A 60,000-Year-Old Cure for Depression

October 6, 2019

Australia’s indigenous Aboriginal people have the oldest living culture on Earth. For around 60,000 years, their intricate understanding of ecology ensured survival, and their physical, spiritual, mental and emotional well-being was achieved by maintaining healthy, balanced relationships with all living and non-living things.

At the heart of their communities were traditional healers. They have been respected and entrusted with the well-being of Aboriginal communities for as long as the culture has been alive, yet still today surprisingly little is known of them. The few healers who remain, of which Williams is one, have extensive knowledge of Aboriginal culture and are believed to possess supernatural abilities.

Their role is to treat physical, mental and spiritual ailments using bush medicine, smoking ceremonies and spirit realignment – the latter being a common remedy for depression, or what indigenous Australians call “sickness of the spirit”.

In 2017, the World Health Organization published a study stating the total number of people living with depression in 2015 was estimated to exceed 300 million – an increase of more than 18.4% since 2005.

An Aboriginal elder and mubarrn, meaning “medicine” or “lore” man in the local Noongar language, Williams told me his healing ability has been passed down through his ancestral lineage. For him, and other Aboriginal healers, the most important first step in relation to healing is the ability to reconnect to the land, since for indigenous Australians, connection to country represents connection to their culture.

For this reason, we’d started the healing ceremony the previous day in the Stirling Range National Park, a 90-minute drive north of Kwoorabup, to experience a reconnection ceremony at an ancient sacred site on the traditional lands of the Koreng tribe to which he belongs.

Western Australia’s only southern mountain range is an area of extraordinary beauty. It’s one of the few places in the state that gets snow, and spring sees it dotted with an array of brightly coloured wildflowers. Home to 1,500 species, many growing nowhere else, it’s one of the world’s most important areas for flora.

Many of these native plants have medicinal properties, and because Williams spent his early childhood living off the land with family, it’s no wonder that he, now in his late 50s, refers to the area as his “supermarket” and “pharmacy”.

Wading through knee-high grass, Williams showed me how to dig for bloodroot (good for numbing toothache) and gather resin formed from the oozing red antiseptic sap of a marri tree, which strangely resembled the very thing it is known for healing – an open wound. “It cures stomach ache too,” he said.

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Soren Dreier – Services