The Healing Foundation CEO Fiona Cornforth with Dan Bourchier, ABC Radio Canberra Breakfast


The Healing Foundation CEO Fiona Cornforth with Dan Bourchier, ABC Radio Canberra Breakfast

Monday 31 May 2021

Topics: Reconciliation Week, intergenerational trauma, healing through culture

DAN BOURCHIER: So, clearly a focus around this Reconciliation Day public holiday on Monday the 31st of May. It’s 7:52. And as we’re talking about the pathway to the future, and where we’re going, how do we become a more reconciled nation? I thought it was worth having a conversation with Fiona Cornforth, the CEO of the Healing Foundation who is with me now. Fiona, good morning.

FIONA CORNFORTH: Good morning.

DAN BOURCHIER: To start with, what does Reconciliation Day or reconciliation mean to you more broadly?

FIONA CORNFORTH: More broadly it is that time we can take out after the busy first quarter of a year, before half the year’s over to just go, okay, where are we at now? Given all these amazing giants who have led huge movements in the space to make sure that future generations were stronger, where are we at with that now and what more needs to happen?

DAN BOURCHIER: And it strikes me that my last two guests this morning on Breakfast have been Nichole Overall, who was talking about how important it is that we don’t forget the history. And then earlier Aunty Caroline Hughes saying that on a day like this, when we’re having these conversations, we’ve all got to really listen with our heart and have a conversation. How important are those two points, perhaps opposite sides of the same coin, if you will?

FIONA CORNFORTH: Yeah, look really important, but it is that storytelling we find that can change hearts and minds and can create, you know, forge those better relationships or new relationships that mean that there are more people with their shoulders to the wheel, like I say, making sure our future generations are stronger.

DAN BOURCHIER: And this is in part what you’re speaking about with me this morning. You’ll be speaking to the nation this week at the National Press Club. Give us a sense of what the story is, the message that you want to leave us with.

FIONA CORNFORTH: Okay. The message for all Australians is that they can play a role in healing, that it’s not in the too hard basket, that we know what supports healing, and that every system our peoples interact with should have that understanding. They should know that it is those practical things. It’s turning words into action. Every warm interaction, every kind interaction makes our survivors and their families and the rest of us who have undergone, (or) who have suffered trauma. It helps us overcome and manage that trauma. So we’re living and operating from a place of strength more often than a place of distress.

DAN BOURCHIER: And that goes to the heart of the way that you explain what is intergenerational trauma. For anyone who hasn’t heard that before, can you just give us a sense of what it actually is? Because we see it a lot in the media, but it’s such a nuanced term, isn’t it?

FIONA CORNFORTH: Yeah, absolutely. So really, it’s just about what happens to the human body when we’re feeling under attack or traumatised. It’s that fight, flight or freeze that most people hear about. But it can happen every time you’re re-traumatised or you’re triggered. And some of the settings that our people have to present to, especially health settings, justice settings, things that remind them of what happened, like during colonisation, like removal, forced removal. It brings up those feelings and you tend to want to protect your families. And so you stay in that fight, flight or freeze a lot of the times which, if you’re operating from a place of strength, all the range of possibilities and all the options are open to you, all your choices become, the largest set of choices they can be. Whereas someone in fight, flight or freeze, it’s very limited.

DAN BOURCHIER: And if you get to that point where those options have been limited and you’re in the fight, fright or flight – is it possible to turn that around to open up, to get to a position of strength, or does it become closed off or do your options kind of become closed off forever?

FIONA CORNFORTH: No look, they don’t, it absolutely is possible to turn it around. What psychologists talk about is operating more from that place of strength more often. So your times of distress become fewer and that, when that happens, yeah, you’re more able to, you know, reach your potential and extend your potential because you’re confidently moving in the directions you were put here for.

DAN BOURCHIER: And there are universal messages in that. We’re speaking in the frame of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people with long, ongoing difficulty and suffering. But COVID-19, I wonder if that is throwing up similar but different challenges?

FIONA CORNFORTH: Yeah, definitely. The protection of communities that our peoples led during the pandemic was amazing. It’s now documented in this year’s Close the Gap report, but that’s where our own mob, who are, you know, fortunate to be in places of strength, we do that culturally. We do that as an obligation to our kin and our relationships as community. We look around and look at who could do with our contributions, who could be supported by our contributions. And so, we really do know how to lead because of those things, because of those things in culture that have always kept us safe and well.

DAN BOURCHIER: Yeah and such important conversations. Fiona Cornforth is the CEO of The Healing Foundation and she’s going to be speaking at an event later today at the Arboretum at just after 10am, but also to the nation at the National Press Club on Wednesday. I’d encourage you to have a listen or watch both or get to them if you can. But thank you so much for chatting with me this morning.

FIONA CORNFORTH: Thank you for having me, Dan.

DAN BOURCHIER: Fiona Cornforth there, the CEO of The Healing Foundation.

The Healing Foundation CEO Fiona Cornforth will be addressing the National Press Club of Australia on 2 June. Details are available here:

To raise awareness about intergenerational trauma, The Healing Foundation is sharing this animation:

The Healing Foundation is a national Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisation that partners with communities to heal trauma caused by the widespread and deliberate disruption of populations, cultures and languages over 230 years.  This includes specific actions like the forced removal of children from their families.

Media contact: Ben O’Halloran – 0474 499 911 or

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