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Cairns community closes chapter on local tragedy and looks to the future

A community healing program brings hope after terrible tragedy.

Friday July 29, 2016

Basket weaving
Community healing included expressive therapies such as basket weaving.

The tragic death of eight children in Cairns in 2014 sent shockwaves through the country. Eighteen months on, the family and local community are united in their grief and hope for the future, supported by a community healing program coordinated by Red Cross.  

"There is nothing that can take away the pain from such a traumatic event," said Red Cross project coordinator Michael White. "But we wanted to support the family through their grieving and help rebuild the local community."  

"We created culturally safe spaces to bring people together and offer support when people needed it, such as counselling or housing assistance," Michael explains.  

"The family and community members took the lead, and then Red Cross and our partner organisations were there to help."  

The Red Cross support program began after a devastating domestic incident in the Cairns suburb of Manoora resulted in the death of eight children, aged between 18 months and 14 years.  

The home where the eight children lost their lives was demolished in line with the wishes of the family and is now an extension of the neighbouring park. On the anniversary of the tragedy, 200 people turned out at a community memorial.  

Family members planted eight frangipanis in honour of the children. Frangipanis are considered important in Torres Strait Islander culture and they flower around Christmas when the children died. Each time the trees blossom, people will be reminded of the joy the children brought.  

Red Cross worked in partnership with a diverse range of government and non-government organisations, including the Queensland Department of Communities, Child Safety and Disability Services, Cairns Regional Council, Wuchopperen Health Service, Remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Child Care (RAATCICC), Relationships Australia,  and Apunipima.  

Overall, almost 100 expressive therapy activities took place from making music to basket-weaving.  Family elders took on leadership roles, establishing a collective micro-business to sell their art.  

"One of the things that came out of the grief, loss and trauma was looking at ways to engage people in a sensitive manner without being too hard in our approach," Michael said. "Expressive therapies like music, culture and arts brought people together."  

As the family and local community look to the future, Red Cross is winding down the healing program. Local partner organisations will continue to provide support as the journey of grieving and healing continues.  

"The family is reconnected and stronger than before, and extremely grateful for the support they have received," Michael said.  

More about how we work with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.