Prisoners’ Legal Service undergo cultural training for working with First Nations people in prison



On Wednesday 03 March 2021, PLS staff and volunteers engaged in cultural training delivered through a collaboration between Birrunga Gallery and Dining and the Wayne Weaver Foundation. At Birrunga Gallery and Dining, PLS engaged in deep discussion with Wiradyuri man Birrunga Wiradyuri and Wayne Weaver, on issues such as practising cultural sensitivity and identifying the manifestation of trauma and ongoing grief in First Nations people. The session was tailored for PLS staff by focusing on the unique challenges of working with incarcerated First Nations people. Due to their open approach, and perceptive synthesis of history, cultures, and ongoing criminal justice issues, engaging with Birrunga and Wayne was both insightful and rewarding.

First Nations people are significantly overrepresented in the Queensland criminal justice system, comprising 34.2% of the prison population. The majority of First Nations people never commit criminal offences and PLS recognises the long-standing negative effects of colonisation and the relationship between incarceration and inter-generational trauma, loss of culture, poverty and discrimination. As a community legal centre dedicated to providing advice and assistance to people in prison, a significant proportion of the clients we represent are First Nations people (35.7% over the last financial year). As such, it has been a long-standing part of our mission, to foster a culture of learning from and with First Nations people as a dynamic and continuous process.

Engaging with Birrunga and Wayne during an open-dialogue session, PLS staff were able to deepen our understanding of First Nations cultures. PLS staff discussed experiences working with First Nations people in prison and Birrunga and Wayne provided responses and guidance, including suggestions for communication styles aimed at bridging gaps in cultural knowledge and overcoming specific difficulties faced in working with incarcerated people. This engagement has extended the understanding and skills of PLS staff and deepened our commitment to providing a culturally safe and accessible legal service for First Nations people in prison. Following the training, PLS shared a delicious meal with Birrunga and Wayne prepared by the Gallery’s kitchen.

Birrunga Wiradyuri, is the founder and principal artist of the multi award winning Birrunga Gallery and Dining, an Indigenous owned and operated cultural hub that hosts an art gallery, performance space, café venue and licensed wine bar. Dedicated to fulfilling his cultural responsibilities, following and practicing the central Wiradyuri law of Yindyamarra, Birrunga is a cultural practitioner and visual artist whose narrative works explore the spirituality of the Wiradyuri people, in historical and contemporary contexts.

Wayne Weaver is an artist and former prisoner. Since being sent to Boggo Road Gaol in 1984, Wayne has dedicated his efforts towards his own art and encouraging the artistic talent of people in prison. In 2015, Wayne established the Wayne Weaver Foundation as a charitable institution that provides funds and transportation for incarcerated people to attend to funerals in recognition of the negative impact of compounded, unresolved grief on First Nations people in prison, their families and communities when they are unable to attend cultural responsibilities.

Engaging with Birrunga and Wayne during this training was incredibly rewarding and we look forward to a continued relationship of respect and learning. We express our respect and gratitude to Birrunga and Wayne for sharing their knowledge with us. PLS highly recommends their training services to other community legal centres seeking to develop their cultural competency.


By Mitree Vongphakdi, Paralegal



Birrunga Gallery and Dining:

Wayne Weaver Foundation:


PLS acknowledges the Traditional Owners of Country throughout Australia and recognises their continuing connection to land, waters, and culture. We pay our respects to Elders, past and present, and acknowledge that sovereignty was never ceded in Australia.

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