THE HISTORY OF BLOODWOOD TREE
In the unforgiving desert of Australia lies a red-barked tree known for its healing properties. The “Bloodwood Tree”, named for the blood-red colour of the sap it produces, has been used by Aboriginal people for centuries to heal and cure the sick and injured. So it’s no surprise that when the Barker family first decided to form an organisation to keep Aboriginal people safe, they gave it a name that would evoke feelings of safety, security, and healing in their people – Bloodwood Tree Association.
“We need to keep our people safe. What can we do?” Alfred Barker still remembers the question he asked his father in response to the tragic death of his Uncle, a respected Karriyarra Elder, who was struck and killed by a taxi driver, while he was walking home intoxicated. Faced with a lack of funding but a tenacity of spirit and an ambition to make real change to help their people, the Barker family approached the local shire (now the Town of Port Hedland) to allow them to use a little house in Edgar Street, Port Hedland as long as they could clean it up.
What started out as a response to family tragedy became a community supported initiative to help the Aboriginal people of the Port Hedland community. As new opportunities and funding became available, the Barker family worked tirelessly to introduce new initiatives and support services before eventually incorporating as an Association in 1977.
From its humble beginnings in Edgar Street, Bloodwood Tree has evolved to become a well-respected, wholly Aboriginal controlled institution in South Hedland that just celebrated its 40th birthday last November. Bloodwood Tree continues to ‘help the community in all ways’ through alcohol and other drug counselling, cultural mental health support, employment and training services, homelessness support, a Sobering up Centre, and other valuable programs.
When asked what he wants people to feel when they walk in to the Bloodwood Tree offices, Alfred Barker, now himself a Karriyarra elder, Association Life Member and Director of the Board, says, “I want them to feel this place is theirs…without them, it wouldn’t have existed”.