Weave's Bush Circle

My Journey from being an inmate to being a leader in my culture.

Bush Circle is a project of the Speak Out Dual Diagnosis Program at Weave Youth and Community Services (“Weave”), based in Waterloo, Sydney. Bush Circle runs for 8-week’s taking inner city young people experiencing mental health and alcohol and other drug issues on a 5-day bush adventure therapy camp. Weekly follow up day trips to National Parks facilitate the integration of insights and learning. Bush Circle connects Aboriginal young people with elders through the camp.

Weave interviewed a Bush Circle graduate, Noleen Hoskins. Following her bush adventure therapy journey, she actively reached out to other young people who were struggling, engaging them in Bush Circle and taking on facilitation roles herself. Noleen won two awards for her contribution to the City of Sydney community in these self-initiated roles. The 2014 Betty Makin Individual Youth Award and The 2014 Pauline Mcleod Award for Reconciliation.

What Noleen has to say:

My name is Noleen Hoskins and I’m a Yuin girl from the South Coast. As a child I found myself caught up in criminal activity and drug and alcohol lifestyles, this was due to being placed in care as a child with my brothers and being split up. Coming from a broken home, I experienced domestic violence and drug and alcohol use from my parents and others in general on a regular basis. Surrounded by that lifestyle I didn’t know how to get out of it. I was trying to find an escape, but it’s like you have no eyes, you can’t see. Trying to hear but you have no ears, you can’t listen. You’re just in a dark hole looking up and all you can see is the light, but you can’t see anybody trying to reach down to you. You’re trying to find your way out but you can’t.

I believe in everybody’s life, something will trigger what you’re here for. It will give you your purpose and meaning to show you why you are here. And now I believe I was sent here by my ancestors, to help change my Nation. To help change the future for the younger generation, to be the voice of young mums and young Indigenous women who can’t speak. The way I’m giving back is through the leadership role I’ve created with Bush Circle.

What was Bush Circle like for you?

After being incarcerated for 3 years, not being in touch with my culture, on the grog since I was 13, up until I was 19. Being blinded by the alcohol and the drugs, you don’t get to see what nature looks like, you don’t get to smell it, you don’t get to see it, you don’t get to feel it, you don’t taste it. All you taste is the alcohol, and the cannabis. You don’t taste or feel real nature. All you hear is the bottle being poured, not the birds singing, or the water falling.

So when I went to Bush Circle, that’s what it gave me. It’s like you can hear your ancestors speak to you, you know. Like the moment I had on the rock, on a few rocks actually. You have these moments up there. Moments that you won’t have out in the middle of traffic.

Can you share one of them with us?

There’s a few. Walking down to the bottom of the waterfall. Getting down there, I’ve always been scared. I don’t know what it is but I’ve always been scared of water where I can’t see the bottom. My own lake. Anywhere it is. If you take me to the Murray River I wouldn’t jump in it. When I was 6 years old I did. I wouldn’t do it now, because I’d lost my connection with my culture, with my land.

And I always had this fear, but when we went down to the bottom of this waterfall, I couldn’t see the bottom of it, but all I wanted to do was touch the sand on the bottom. When I did, it felt so nice. The sand was sinking between my toes without any roughness, it was all smooth. And when I put my head under the waterfall, to feel fresh water falling on your head, and going through your hair… I’d done it… and it was just mad.

Did it change the way you felt about yourself?

It did. It did that day. I think of those moments on Bush Circle, I think that’s when I found my real reason why I’m here. Whereas before Bush Circle I thought I was just in Sydney to come and get my son back, get a house over my head, get Department of Community Services off my back.

So what’s your real reason for being here?

To help young people. To help not just Indigenous people, because it would be selfish to do that, because we’re sharing a country now, with so many other different Nationalities, and it doesn’t matter what colour they are. It’s emotions and healing that count, I believe. And I just want to help, especially young women and girls, to change the lives of young people.

What else took place for you in the bush? What did you learn about yourself?

Your mentality changes when you’re up there. When you come from a background like mine, juvenile to jail, before that broken home, no parents, grog and drugs, you’re mentality tends to change. You think you’re a hard-ass gone to a bigger hard-ass, because you’ve gone from the streets stealing around, smoking around, then to juvie, then into the big house, jail. You grow this mentality with other young people. You put yourself on a pedestal at times because you think you’re better than them, or because you’ve been to jail. You’ve always got this mentality.

Because you’re fighting to survive?

That’s exactly right. And there’s always a competitive situation between young people. My shoes are better than yours. My clothes are better than yours. My phone’s better than yours. There’s always going to be that competitive, materialistic drama. On Bush Circle I watched my body language, I watched my ways. And I was watching a few of the boys. How they were going, and I’m thinking of how I used to go on when I was in school. A lot of the stupid things that I’ve done in my life, I realized I did because I followed. I didn’t want to do it, I just done it because they done it. They did it so I did it. So when I started doing Bush Circle I realized I was doing my own thing! And I started going my own way about things. I started finding my own thinking pattern… I started finding my own… everything. I found a mind of my own!

So when you started finding your way, is that when you started leading?

Yep. I believe so. It’s a really, really, really liberating feeling to be known as a leader, and to know when you were a child you were destined for something but didn’t know what. And now I’m here doing it. It’s like – far out.

Do you believe all people can lead?

No. I believe there are natural born leaders. You get some people up there, just to have power and control. You’ve got to be in it for your heart. You can’t just go in there thinking you’re a leader just to lead! What are you leading? And why are you leading? And what is the reason? And who is going to follow you?

Is there any advice you’d give to practitioners working in the field of Bush Adventure Therapy or the outdoors, speaking from your own experience?

1) First of all get to know the area. Where you are, culturally. Especially on this land, it’s really important. There are sacred sites out there on other people’s country and you don’t want to be tampering around with those.

2) Just try and show them how important nature is and the connection. There is such thing as a natural high! Really, there is!

Just teach them, show them, that there’s more than just a tree trunk and leaves. Show them how you can connect with the roots of that tree, how you can be the strong tree of your family, because that’s what I have to be. I’ve just got to find my roots a bit more and dig in a bit harder so I’m prepared when things get hard. I was using all my family as excuses. As soon as they’re gone, I’m doing good. As soon as they’re back, I’m doing bad. And it’s just an excuse.

3) Believe in people. And never, ever judge them.

For me it started with one woman, my caseworker when I got out of custody. She just saw me. When she looked at me she didn’t see a troubled young girl, she didn’t see a criminal that just come out of jail, she didn’t see a girl with a broken heart, she didn’t see a girl with no parents, she didn’t see a lost girl, she just saw a beautiful black girl who has got so much potential and doesn’t know it. And she started to show me that and help me to put my potential into practice by giving me little strategies, little tasks, I would succeed, I would overcome those, and I’d pull them off.

To have someone believe in you is so massive, you know coming from a background where you’re given a bottle at the age of 12 and a bong at the age of 10, and “here have this, you’ll be right, don’t worry. Your mum and dad are coming back. They’re coming back, they’re coming back, they’re coming back….” They’re not coming back. Coming from that background and being let down constantly. “Oh you’ll get it next week. What you want, you’ll get it next week, it’s coming later, go away, come back later, it’ll be there later…” Just being let down constantly, continuously, over and over again. You find it really hard to trust, to reach out to people. You’re so inside yourself that it’s hard to motivate yourself to do anything.

But when you’ve got that one person to say, “Nols, everything’s going to be alright. The suns still going to shine tomorrow. The tree is still going to be there tomorrow. Even though big changes are happening, it’s for the good, it’s not for the bad.”

And it’s the relationships; it’s the people that make Bush Circle, and the heart that was put into it. I’m here to create more of those relationships, share my story and reach out to more young people.

For more information contact Bahadur Bryson, Bush Circle Coordinator at Weave Youth and Community Services (02) 9318 0539, bahadur@weave.org.au, or visit www.weave.org.au

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