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Codes 4 Life is bringing change to Central Australia

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A man in checked shirt and jeans sits on a chair next to a campfire. In the background are trees and logs.
Michael Liddle (Photo courtesy of Desert Knowledge Australia)
10 Apr 2019

Arrernte/Alyawarre man Michael Liddle of Desert Knowledge Australia (DKA) said there were two codes of conduct that Aboriginal men must live by: the Aboriginal way and the Western way.

‘Living life according to these codes ensures that men fulfil their responsibilities to their family, community and society,’ Michael said.

Codes 4 Life, a program for Aboriginal men run by DKA, has taught these principles in 9 Central Australian communities across multiple language groups since 2015.

Codes 4 Life focuses on identity and responsibility and the concept that connection to culture is vital for the wellbeing of Aboriginal men.

Michael developed the idea for Codes 4 Life while watching a community football game. He said that in many cases, the only codes men stuck to were football codes. On the footy oval, men were strong, proud and disciplined; attributes that weren’t always carried with them once they left the footy oval.

Aboriginal communities are passionate about AFL, and understand that to win the game, you must play by the rules.

Michael understood that comparing football codes to codes of conduct in both Western and Aboriginal society was a way to discuss the importance of following rules and laws, not just on the footy oval, but in life.

‘Codes 4 Life offers men a forum in which to express their identity, their fears, their desires for their future and the future of their children,’ Michael said.

‘By reconnecting with culture, men achieve a sense of belonging and understand the importance of following the cultural path for Aboriginal men.’

The program is delivered through a 2-day workshop and involves classes of 10-25 men of all ages.

The workshops, led by Michael, incorporate Elders and senior Aboriginal men from the community who are invited to present and co-facilitate. Their presence brings cultural authority to the workshops.

Also, the participants have a say in the content of the workshop which gives them a sense of ownership of the discussions. Activities include lectures, invited guest speakers, group discussions and visual aids.

‘Feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, with many participants commenting that they felt eager to reconnect with their culture, take care of their families, and stay out of trouble,’ Michael said.

‘Most reported that they would participate in the workshop again and recommend it to family and friends.’

Participants come to the program via different means. Some are recommended by people in communities who run Community Development Programs. Often the program is promoted via word of mouth or pamphlets. In other cases, DKA is invited to deliver the program to a specific group of people.

Codes 4 Life uses a ‘train the trainer’ model, so more jobs are created as more Aboriginal men become teachers for the program, with the support of community organisations and representatives from agencies such as NT police and legal aid services.

Find out more

The Australian Government’s Indigenous Advancement Strategy supports Desert Knowledge Australia to deliver the Codes 4 Life program.

DKA is a statutory corporation of the Northern Territory, established in 2003 to encourage learning, research and sustainable socioeconomic development in the desert. It is a national not-for-profit organisation whose projects focus on renewable energy, desert leadership and desert research.

Read Minister Scullion’s media release on funding for Codes 4 Life.

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