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.
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.
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
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.
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
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
“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.