A passion for crocs and a passion to support
On fishing trips to Arnhem Land, Liz Cameron searches for the biggest crocodiles she can find and captures their textured scales and saurian grins on film.
“Crocodiles are so ancient, you have got to be respectful,” said Cameron, Portfolio Leader, Support and Development at The Wollotuka Institute. “I just think that once you see one of those really big crocodiles, and you are leaning out of your tinny to photograph them, your heart stops just for a second.”
On her desk at the University is her photograph of a very large croc, nicknamed Larry. When students ask her about the reptile, she tells them about her love of crocodiles and how she takes family members with her on her remote fishing expeditions.
It is a way of breaking the ice and getting students to discuss their own experiences. Cameron believes that this sharing of stories is essential for Indigenous counselling. The support she provides aims to improve Indigenous people’s access to and participation in higher education.
Cameron originally trained as a nurse and teacher and has taught at two TAFEs, specialising in working with teenagers considered at high risk of dropping out of the education system. Before joining the University she completed a Postgraduate Certificate in Indigenous Social Health. “Through my training and experiences, I have developed a really holistic approach to counselling, which has led me to where I am today,” Cameron said.
“Indigenous counselling and guidance is about sharing personal stories.” Cameron said she told her Aboriginal clients where she was from and what her connections were in order to build trust.
Students often prefer to meet her outdoors or at a coffee shop or even at their homes. “That is very appropriate to Indigenous counselling where you are yarning and telling your story. It is often far more comfortable for a person to be counselled outside rather than inside.”
Crucial to her counselling are her own abstract acrylic paintings, which illustrate Aboriginal stories and social and emotional states. Cameron said her artworks were used to promote healing and health.
She has printed about 30 of her paintings as cards, which she uses to prompt discussions with clients. She hopes to develop the set of cards into a tool for non-Indigenous counsellors as well.
She commented that some of the paintings were of Aboriginal spirit figures while others depicted people who could be male, female, adult, child or even someone who had passed away. They sometimes illustrate issues such as domestic violence or loneliness. Others show patterns of plants or textures of animal or reptile skins.
“You have to be very careful that you, as the counsellor, do not project your interpretation onto them. Because what one person may see in these cards or artworks is a completely different story to what other people see.
“It acts as a little prompt, and people may say ‘this is me, this is happening to me’ when they look at an Aboriginal spirit painting.”
Find out more about the University of Newcastle’s Indigenous programs - the most comprehensive in Australia.