What an extraordinary year one ‘post pandemic’ it was for my independent social work practice. It was a year of growth for sure being given the opportunity to connect with and work alongside an increasing number of individual practitioners and organisations. It was a year of providing scaffolds and holding safe spaces for people who serve on the frontline of social justice work to connect with each other in both faraway places and closer to home.

The year kicked off collaborating with the Wollongong West Street Centre team in the development of content for their new website. https://www.weststreet.org.au/home This project afforded me the privilege of meeting with this experienced and passionate group of women to gather their wisdom about their ethical and historical foundations and ways they would like their services and community to be understood.

One of the highlights of the year was the inaugural Social Work Wise retreat in April at Tumbarumba in Ngarigo Country, also known as the Snowy Valleys. Thirteen intrepid souls took a big leap of faith with me in creating a pop-up community at Laurel Hill Forest Lodge. This facility is currently a conference and school camp centre, however has a fascinating back-story of being forestry commission accommodation and a minimum-security prison. We certainly played our part in re-authoring that history with conversations that reflected intentions of preserving our planet and pushing back against the carceral archipelago and oppressive welfare and health systems that we work within.

One of the key themes was re-generation following the recent sequence of natural disasters of fire, flood and pandemic. The Welcome to Country from Ngarigo elder John Casey included a yarn about the Ngarigo ways of looking after the land and its inhabitants in the face colonisation and other adversities. Two Health workers who were frontline in the local mental health response lead a session on locating and building on the power of community in the face of the catastrophic 2019 bushfires. Both of these sessions provided deep learnings and inspiration to re-connect with what matters most in our work.

This is the poetry of one of the participants that sums up the experience for me:

Re-treat to a benevolent space. Thoughtfeelings became words – spoken and written – story shared and held close. A compassionate space for rest – soulful, physical, spiritual. Time passes and wisdoms are shared. Bodies nourished and minds refreshed. Challenges are made to thought and feeling. Courage and care in equal measure create opportunities to re-imagine ourselves and our purpose.

Another highlight in September was my opening workshop at the South Coast Child Wellbeing Network’s 2022 conference entitled Resisting ‘burnout’ by holding values and mattering at the heart of our work with children and families. Drawing on the work of Vikki Reynolds and Bill Madsen, I invited the 200+ participants to explore their guiding values and intentions and share stories with each other about how these values and intentions show up in their work, make them come alive and hang on to hope. This process generated the foundations of a collective ethics network that will hopefully be sustained beyond the life of the conference. I never cease to be amazed that no matter the size of the group of community workers that share their values and how they walk the talk of them, common values of community, respect and collaboration always seem to show up.

These kind of collective ethics conversations have become central to my supervision work with groups and teams as they provide a solid foundation from which to lean into some of the more challenging conversations with colleagues about the impacts of the working within unjust systems and structures on our minds, bodies and our relationships. I have had the privilege of working with the following organisations throughout the year and I honour the way they have prioritised the cultural, emotional and spiritual safety of their workers to support these conversations:

  • Waminda South Coast Women’s Health and Welfare Aboriginal Corporation
  • Knowmore Legal Services- Special shout out to Aunty Glendra Stubbs and Melissa Brown for contributing their wisdom and skills and for their love and support of this project
  • CatholicCare Wollongong school counselling teams
  • Links House DFVSAS Illawarra Shoalhaven Local Health District

The individual workers who have supervision conversations with me are the beating heart of my practice and the hundreds of stories they have shared with me of pushback and ways of finding hope in the cracks of oppression keep me committed to the path I am on to provide support and solidarity to frontline social justice warriors. I love them and thank them all.

So looking forward to 2023 and what’s in store? I know I am carrying forth many of my commitments to organisations and workers. I am keeping my fingers crossed that I will finally get to live my dream of taking a group to Bali in July for a retreat experience. Alam Indah hotel in Nuh Kuning, Ubud is already booked for our adventure! Get in touch if you’re interested in joining us and I’ll send you details.

In Solidarity, Forever – Deanne