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Listening to Country

Listening to Country: Exploring the value of acoustic ecology with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women in prison


The aim of ‘Listening to Country’ is to explore the value of acoustic ecology in promoting cultural connection, maintenance and wellbeing among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women in prison. Acoustic ecology is the study of the relationship, mediated through sound, between human beings and their environment. An interdisciplinary team of researchers will work with women in Brisbane Women’s Correctional Centre (BWCC) to produce a 1-hour immersive audio work based on field recordings of natural environments (of country) for the purpose of stress relief and relaxation.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women are overrepresented in Australian prisons. The majority are mothers, experiencing the trauma associated with separation from family, community and country. ‘Listening to Country’ represents an innovative and creative approach to promoting cultural maintenance and wellbeing among mothers, daughters, sisters, aunties and grandmothers in prison. The research will use principles and processes from acoustic ecology, Indigenous storywork, dadirri (deep active listening), and arts-led inquiry to explore notions of cultural connection and maintenance for the participants, and the effects of the project on their wellbeing.

This project responds to a direct request from a group of Aboriginal women at BWCC to create a culturally appropriate sound recording for the purpose of reducing stress and connecting to natural environments and to country. It has been built on a strong foundation of previous creative engagement and consultation with women incarcerated in Queensland. The project team consists of two Aboriginal and two non-Aboriginal researchers working in collaboration. Dr Vicki Saunders (Gunggari) is an emerging scholar who works using arts-led and poetic enquiry in the field of child protection and family wellbeing. Dr Bianca Beetson (Gubbi Gubbi/Kabi Kabi) is a visual artist and curator, and Dirctor of the Contemporary Indigenous Art Program at Griffith University. Dr Sarah Woodland has been developing creative arts-based approaches to wellbeing in Brisbane Women’s Correctional Centre (BWCC) for the past seven years, recently finding radio drama, audio recording and soundscape to be highly effective in engaging the women. Dr Leah Barclay is a sound artist whose work investigates the value of acoustic ecology as a socially engaged, accessible, interdisciplinary field that can inspire communities across the world to listen to the environment. This team is supported by Aunty Melita Orcher and Aunty Estelle Sandow from the Brisbane Council of Elders, and an advisory group that includes Dr Claire Walker, (Director of the Murri Dhagun cultural unit of Queensland Corrective Services), and criminology expert Professor Andrew Day from James Cook University.

The pilot project in BWCC will enable the researchers to develop and hone this approach to wellbeing among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women in prison. It is anticipated that the ‘Listening to Country’ model might be transferable into a number of different wellbeing contexts, including with at-risk youth, Elders/seniors in care or off-country, women transitioning from prison to the community and more. The pilot will inform further development of the approach with additional groups in the community, with capacity development and knowledge translation activities occurring in Mitchell, Sunshine Coast and Cherbourg, Queensland to explore these possibilities in 2019.

Related resources

Project leader

Sarah Woodland

Administering institution:

Griffith University

Completion date:

2019