Self-discovery in desert

AN INVITATION to an Aboriginal ceremony in the Australian desert in 2000 set Ocean Shores psychologist Denise Greenaway on a personal journey that culminated in a novel, Finding Artemisia.

Now Denise guides groups of women along the same path of self-discovery that she, and her fictional alter-ego, Diana, experienced in the Australian desert.

"A friend invited me to an inma (Aboriginal gathering to celebrate culture) in 2000," Dr Greenaway said.

"We travelled 470km across the desert by 4WD and I was invited to be painted up and dance: I was naked down to my waist and it was pretty confronting.

"Once the music starts though, you go into a different time zone; another level of consciousness.

"Meeting with the women who keep the Aboriginal culture alive had a direct impact on me.

"I was struck by their wisdom, clarity, confidence and psychological freedom.

"They still knew who they were, despite the horrific invasions of their homelands.

IMAGE-FREE ZONE: New Brighton Beach author Denise Greenaway (centre, with shawl) and women attending her desert retreats. Also pictured is Uluru elder Bob Randall.
IMAGE-FREE ZONE: New Brighton Beach author Denise Greenaway (centre, with shawl) and women attending her desert retreats. Also pictured is Uluru elder Bob Randall.

"And they knew what was needed for their traditions to be secured: ceremony, celebration and sharing - women's business."

The experience was the basis for Denise's latest book, Finding Artemisia: a Journey into Ancient Women's Business in which a psychologist, Dr Diana Verdi, travels to the Australian desert to find her critically ill anorexic patient, 14-year-old Artemisia, who has gone missing.

"Although my main character is fictitious, she does follow my personal journey into the women's ancient world and she does discover, as I did, a healthy absence of the image issues which afflict our modern world," Dr Greenaway said.

Since launching the book, Denise has guided several groups of women in five-day retreats in the desert near Uluru with the theme of regaining the sisterhood, or Auntyhood as it is referred to in Aboriginal culture.

"I take them into the desert because it takes the women out of their familiar zones and into an environment that is energised and extreme," she said.

"There are no distractions... I call it an image-free zone. Over those five days the women tend to lose their self-consciousness and image concerns."

Even when the women return to normal life, they tend to stay in touch with each other," she said.

"Something emerges within the group; that connection that the Aboriginal women called Auntyhood."

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