Monthly Archives: August 2015



December seems so far away in August but for separated families Christmas can be a time of high conflict and expense.  Thinking about Christmas now can really save money and stress. As everyone knows, the sooner you book flights around Christmas time, the cheaper they are.  Lots of families in the Territory fly to other parts of the country at this time.

Separated parents may have a conversation or an email exchange towards the end of the year about visiting family interstate which does not result in any sort of agreement. If they wrestle with this for a while and eventually work something out, they are left trying to buy airfares at the last minute.  The cost at that time can be two or even three times the normal fare, which may be prohibitive and result in disappointment and resentment.

At the Family Relationship Centres we give people information about separation and we help people to reach agreement about how they are going to share the care of their children and divide up their assets.

Our process is called Family Dispute Resolution, or mediation.  We have found over the years that arrangements for the children for school holidays and for Christmas Day are often difficult for parents to navigate.

When a parent comes to us and says they haven’t been able to sort out the Christmas holiday arrangements we contact the other parent and invite them to be part of Family Dispute Resolution.

If the other parent agrees, we set up a Family Dispute Resolution session time for up to three hours.  Often parents will then need another session a week or two later to finalise their agreement.

The Family Dispute Resolution process takes four to six weeks to set up (and sometimes longer).  Our process is that parents each attend a parent information session which we regularly run, focussing on the impact of conflict on children, and managing their conflict with the other parent.  Parents then have the opportunity to meet privately with the Family Dispute Resolution Practitioner (mediator) prior to the mediation session, so the mediator can explain what will happen in the session, and answer any questions the parent has.

Parents who follow our process have three options in how they document what they have decided upon.  They can keep it a completely verbal agreement, they can sign a Parenting Plan (which we type up for them) or they can file Minutes of Consent Order with the Family Court (this option being the only one which is legally binding and which needs a lawyer to assist).

Once agreement has been reached the process of documenting the agreement (Parenting Plan or Consent Orders) may take another four weeks or so. After that, the airline bookings are usually made.

So what we find is that it is a good idea for parents to start talking about Christmas holiday plans as soon as possible after the July school holidays.  If they need to use Family Dispute Resolution, they have time to do that in August and September, allowing airfares to be booked at a reasonable price shortly after that.

Parents can contact their nearest Family Relationship Centre in Darwin on 8923 1400 or in Alice Springs on 8950 4100.

Team building and cultural understanding July 2015

“As one of the elders from the Unwymil clan group, as well as a female Aboriginal Cultural Adviser employed by Relationships Australia Northern Territory, performing the Welcome to Country on my land has given me a great joy.


I love sharing my cultural knowledge and seeing my work colleagues from this organisation coming together, wanting to learn and understand about my culture, has given me a great sense of pride.”

And what a learning experience it was!

At the end of July Relationships Australia Northern Territory staff from Darwin, Katherine and Tiwi had the wonderful experience of travelling to Basecamp Wallaroo Adventure Bound, in Arnhem Land for a team building and cultural understanding activity.

Basecamp Wallaroo is situated on approximately 1,000 acres of natural bushland bordered by the Mary River National Park and Mary River flood plains about 70 kilometres along the Arnhem highway, around one and a half hours’ drive from Darwin.

Prior to arriving at the adventure camp, we were all welcomed to country by our Aboriginal and Islander Cultural Advisor, Valarie Tambling. Valarie is one of the elders of the Unwymil clan group and she used some water from the Mary River, which runs through her land, to perform the traditional welcoming.

water blessing

‘’This welcome to country is very sacred,” she said.

“It is significant to all Aboriginal people because when taking outsiders onto our country, we perform the watering so that our ancestors can protect them during their visit.”

Each person stood in front of Valarie and had water from the Mary River sprinkled on their head, chest and back.  Valarie then flicked some of the same water towards sunrise and sunset.

Following the welcome to country, the men and women set up separate camp sites in Basecamp, Wallaroo.

The sites were joined by a central outdoor area with enough seating for everyone. There was also a large fire pit.

Once the tents were pitched, we made our way over to the seating area. Valarie had invited members of the Limilngan clan group to join us.

samson speaking

One of the Limilngan elders, Samson Henry, gave a cultural awareness talk about clan groups, sacred sites and skin groups within the Arnhem Land region. 

samson speaking 2

Samson explained to us that there are two tribal skin names in the Arnhem Land region, Yirridja and Dhuwa, which is very important and significant to understand and acknowledge.

Samson explained that Aboriginal people from this region identify as either one or the other, Yirridja or Dhuwa. These skin names are passed down from generations and the significance of these names is that depending on which skin group you are, you will have different dreaming places, totems and have strong connections as ‘’djugai’’ (next of kin) to protect the land, stories and culture and to pass these on to future generations to come.

Samson was accompanied by his two nephews Harold and Cadel Goodman, who performed the corroboree while Samson blew the didgeridoo.

samson playing dig with the nephews

Samson also spoke to us about the meaning of corroboree.

‘’Corroboree is how Aboriginal people interact with Dreamtime through dance, music and costume. The dancers bodies are painted in different ways, you know, by doing this – learning the dance, learning these songs it represents the learning and understanding and knowing who we are and where we are from. The songs have meanings regarding country and culture and the dance is part of that,’’ he explained.

Harold and Cadel wore white paint and began to dance in front of the staff. They invited the men to join in the dance.

men getting into the dance2

lads dancing3

Valarie and her sister-in-law Irene invited the women to join in the dance and taught us a few moves.

valarie teaching us to dance

“It was great to see Relationships Australia NT taking part in the Cultural Camp and Team Building activities out on country. Relationships Australia has played a big part in furthering the understanding of its staff by engaging the appropriate tribal clan groups to take part in this activity,” Valerie explained.

“But it was not only the staff that learned here. As I thought about the way that Relationships Australia Northern Territory brought the two clan groups out here together, to share this cultural knowledge as one, I could see the future both ways.

“Everybody reads about the need to be culturally competent, but what does that mean? Having you mob out on country, welcoming you, has given me a great sense of pride from knowing that the staff, the people who I see every day at work, wanted to learn more about my country and my culture.

“Having my djugui, the Limilngan clan group joining me on this cultural camp, was an inspiration also. This was the first time we done it, you know, came together as one, to share our knowledge and to teach our culture to other people. It was a really valuable experience for me too because I can see a strong future for our younger generations to come, sharing their knowledge and passing that on’’ Valarie said.

After the cultural camp the staff took part in team building activities, team challenges and problem solving including physical activities such as low ropes, abseiling, high ropes and the flying fox.

kelly killing the high ropes


Kelly killing the high rope1


box champ

Tony on the flying fox

Eddie McKenzie, a male Aboriginal and Islander Cultural Advisor at Relationships Australia, whose ideas initiated the cultural camp and team building activities, added that it was really positive to see and participate in the team building activities.

‘’Seeing people that had never done stuff like the low and high ropes, bush camping, abseiling and the flying fox was great. I think people found it challenging but exciting at the same time. It was a good opportunity for people to meet and get to know people they wouldn’t usually work with, the likes of Ethel from Katherine and Tony, Cathy, Cynthia and Patricia from Tiwi”

Groups of staff prepared each of the meals throughout our stay, all of which were delicious and a team building experience in itself.

food prep team

“All up, the whole thing was very positive, it was good for the staff of Relationships Australia NT to experience the team building, to have Valarie’s mob come out on country and teach them about skin names and the different boundaries of clans from the region and then to join in the dance. “I think it was a great thing to interact with other staff in the organisation that we don’t often see.’’ 


Coping with Forced Adoption July 2015

Sarah* knew she was adopted from a very young age.

“Mum was good like that,” she said. “She and Dad were open with me.

“I have always known that I was adopted, that I was part of a loving family. But I never knew who my birth parents were. I have wondered if I have brothers or sisters? How my life may have been different? Why I wasn’t brought up by my birth family?

“I’m not complaining. Growing up my parents were wonderful, they housed me, dressed me, educated me, gave me a family. But now as an adult, thinking about having children of my own, I can’t help but wonder who my mother was. What I inherited from her and what I need to know before I have children.”

Between the 1950’s and 1970’s there were an estimated 150,000 adoptions in Australia. While the exact numbers are unknown, a significant number of these adoptions involved the placement of babies of often young and single mothers. Many adoptions were arranged without consent, where the young mothers were given little or no choice. The adoptions were carried out using dishonest and unethical practices, were illegal and now described as “forced”.

Forced adoption had two key features: the application of “clean break theory” and the framework of “closed adoption”.

Clean break theory involved the removal of a baby from the mother immediately after birth, often with no contact taking place between parent and child, followed by permanent placement of the baby with an adopting family within a period of several weeks.

Closed adoption involved the sealing of the record of adoption. The records were closed so that the parties to the adoption remained permanently unaware of the identity of the other parties.**

Because of the stigma attached to being born out of wedlock, and the absence of any financial support for single mothers, there was a widespread view at the time that adopting out the babies of unmarried mothers was in the “best interest of the child.” ***

But of course the consequences of these practices are far reaching, often causing harm, anguish and suffering for those affected including, the mothers, fathers, people who were adopted and their families.
Relationships Australia Northern Territory provides an information, referral and support service for those affected by Forced Adoption practices.

Support includes information about Forced Adoption, referrals to appropriate counselling services, assistance in how to apply for adoption records and a friendly staff member to keep in contact with you through the process.

So, if like Sarah, you are affected by Forced Adoption or want to find out more, please call Relationships Australia on (08) 8923 4999 or FREE CALL 1800 21 03 13. This free call service was set up to reflect National Apology Day 21 March 2013.

Visit the National Website on or the Australian Government Department of Social Services
Further information for mothers and fathers who have lost a child to adoption can also be found here:

*Sarah, not her real name
**Kenny et al. 2012, 009-10
*** “Today’s policies are tomorrow’s apologies” the Age Melbourne

kathy belinda and marie kathy and chris

Relationships Australia Northern Territory launched the new Forced Adoption Support Service on 28 July 2015.
The launched included a Welcome to Country by Larrakeyah man Darryn Wilson, an introduction to the service by CEO Marie Morrison and information about the ongoing trauma associated with Forced Adoption by Director of Early Intervention Services Belinda Emmerson-Whyte.
Launch guests then watched the National Archives of Australia Without Consent exhibition launch DVD with David Fricker’s speech, Professor Nahum Mushin, who was appointed as the chair of the Australian Government’s Past Forced Adoptions Implementation Working Group, MP Julia Gillard’s speech, and Without Consent exhibition introduction and explanation by Louise Doyle and Amy Lay.
The DVD for the Without Consent exhibition launch is available for viewing on the NAAs Forced Adoptions website at on

belinda speaking watching the launch of without consent