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Community & Business

28 August, 2022

Uncle Mick back from Balund-a

Impressing the director and commissioner of correctional services, Michael Cain has returned from another trip teaching his cultural program in Tabulam, NSW.

By Emily Middleton

For four years now, Uncle Mick - as the residents call him - has been teaching the craft of didgeridoo making at the correctional facility Balund-a.

He spends a few days with the men yearly, and by the end of the program they have a beautifully handcrafted instrument to be proud of.

“I had a great time, and the boys have a great time too. They all love it, and I always have people ringing me afterwards saying they’re still talking about it,” said Uncle Mick.

Balund-a is an innovative residential diversionary program for male offenders over 18-years-old. It’s aim is to reduce re-offending and enhance skills within a cultural and supportive community environment.

“You never see these blokes again though, that’s the trouble. Every six months there’s a change over. The day that I left was the day before new guys came in. But the new guys miss out, because I’m not back in time next year.” said Uncle Mick.

To fix this problem, the director of correctional services, supported by the commissioner of correctional services, asked Uncle Mick to start coming back every six months, rather than yearly.

“That way no one misses out. And that’s what the director of correction services said, they don’t want anyone to miss out. The residents get a lot out of it, and the director loves the program, she said the difference it makes to the residents afterwards is amazing.

“It was so good that the director and commissioner were there when I came, and to hear them say that to me was a big deal,” said Uncle Mick.

Around 30 residents learn from Uncle Mick each year, meaning he needs to source 30 trees that can be turned into didgeridoos.

“I’ve trained the white ants!” Uncle Mick tries to convince everyone, but these usually look like eucalyptus wood that has been hollowed out from the bottom up by white ants.

However, for the past few years accessing these trees has proven difficult, due to the rules and regulations at Breelong National Park. Located just outside of Gilgandra, Uncle Mick says the forest is full of the perfect trees for didgeridoo making.

“It’s a bit of hunting and gathering for an Aboriginal cultural instrument. That’s what it is, but the signs there say I’m not allowed to take even a stick, let alone 30 trees. They told me that if they let me in, they’ll have to let the wood cutters in.”

Uncle Mick travels all the way to Nyngan to get his didgeridoos, and says that next time he will have to travel to Hay.

“The white ants only eat so far up, I only cut chest high above the ground, and its hollow from the ground to there. You only usually get one out of each tree. Doing it this way means all the shoots come up after I’ve cut it, so it rejuvenates.”

During the program, Uncle Mick shows the men how to sand down the didgeridoos, and they are free to create their own designs. Afterwards, the residents receive a certificate of authenticity, and Uncle Mick says he is always filled with joy.

“Just seeing them with their didgeridoos afterwards makes my heart warm. The boys love it, and they’re really proud of themselves afterwards.”

A cultural lesson on how to play the didgeridoo is hosted weekly after Uncle Mick leaves, ensuring the residents get to use their instrument.

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