Sigmund Freud Award Speech – Philosophy of the Ngangkari

Posted on Jan 15, 2012

Sigmund Freud Award Speech – Philosophy of the Ngangkari

Complete speech prepared by Dr Craig San Roque for the Sigmund Freud Award- World Council of Psychotherapy Congress August 28 2011 Sydney.

Aranke   or –  ‘In the line of…’


The award ceremony speech Friday 26 August was opened by Dr.Anthony Korner as Chairman of the Congress speaking to reasons behind for the conjoint nomination, then the  President of the World Council for Psychotherapy Dr. Alfred Pritz,  spoke to the history and significance of this triennial award  bestowed from the City of Vienna. Glenn Williams, Chair of the WCP Indigenous committee introduced Professor Helen Milroy and Lorraine Peeters giving a glimpse of their histories and work. The following section synthesises some of the points made. It then fell to San Roque to context the Ngangkari as third recipients of this joint award.

The Culture of Psychotherapy

This award comes from the city of Vienna- a city of Europe. Vienna is one of the fertile sites from which grew the practise of psychotherapy as we know it in the western European tradition. This city was the home of Dr.Sigmund Freud until he was forced out by the Nazis in 1939. Freud took refuge in London. From his   Vienna consulting room, his chair, his couch, his desk, his mind and his ambition the practise of psychoanalysis took root, it caught a spirit of the European and American times and attracted other men and women in the way some flowers attract bees and birds –  and thus seed and pollen is disseminated throughout the world. This gathering in Sydney, a world congress of psychotherapists some sixty years after Freud’s passing  acknowledges that beginning and acknowledges the web of individuals and connected groupings who have carried those lines, that pollen, those seeds and planted them also here in Australia and in New Zealand.

Many of those fertilising persons are at or represented at this conference. The developmental work in  Southern Psychotherapies ( as  Keith Tudor calls it) is represented by the network of practitioners called into the light and made visible during the formation of the  Psychotherapy and Counselling Federation of Australia PACFA and sister organisations in New Zealand.

After some four or five decades of emergence and ferment the presence of psychotherapy as a healing art and science in Australia and New Zealand may now perhaps have reached a position of consolidation. The culture of psychotherapy is recognised.

In return it has come about that the World Council has recommended, through the agency of Dr Alfred Pritz,  that the 2011 Sigmund Freud award  for contributions to psychotherapy recognise the specific presence of the indigenous Australian  lineages.  The coming of the whiteman, his goods and diseases has not  so far been a happy thing for indigenous Australia.  The effort at heal  and self heal  has been remarkable. We are seeing the practise of indigenous therapy integrating with western practices.  Ngangkari speak out on this matter and insist upon mutual recognition – upon working together-   at the same time as maintaining and recovering the unique lineage of the indigenous culture of healing.

These lines are represented in the conference and have been highlighted first by the conjoint award to two outstanding individuals, Helen Milroy from western Australia and Lorraine Peeters from eastern Australia  –  Helen is part of an emerging line of indigenous Australians who exemplify advanced psychiatric  and therapeutic  practice. Lorraine stands for those who carry healing practice into the dangerous world of  trauma and  recovery among displaced families of Aboriginal descent ( the Stolen Generations). The Sigmund Freud award is also offered by the City of Vienna to a group  or collective of traditional aboriginal healers,  known, in language, as Ngangkari. This specific team work as part of the NPY Women’ s Council in Central Australia.

The award to the NPY ngangkari  team is an acknowledgment of the existence and living practices of the ngangkari work throughout the Australian continent, and in a connective sense acknowledges ngangkari practice as being akin to and complementary to western psychotherapy as a form and a practice in mental health.  There are 30 out of 320 presentations in the congress with specific reference to indigenous Australia and New Zealand Aetearoa healing projects – in Australia  such locations and projects encompass the major cities as well as the  South Western Australia, the Kimberly region, the central Australia, the far north, Cairns and Queensland and New South Wales coastal language groups including La Perouse.  Among the European and Asian and African practitioner locations represented at this congress are  iconic sites of ferment, trauma and self heal – I think of Moscow, Vienna,  Dubrovnik, Paris, London, Beijing, Kyoto, Johannesburg…

And so we are here on Friday 26 August to honour this historically resonant  mutual recognition  between between bearers of Freud’s multi coloured line and the bearers of the line of healers in ancient Australia.

This may seem a simple thing – this meeting- but it has been a long time coming- it is nearly 70 years ago since Professor Elkin in his book Aboriginal Men of High Degree  recorded—probably the first to do so in any published form –and set out  ethnographic details of the training, making and practice of the  desert ngankari. Elkin then advocated for a conference between western medical practitioners and traditional aboriginal doctors – a conference whereby mutual recognition could be established of each others art, method, mentalities and results. To my knowledge the Elkin  idea was never substantially  put into practice until perhaps right now today—though incrementally such a meeting has ben building momentum through the works and advocacy of a small  collaborative group of  ngangkari and western medico psychiatrists and therapists among whom we might quietly acknowledge John Cawte, Ernest Hunter, Helen Milroy, Robert Parker,  and those represented here including, The Healing Foundation,  Judy Atkinson’s group emerging from Southern Cross University, Lorraine Peeters group, Marumali, the La Perouse group, Two Women Dreaming Inc., Wirriya Liyan  based in Broome,  and  past and present  indigenous and western  members of  Remote  Mental Health teams of  Central Australia,  including Naz Remtulla, Mark Sheldon, Marcus Tabart, Leon Petchkovsky, the Warlpiri/ Pintubi  line of Andrew Spencer Japaljarri, Dr George Japaljarri and company including, perhaps, myself, and  –   of course the quiet seven men and women who stand before you today on the stage of the World Congress of Psychotherapy.

Aranke . Kurunpa, Mapanpa  and  Connecting  Lines

The  term Aranke in Pitjanjatjara means ‘in the line of…’   ( as I have understood it from Patrick Hookey the Pitjanjatajara translator for us at this event)   This is a term that acknowledges a lineage –   so we might say many of you here are in the line of Sigmund Freud, that is Aranke Sigmund Freud  or  Aranke  CG Jung- Aranke William James— these titles  might represent some grand narrative lines just as ngangkari might acknowledge a big story ( Ngangkari Tjukurrpa)  line and at the same time acknowledge particular teachers, initiating practitioners, perhaps grandparents –  in whose line they follow. Each of us in will be able to name the specific seminal and incubative persons in whose line we may follow-

In the course of listening to the ngangkari you may have heard some key terms,  two or three of which are essential to appreciate what is taking place  here. You will have heard frequent reference to ‘ kurunpa’ a term often translated as ‘spirit’  but which I prefer to link to the  embodied sense of a person’s vitality, coherence, continuity – kurunpa as used by Ngangkari  may be synonymous with ‘psyche or psychic energy’ as we have come to understand it from the greeks and perhaps ‘soul’ or ‘atman’ as we have come to understand individualised, specific, personal vitality and self power.

The task of the ngangkari ( as I currently understand it  and as we heard it described)  is to restore, revitalise, reconnect  a person to Kurunpa when  depleted, lost or blocked from being in the right place in the body.

The second term to grasp is mapanpa. Ngangkari  describe that they do their work and act with a specific power, a specialised capacity which you hear ngangkari refer to as mapanpa. This is the power carried by ngankari- it is spoken of in the ngangkari inma ( song cycle)  as a specific handle-able embodied  ‘thing’ –  an internalised  therapeutic capacity which  is given, bestowed, managed, used for healing use.  This capacity can also be lost. Toby, Andy and Mr Peters (dec) have described this gaining, receiving, losing and regaining mapanpa as a process- a process that may resonate with the sensibilities of  some  western trained psychotherapists of subtle mind.

The ngankari inma,  a fragment of which you may have heard  at his conference recites  in verses a story of how ngangkari gained mapanpa—then  mislaid or lost mapanpa and then regained and restored mapanpa.  This inma is sung with drama, gravity and humour.

Why Did We Come Here  ?

And now we come to the guts of this speech – the part you will have heard from me at the award ceremony.   I call it- Why did we  come here ?

I ask  a question-

“Why did the European Ships come to Australia ? “

Of course the correct answer is –

“So that the Europeans could hear the Pitjanjatjara language”.

Yes.  The next part of the answer is  -“ so that we (non- native therapy practitioners)  can hear the Ngangkari Inma “ —the  traditional healer’s tjukurrpa song.

And the third part of the answer is- “ So that we all can hear, remember, recover our place in the line  – Aranke

Ngangkari have held this line for us in an unbroken thread right down from the beginning of human time.

For how many generations –  over  how many millennia have these people held this line – perhaps for  2,000 generations, –   time enough to establish an experiential evidence base, time enough to make mistakes and recover, time enough to learn how to help and heal bodymind  – maintain cohesion of self/soul family/ country through  all the ups and downs of civilisation conserving itself  within the unique conditions this continent and Oceania.

Ngangkari have been working to heal and hold the integrity of kin and kurunpa since before Mohammed, before Jesus and Mary, before Gautama Bhudda, before Radha /Krishna, before Abraham and Zoroaster, before Ram/Sita before perhaps the 10,000 or more  year old  maternal nurturant cultures of the Black Sea and Old Europe which perhaps formed the cradle of our European Caucasian cultures.  Before then maybe, Ngankari hold to a thread parallel perhaps to shamanic lines of Northern Europe and Russia, of mountain Tibet ,Taoist China, Japan, the Americas, Pacific Polynesia and older –  reaching back perhaps to the experiences of the first peoples, the first homo sapiens who walked out of Africa a long time  ago,   holding the genetic line which we all share, the genetic line that also carries the vulnerable human power – an internal fire of self heal. Surely this is something worth recognising.

These seven people standing before you carry in their bloodline the healing experience of the civilised world – and the experience of maintaining a civilised world no matter the violence and the devastation –  they inherit and carry- modesty, lightly without grandiosity – a coherent  line of exuberant  fertile life  kept alive in the face of successive devastations which we repetitively, traumatically,  chronologically rain upon ourselves.

The ngangkari  and those standing  before you carry that line still, during these worried times of civilisation in transition.

This line of which I speak is the line of the therapy that runs through all of us here today- it is our line and we hold it together- but the ngangkari were there before all.   So be it.

So it is no surprise that here, in Australia, the nesting place of mapanpa …it is no surprise that this award, passing the through Vienna and  the line of Sigmund Freud –   should  be returned  today to  its origins – returned in acknowledgment – and with little fuss-  to the  hands  of these seven representative  men and women.  Diplomats of  Southern Therapies.

An award returned in acknowledgment of the presence of mind of Professor Helen Milroy and by implication to the presence of her grandmother/ mother’s line.

Returned in acknowledgment of the recovery of peace of mind which Lorraine Peeters  and kin have transmitted to her generation.

And thus we come to the subtle power and flexibility of mind of ngangkari – and specifically to the sharp lightness, the sense of humour, the gravity of being of Mr Peters (dec), Andy Tjilari, Toby Ginger Baker, Naomi Kantjurinyi, Iluwanti Ken and their sisters of the Ngaanyatjara, Pitajanjatjarra Yankunytjarra Women’s Council.

Ladies and gentlemen, please be upstanding and thank these our fellow countrymen and colleagues.


26 August 2011

CSR WCP Sigmund Freud  Award ceremony