12 February, 2022
Supporting offenders, one didgeridoo at a time
Michael Cain, Gilgandra’s 2022 Citizen of the Year, is known and cherished far beyond his own community.
Mr Cain is a facilitator for the reside-
ntial diversionary program, ‘Balund-a’,
in Tabulam (between Tenterfield and
“They call me ‘Uncle Mick’ up there at the correctional centre, and where I go it’s called the cultural program.
“I take about 30-40 didgeridoos and I sit down with the residents for four days and teach them how to craft the didgeri- doo,” said Mr Cain.
Balund-a is a program designed specifically for male offenders over the age of 18 years, with an aim to reduce re- offending and enhance skills within a cultural and supportive community envi- ronment.
“The first day I arrive on a Monday, we sit around with all the residents who are going to do the program and we introduce ourselves.
“I just tell them that it’s an Aboriginal culture program, and it’s an Aboriginal instrument, 40,000-years-old,” said Mr Cain.
“I tell them it’s not very often you get the opportunity to do a program like this, and to do a traditional didgeridoo like this made out of wood, because most of them are made out of bamboo.”
Mr Cain travels the nine-hour drive to facilitate the program once or twice a year, with the next session coming up in July 2022.
His son was a senior officer out at Tabulam and offered up his father’s tal- ents. “They were looking for a program to do and he suggested me to the big boss at the time. I’ve been going up there ever since for the past three years.
“I just love it. I just can’t wait to get out into the scrub with didgeridoos and
be on the road again. As I always say, if I change one person’s life in the four days I’m there doing the program, well I’m happy.
“I’ve done my job.”
And that change can be seen.
Mr Cain has had many men approach
him after the program, telling him of their plans.
“Some of the blokes, they come up to me and they say I’m not going to go back to prison.
“I’m going to get on the straight and narrow, I’m going to go for didgeridoos, I’m going to start my own business up and I think, good on you.
“You give them something to look forward to when they get out.”
Over the four days, Mr Cain takes the men back to basics when it comes to cre- ating didgiridoos.
Often, they will sit there for the first two days sanding the wood back to the way they like, before they start on the next step.
“We make a circle and I get in the middle and show them, this is how you do it.
“Once you strip the bark off you sand it, and we do that for two or three days, then on Thursday, we seal, lacquer, and put the bees wax on it.”
Mr Cain loves using traditional meth- ods to create the didgeridoos, which includes the manual labor.
“I use normal hands-on stuff. I can do all the machinery, but they won’t have anything to do for the four days, and I’m rostered on the four days!”
His love for the program shines through when Mr Cain speaks of Balund- a and wishes there were more initiatives like it in the area.
Mr Cain was awarded the Gilgandra 2022 Citizen of the Year title at this year’s recent Australia Day awards.