Aug. 9, 2022

Healing through art and traditional talking circles with Aboriginal Art Therapist Kabushka Ngemba

Healing through art and traditional talking circles with Aboriginal Art Therapist Kabushka Ngemba

From the Murray–Darling river system, one of the largest in the world, and home to ancient fish traps, with a rich and deep culture is where my next guest Kabushka Ngemba comes from. 
Kabushka Ngemba is a very successful commissioned contemporary indigen...

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From the Murray–Darling river system, one of the largest in the world, and home to ancient fish traps, with a rich and deep culture is where my next guest Kabushka Ngemba comes from. 

Kabushka Ngemba is a very successful commissioned contemporary indigenous artist with a background in mental health and an ambassador for Australian First Nation arts & culture for both indigenous and non indigenous peoples by hosting art workshops.

We chat about how she discovered rocks in the river bed that inspired her to become an artist, using art to heal, grounding oneself with nature, and the culture and traditions of the Aboriginals of Australia. Kabushka hosts online and in person workshops on mob art therapy and dot art circle. 

"Learn all about the meaning of indigenous art, the stories behind each component and compose your own work of art, by the end of the session. Kabushka is a thoroughly entertaining storyteller, and passionate about sharing her incredible aboriginal culture with you, and with the world at large.

Kabushka Ngemba brings her humour, warmth and generous heart to share her time, knowledge and spirit through Indigenous Art as therapy."


Welcome to Indigenous Earth Community Podcast

Where we celebrate Indigenous heroes from around the world, and learn from them on how to honor the traditions of protecting the planet. We discuss actionable tips on how to connect to our beautiful planet while lessening our daily impact.


*Mental Help is available * Speak with someone today , In the U.S call 988 


frank: [00:00:00] If you had to guess, what is the oldest human constructions in the world? What would you say? 

Maybe the pyramids of Giza. The Nazca lines are Machu Picchu. The pyramids were built for in a thousand years ago. The Nazca lines carving the desert 2000 years ago. And Machu Picchu is fairly new at 500 years old ago. What I'm thinking is about 40,000 years. I will give you a clue. 

This construction is built by the world's longest utilization. Dating back 60,000 years ago. If you had say the abrasions of Australia for the civilization. Then you got it right. And that construction we were talking about. Is the bear arena, Aboriginal fish shops. 

From the river system of this ancient fish traps. In a rich and deep history is where my next guest coalition anger comes from. 

kabushka: [00:01:00] I'm from , which is, uh, far west new south Wales. It's located, uh, on the darling river. Which runs through there and other surrounding communities, very, very remote there's about 1200 people. The population there's very, very small.

 That's where I grew up and I spent most of my life, which is beautiful. It's a beautiful place. , the river, the wildlife, , the birds, the fish. It's amazing. Absolutely beautiful. 

frank: Thank you for joining us on indigenous earth. Where we talk to indigenous conservation heroes from around the world. And learn from them on the traditions and practice of protecting our planet. My name is Frank Oscar. And after being initiated into a Guarani tribe. [00:02:00] I learned it. The And Ducati and knowledge system that is passed down generation to generation. 

There has teachings about the medicinal plants. And the importance of taking care of our natural world. After moving to the United States, I started making friends with indigenous people from our over the globe. And realize that many of these communities had similar teachings of protecting the planet. 

Now as we humans face the biggest challenge we ever face with climate change. 

Is more important than ever to honor that indigenous wisdom. 

That's where credit is podcasts. To hear from this conservations heroes. From indigenous communities and learn from them on how we can to protect our precious planet. 

Now let's hear back from I should tell us about the river she grew up on. 

kabushka: The river is the life of the [00:03:00] community. So, you know, and as a kid, you, even as an adult, you know, people still swim in the river. There's fish, you know, you go fishing, uh, you catch the fish, which is beautiful, fresh water, uh, yellow belly. They call it and Cod and crayfish, the Gies, and then the muscles are in the river. It's just beautiful. We used to spend all day there, like go there in the morning and then just stay until like, we couldn't see dark time, you know? Um, and everyone does that. It's just, it's beautiful. 

. So the fish traps are one of the wonders of the world. It it's a traditional, uh, landmark, um, in ancient history. Uh, the fish traps, uh, [00:04:00] were made by the indigenous people that lived off the land.

Thousands of thousands of years ago. And they built these fish traps to catch the fish. So they have these, um, fish and the, the, what they do is the fish. They, they go into it, they swim into it and then they get trapped there. So then they would just walk over and grab the fish or spare the fish. And it's just amazing.

And it's still there. It's still there. No one touches it. It's very sacred to the community, to the people, to the culture and just absolutely amazing. Yeah. It's, it's phenomenal. 

You can feel the, the spirits, the connection to, you know, the ancestors and the history.

And it's just the way that it connects with you with your spirit is just, [00:05:00] it's amazing. And you know, it, it is just the most beautifulest thing. And when the water is running, Like, it's just phenomenal. The, the noise, the, you know, the, the water, it's just the most beautifulest place. 

frank: On this river, she found something that would change her life. 

kabushka: And then down the bottom of the river of the, the we, where the fish traps are, you have the traditional ICA, which is it's a rock.

And what they are. These rocks are different colors. They're , red, the orange, the white, the darker colors. And what you do is you, you break them off the rocks, so you break them off and then you, you crush them into a powder and mix them with the water and it becomes paint.

[00:06:00] It's just amazing. It's so amazing. Yeah. So that's my favorite part of is, is the fish traps and the Oka, how 


frank: Hearing her tell her story about growing up in this ancient river. With such a deep. Long history. . Remind me of a passage of a hundred years of solitude by I'm Marcus. That I'd like to read here. 

At that time, Macondo was a village of 20 Adobe house. Build on the bank over a river of clear water that ran along a better polished stones. Which were wide in enormous like prehistoric eggs. The world was so recent, that many things

Like names. And in order to indicate them. It wasn't necessary to point. 

But back to kabashka and the stones that she found in the river banks. 

. And you were mentioning that you can split some of [00:07:00] the rocks and you can make paint out of that.

And I know that you're an artist that, you know, you do a lot of traditional, , dot art circle painting. Was that something that kind of inspired you to, to become an artist, just being surrounded by that creativity and, and that. 

kabushka: I think so. Yeah. Like I think so. I think, because see my family, they fished a lot.

So, you know, my mother would take us to the river. Like she would fish all day and we would run around and play and, you know, do things we would fish as well. But, you know, as children, you just explore and. You know, I think that's what happened to me. You know, I went there and I just would play around the rocks, hide in them.

And I used to find it fascinating because when I would break them, I would draw on the other rocks with them.[00:08:00] I think my young mind was fascinated with, you know, how is this happening? Oh, this is a rock and I can like draw with it, you know? So, yeah. And I used to do that all the time when I used to go there and I used to just sit all day amongst the Oakers and yeah.

Make paint and draw and paint. . 

frank: yeah, that is so cool. You know, like since a little kid, you know, you were inspired by your surroundings to use your creativity. And can you tell me more about the, uh, painting? 

kabushka: The traditional dot art painting is our culture. That's how we keep our culture alive. 

That's how we share our stories, through the artwork and the symbols. It it's really amazing how, we interpret our traditional [00:09:00] symbols into art., it happens and how you can read stories through the symbols. It's, it's phenomenal.

You know, sharing that now with people, for me, it is been really amazing. Like I've lived this life, my whole life. And, you know, being able to share with people, it, it, it's just been so awesome. You know, the dots are, symbolic to our culture, you know, that's how we share the knowledge, the art, the creativity, it, it's just, it's amazing.

and they can be dots can be interpreted in different ways, depending on the artist and what they're creating in their story. So you could use them in many different ways. It just depends on the [00:10:00] artist. 

frank: Yes. And you bring a lot of positive energy, , in the workshops when you're teaching people to the art. And I know that you're a very big champion about mental health. Yes. Um, can you tell me more about that? About art and, , mental 

kabushka: health? Yeah, for sure. So how I came about the mental health was my, my mother was very close with her brother.

Who had schizophrenia, uh, from a very young age. So I was exposed to, to that, uh, through her and him. And when he was young, he committed suicide, uh, in a psychiatric hospital, uh, in a, in a city. So, uh, my mother then, and I was very, very young. Uh, probably about maybe eight, seven or eight [00:11:00] years old and me and my mother, we were close.

So I, I watched her grieve for him when he died. You know, I believe that she became depressed also and, you know, grieved for him. And I guess I just, I always wondered. What that was, you know, what is schizophrenia? I would hear the adults talk about it. I would hear my mother, her sisters, her mother, you know, speak about him, you know, and one thing, people.

You know, when you are a child, you, you hear everything, you know, you see everything, you hear everything. It's just amazing. And that's what I'd done, you know? So I watched, and I just got really curious [00:12:00] about, um, schizophrenia and I wanted to know what happened, what happened to him? What happened to my mother?

I was very, very curious. So. I went on to, um, to study, I studied mental health and I also studied a bit of psychology and I. Went to college and things like that. So after I finished studying, I then worked in remote communities for about 10 years in different remote communities. Uh, help looking after indigenous people.

With mental health issues. And one of the things I used to do was art therapy groups. I would create this safe space where people could come and do [00:13:00] art and talk and. Feel free to express their, their feelings and emotions. And it's just amazing what, what comes out of these groups is phenomenal. And so that's where I then created mob therapy now, which is what I do now.

Um, it's a, it's a part of. and it's just, it's, it's like a therapy session. You would go and see a psychologist. You would talk to them. And I think that is more intense, you know, for the person. And, you know, because you're talking to a stranger, first of all, someone that doesn't know, you doesn't know your family, your, your life.

So. [00:14:00] When you, when you do that and you go in and you sit down and you have this, like the setting is set and it can be very intense for people and confronting. So I just switched up the environment and I make it so. It doesn't look like that. It's very funky. Very cool. Very chilled, very relaxed. There's no, um, no pressure for you to, to talk to me.

There's no pressure for you to talk to anyone. You can just come and do your art and leave. You know, so it's just, I think the environment that you create as well for people and it's, it's absolutely amazing. The, the things that, that come [00:15:00] out of it is very phenomenal with people and the way they react to it, you know, you have the music, the dance, and these are.

Uh, traditional healings, um, of my culture. You know, you have the music, the dance, the Yaning circles. It's just phenomenal. And to bring that into that environment so people can feel free and safe to, to talk to you. It's just really cool. So yeah, that's how that came yeah. Yeah. 

frank: And you know, I'm sorry for the loss of your brother.

Um, I also lost many friends to suicide and I think it's very important to. Bring awareness to that. So what I'm gonna do is I wanna put the, uh, crisis hotline, uh, on the tax descriptions for anybody that's out there and, and needs professional help. They can call, uh, the [00:16:00] United States just to be, uh, have that, uh, resource there.

And I'm, I'm really interested on how you harnessing these traditions that have been around for thousands and thousands of years. To bring balance to people, um, to their wellbeing. Uh, I think that is so fascinating. And can you tell me more about, about that? 

kabushka: Yeah, like there's uh, so we have the Yaning circle, it's called a Yaning circle and yarn just means talk.

So that's what yarn means and they call, we call them Yaning circles. So what it is is you, you just, you sit around and you talk to people, you talk to your family, your, you know, your uncles, your cousins, you know, they will light a fire. We will just sit around the fire and talk to each other. [00:17:00] And just share, you know, what's going on in our life.

Just being able to speak to someone, you know, and just being the company of other people, your family, your friends, it it's really beautiful, you know, so that's what we do. Um, as a people, as you know, that's our culture. So being able to share that with, with other people is really cool as well. Um, of course it's not in the same, it's not in my community, but we, we create the space for, for people to, to have a ya and circle in the groups.

Yes. And you don't have to speak. There's no pressure on anyone. If you wanna talk, you can, you know, usually we, you know, that's what happens. People just, they get that vibe of, [00:18:00] you know, it's safe to, to be here, safe, to speak to someone, you know, which is, which is really cool. And then. So that's one of the things that we bring.

And then of course the music and the dance and stuff like that. I think everyone can relate to music and dance. That's I think music is, yeah, it's very powerful. It can connect to a lot of people. And so bringing that to the groups is really, really special as well. Cause that's something like we grew up.

With music and dance. And, you know, it's just really fun. You get this really, uh, sense of freedom and just not being afraid to just, you know, dance and sing and just be happy. You [00:19:00] know, it it's just really, really, and it does, it makes people happy. You know, you hear music when you. All these things together in this small art therapy, you have the yarn circles, the music, the dance, the art, it's just phenomenal.

It's crazy. Like you have this environment where it, it it's a therapy session. It's just in a different format in a different way. And it's so cool. It's very, very. 

frank: That's fascinating. So you're providing both the, uh, Moab art, uh, online and also Right? So you have workshops online that people can participate.

kabushka: Yes. Yeah. Yep. 

frank: And I, I noticed that lot of the art, you know, especially the adult art circle and there's a lot of animal [00:20:00] representation on that. Art. Can you tell me more about that? . 

kabushka: Yeah, so the animals are, you know, very, they're one of the main things of our culture. Cause you know, we live off the land. We, we have the animals that we eat to survive, you know, the, the hunting and gathering of these things, our, our, our life, you.

So, and then also we have the totems, they're also totems of different tribes and nations. So that's why you'll see them in a lot of art as well. Um, we, we can to hunting paintings or it could be just about your totem, where you are from, and. That's why they're used in the art, because they're very symbolic to us, to our, to our, um, our spirit and our [00:21:00] culture, you know, which is really beautiful.

frank: Yeah. Yeah. I know that that rock are, is the longest human tradition and is still practice, uh, in Australia by many communities that go to these places of power to repay to redraw. Uh, some of these carvings, there are thousands of years old. Is that somewhat related to circle? Is that, or is that different?

kabushka: Yeah, no, the SIM, well, the symbols, we don't do the stick figure symbols, but it it's, it's not exactly the same, but it, it can look the same if, you know, depending on the artist and what they're creating. Uh, we don't really touch much on it circle. because it's a different, um, it's a different kind of art form than, than art circle.

Art [00:22:00] circle is basically just about, uh, teaching people to about the symbols and creating a story from them. So it's kind of a different kind of art to the, the stone art, the cave art. 

frank: Yeah. A lot of this art comes from traditions of telling the stories, uh, orally from one person to the other, you know, continue to tell the stories through generations.

And are you aware of any of those stories that relate to being more imbalanced with our planet to protecting maybe the animals or nature? 

kabushka: Yeah, you, you and we, you know, we're taught this from, you know, birth. We, we are connected to the land. That's our culture, you know, the animals are us. We are them. We, you know, that's how we, we grow up.

And there are some that we [00:23:00] can't touch and there are some that we can touch. There are places we can go. There are places we can't go, which is very sacred to the land and to, to nature because we, we have to protect the animals. You know, the animals are very beautiful. They, you know, we have birds that send messages.

You know, messenger birds, and, you know, things like that, you know, the animals, they, they're very smart and, you know, we can relate to them and they can relate to us. So we have to protect them and make sure that they are happy in their environment. And yeah, it's, it's really, really beautiful. 

frank: Wow. That's that's so, um, It's so astonishing.

You're talking about the message birds, because I'm actually working on a different, uh, episode for this [00:24:00] podcast. Talking about a message that I got from a bird after my initiation, into the. Butterfly Creek tribe in para. Uh, so it's, it's kind of interesting. We just talking about this, uh, earlier today. So it's cool that in, in Australia, there's a little bit of that same tradition.

And on your opinion, like what, what is one thing that people can do to protect the planet or being more imbalanced with themselves? 

kabushka: yeah, like one of the, you know, just let the animals be, you know, you don't have to touch them. You don't have to do anything with them. That is their. You know, that's where they live and you just let them be, you know, you don't have to, you don't have to interrupt their environment.

That that's their home. That's where they live. And I, myself to, I, [00:25:00] I like to wear no shoes because I like to feel grounded and connect to the earth because we are the earth. You know, so when you do that, you are, you are connecting with your mother, which is mother earth. Uh, in a very, you know, close way. So yeah, we, we, as indigenous people, we like to do that as well.

Yeah. I 

frank: love that. You know, let that the animals be and, and ground yourself, you know, by touching the earth with your feet, you know, we have so many different nerves on the feet that, you know, by wearing shoes, we lose that connection that, that clothes. Uh, feel to the heartbeat of the planet. So, uh, I love that and, uh, I'm really excited to, you know, hopefully, uh, participate in one of your workshops soon.

And, you know, I [00:26:00] would like to see if you can do like an invite to our audience to participate in your 

kabushka: workshops. Yeah. That would be. That would be great. Yeah. Like they could, yeah, just, uh, yeah, we have beautiful, uh, workshops, you know, people can, um, just Google and yeah, jump on. It's amazing. 

frank: I love it. I'm gonna put the, uh, links to your workshops online.

And I look forward to participating in maybe some of our audience who participate too, and we can learn about some, uh, dot art. And I wanna thank you so much for taking, uh, time this morning in the future to talk to us. And, uh, I really appreciate it. It was nice meeting you. 

kabushka: Yeah. Thank you so much for having me.

frank: Thank you. 

kabushka: Bye-bye. Right.[00:27:00]