Extending the Petford Training Farm

Indigenous Therapeutic Community


A Participatory Self-Help Action' Model


Written 1993. Updated Feb 2015



In 1992 at Geoff and Norma Guest’s Petford Training Farm in Far North Queensland a gathering occurred titled Developing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Drug and Substance Abuse Therapeutic Communities.

Over 130 Aboriginal Healers throughout the Australia Top end and others attended.

Major themes:

·         Experiencing Geoff Guest working with the Petford youth

·         Keyline - gravity powered irrigating

·         Permaculture


Sub themes:

·         getting therapeutic communities started:

o    funding

o    program design

o    infrastructure

o    other themes and issues.

·         other healing ways

·         other themes and issues


This gathering was funded by the National Campaign Against Drug Abuse (NCADA) in Canberra.

This Gathering came to the Attention of Prime Minister Paul Keating and Health Minister Graham Richardson. They directed the Australian Federal Government Health Department's Rural Health Support and Education and Training section (RHSET) to fund the Collective organising the above gathering to evolve a Program developing Indigenous Therapeutic Communities modelled on Petford and rolling them out throughout the Australia Top End.

RHSET were interested in the following foci:

1.    Providing humane caring alternatives to criminal and psychiatric incarcerating

2.    Softening substance abuse

3.    Minimising consequent harm to heart, lungs, & general wellbeing

4.    Reducing property damage and civil disobedience

5.    Reducing Self-harm and harm to others

6.    Reducing family violence

7.    Stopping Inter-generational dysfunction and strife

8.    Evolving Thriving Communities

When RHSET approached the Collective, its members formed the opinion that Government funding would inevitable compromise the Collective’s support for grassroots mutual-help action for wellbeing (moving towards the wellness end of the illness wellness continuum).

After RHSET received no reply, RHSET sent requests for the Collective to submit a Program. An initial tentative response in general terms was made by the Collective based upon an open agenda self-help and mutual-help.

This response from the Collective was extremely appealing to the Department though deemed to be 'poorly written' - translate this as 'not using service delivery' frameworks.

The Department sent 52 questions to be answered so that they could ‘evaluate the Collective’s Program’.

All of these questions assumed 'service delivery' and 'service delivery frameworks, contexts and criteria'.

While all the questions 'made sense' within the service delivery' model, around 45 of the 52 questions made no sense within the 'participatory self help' model.

Examples of questions that the Australian Government's RHSET asked the Collective:



Specify the services that you will be delivering?


None. The focus of action is community self-help and mutual-help not service delivery, as specified in our Response.



Who will be delivering the services?


No services will be delivered. The Response relates to self-help and mutual-help healing action through informal networks.



How will services be delivered?


There's no service delivery. Action evolves self-help and mutual-help healing networks - see the Collectives Response.



What is the roll-out timetable?


There isn't one. Action is a function of local inclination and action. Locals have the energy and inclination.



What fixed training agenda do you have?


We are enablers, not trainers. Embodied experiential co-learning is involved. People transform. Communities transform. We have no fixed agenda and there is no fixed agenda. There is however an open agenda with the themes specified in the Collective’s Response. What happens during our time together may be a function of local operative concerns and needs. Nothing happens unless the locals want it to happen.



What are the qualifications of outside experts being used to research the current need?


No outside experts are being used. Actions are based on local people's knowings and wisdoms about what is missing in the local people's wellbeing. Self-help and mutual-help is based on action research by locals supported to be more able. It involves co-learning. Outside enablers, differ from 'experts', as detailed in the Collective’s Response.

Enablers are very experienced in using indigenous therapeutic community ways and have academic action research to post doctoral Level.

The RHSET Program had their own extensive set of criteria that had to be met for proposals to be 'acceptable'.

Their criteria presupposed that certain pre-specified things must and will happen.

Participatory self-help and mutual-help is not pre-specified - rather it 'organically unfolds'. With the Collective’s model, nothing has to happen. Action is inherently tentative and at the same time, with this tentativeness, local self-help and mutual-help energy may do what service delivery has had difficulty doing since federation and before!

Within RHSET frameworks, the world is divided into sectors - for example, youth, the disabled, housing, single mothers, family, aged care and the like.

Certain aspects of wellbeing are clumped together; others are excluded.

The Collective’s Response was all about holistic wellbeing action - everything interlinked) - that is fundamentally different to the 'what, why, when, where, and how of 'sectorised service delivery'.

An offer was made by RHSET to waive their normal criteria, though they would use their normal criteria to evaluate progressive action.

In the Collectives way, grassroots people do the evaluating from moment to moment. Evaluating is a pervasive aspect of action together.

The Collective declined funding - understood to be a large amount - to ensure that existing Collective momentum was not compromised.


The document Government and Facilitating Community Grassroots Wellbeing Action was prepared by Collective Enablers and sent to RHSET as a response to RHSET’s insistence that their funding be accepted.

A meeting was held in Canberra between the Collective and head people from RHSET who stated that they would bend all of their criteria to get this program evolved and implemented.

The above document was discussed at length along with questions and responses mentioned above.

While the Collectives Participatory Self-Help Action Model does not meet either the typical funding criteria or the evaluation criteria of the 'service delivery' model these heads of department began to appreciate that the Participatory Self-Help Action' Model has its own very different funding and evaluation criteria.

Service Delivery and Self-Help models belong in different worlds. To attempt to place a top down service delivery organisation in a watchdog role, that uses 'service delivery' criteria to 'ensure the Collective is doing things properly' according to the government’s very different ways, is cultural imposition and unacceptable and unworkable in respect of this Action. It would inevitably compromise the participatory self help process.

The RHSET people recognised that neither they nor any other Department in Canberra had any capacity to work easily with facilitating and supporting grassroots mutual-help action. They recognised that government would inevitably compromise action – squeezing the Collective’s actions back bit by bit into a service delivery based model.

The Department head people stated that the Collective was more than twenty years ahead of the Australian Government. Twenty years on nothing has changed in Government.

The Collective has accepted no Government funding and its work is that much slower, though uncompromised.


The issues raised in this document may be reconsidered in 2015 through

Radical Modernity perspectives. Refer:

 Equipping Politicians and Governments to Work well in Radical Modernity


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