dust Healing. Photo credit: Richard Wainwright

Tom Powell, the Founder of Red Dust Healing, had already been working with a team of ‘Deadly Dads’ on the NSW South Coast before the January 2020 bushfires hit, training them to facilitate their own workshops. He saw the devastation wreaked on local communities, already suffering due to the drought, followed swiftly by COVID-19 and its resulting economic instability.

“People are struggling with a lot of anxiety, fear and trauma. Trauma is like the smoke of the bushfire and so you can be affected by smoke inhalation but the real issue is dealing with it. If you don't put out the fire the smoke will reappear. And the underlying factor to all that is dealing with people's rejection, with their abuse, neglect, abandonment, the domestic violence the grief and loss.”

A proud Warramunga Man from within the Wiradjuri Nation, Tom developed Red Dust Healing, a cultural healing program, written from an Indigenous perspective, during his time as an Aboriginal Programs Officer for the NSW Department of Juvenile Justice.

Supported by Caritas Australia, Red Dust Healing runs holistic training workshops aimed at Indigenous men, women and families as well as service providers working closely with these communities. By using visual learning modules which target real issues affecting their lives, such as suicide, addictions, mental health, grief and rejection, he helps participants to achieve individual insights and pursue personal journeys of growth and wellbeing.

Tom is now heading back to the NSW South Coast to focus on ongoing healing.

“I believe if the problem lies in the community so too does the answer. If you train up local people, who better than to be delivering this than those that come from there or are living there.”

Tom says local residents are helping each other through this, by reconnecting with each other, their families and communities, working to rebuild their lives and resilience for the future.

“When the dust settles on our lives, all you get to keep is our dignity and integrity and the love and respect we shared with people,” he says.

Red Dust Healing programs have so far been delivered to over 16,000 people in over 400 communities in Australia and overseas.

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Tutu ana te puehu - Stirring up the dust