Small-town living can have its benefits, like knowing your neighbours, but when it comes to accessing help and support, it can be a barrier.
- Wongutha woman Colleen Berry says Nyunnga-Ku is a fun, safe place for women from Leonora
- Ms Berry says many women are struggling to cope with mental health issues
- The Nyunnga-Ku women’s camp aims to connect service providers and women who need their help
Colleen Berry, who lives in the small inland community of Leonora in Western Australia’s Goldfields, said people often felt “shame” in asking for help — and she wanted to do something to change that.
So the proud Wongutha woman founded Nyunnga-ku, a community group for the women of Leonora where they can chat, sew, drink cups of tea and speak freely.
As more women came to the group, Ms Berry said she realised how many were struggling with mental health and other issues.
Ms Berry wanted to empower her community with knowledge in a way that would be socially and culturally appropriate, which is how Nyunnga-Ku women’s camp was born.
This camp, now in its second year, brings service providers in law, health, mental health and wellbeing together with the community.
Ms Berry says the aim is to break down the barriers between these services and the women who need their help.
“When we have camps like this the service providers can come out on country, sit around, and the community can get to know them on a different side,” she said.
“If they need to talk to a counsellor they can go off and talk to a counsellor instead of going into an office, where they [feel] shame.
“So the more knowledge they have of it, it’s better for them to cope.”
At the camp during the day, women sat together under shady marquees making worry dolls, talking about bush medicine, and having massages and facials.
Breakfast, lunch and dinner was provided by a local mining company, but some traditional foods were cooked too, including kangaroo tail and goanna.
At night, everyone sat around campfires yarning about their lives and — sometimes — revealing their pain.
Being on country
On day two, the service providers spoke about what they could offer the women in the community.
Many of them shared personal stories about what had led them to their career choices, including mental health, family law, self-care and domestic violence.
Some women were moved to tears.
“They can cry if they want to and no one’s going to judge them.
“It’s wonderful you’ve got everybody that will support you.”
Vicki Abdullah, who attended the camp this year, said the freedom of being on country put the women at ease.
“Some people don’t like speaking in four walls in offices or in hospitals.
“It’s really good to be sitting and talking to people out on country because you feel so relaxed.”
Leonora Lives Matter suicide prevention chair Kathy Beaton attended the camp and said creating space for people to talk about their problems was integral to addressing mental health issues.
“They are the ones who will walk forward and say, ‘Hey, what’s going on?’.”
Ms Abdullah said it was a “powerful” experience hearing from the women at the camp.
“It’s so amazing to hear a lot of stories,” she said. “Stepping up to do their own thing.
“Talking and don’t be shamed. I find that most people feel ashamed to talk.”
Ms Abdullah says she had benefited from meeting with service providers at the camp.
“I feel a bit better,” she said. “I think the first step is to get help with what I’ve been going through.
“I’d like to see more camps and more people to come and express their feelings.”