November 25, 2022

Yarning Circles: Listening and speaking from the heart

Yarning circles have been described as “the practice of speaking and listening from the heart.”

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have been using yarning circles for thousands of years. Yarning for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people is a way of passing on cultural knowledge. Conversations within a yarning circle always focus on strengths and not problem solving and criticisms.

Tya Fry thinks its time we had a yarning circle here at Northern Health. Tya is a proud Wotjobaluk/Gunditjmara woman from North-West/South-West Victoria. She has been an Occupational Therapist at Northern Health for three years and felt, “there was a gap in supporting our First Nations staff to safely share their experiences and support each other.”

Recognised as the Indigenous Allied Health Professional of the Year by Indigenous Allied Health Australia (IAHA), Tya decided to do something about it, while participating in the first leadership program run by IAHA.

Tya describes yarning circles as, “A space where we can learn together with dignity and respect. A space where we can share experiences safely and without bias, to build on self-determination and improve our connections with the community.”

She also sees the opportunity for mentoring, which would “be multifunctional, with one function being to provide a modelling of career development and the second being to provide personal support, particularly psychosocial and culturally appropriate support.”

Tya says there are a few rules to observe when conducting a yarning circle. They include:

  • Speaking from the heart (in what is present and authentic).
  • Listening from the heart (paying attention to the others, without judgement or preconceived ideas).
  • Being spontaneous (without planning or storing information).
  • Being concise and to the point (speak the essence).
  • Confidentiality: what has been said in the circle stays in the circle.

Toni Gabelish, Aboriginal Liaison Officer, is looking forward to participating in a Northern Health yarning circle. She says, “The Narrun Wilip-giin Cultural Space is a culturally safe space for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander patients and staff to gather and support each other. This would be an amazing space to network with other First Nations staff.”

Tya would like to hear from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander staff who are keen to join the yarning circle. She can be contacted via email at

Featured image: Toni Gabelish, Aboriginal Liaison Officer, Tya Fry, Occupational Therapist, and Karen Bryant, Senior Aboriginal Liaison Officer.