Using my Aboriginal Message Stick

Dr Paul Gibson is an IMI Certified Mediator based in Australia, who uses an Aboriginal ‘message stick’ in his mediation practice. Here he shares his story of this fascinating tool and its meanings.

The History of Message Sticks

The Australian Aboriginal Peoples are considered to be the most ancient people on Earth.  They are the oldest continuous living culture on Earth with estimates of their cultural existence varying between 60,000 and 75,000 years.  Aboriginal Message Sticks are therefore a custom that dates back over 60,000 years.

They were a means of communicating between different Aboriginal tribes, and a “messenger” transported the sticks by hand (travelling on foot).  The messenger—the one who carried the message stick was traditionally granted safe and protected entry to other nation’s territory—a sort of visa or passport.  The messenger would then convey the message to the elders of the tribe meant to receive the message.  Sometimes tribes would add to the message as the messenger passed though.

The messages inscribed on the stick (by painting, carving, burning, etc.) were primarily “prompts” for the messenger so that the message would be conveyed consistently to each different nation’s elders.  Typical messages would be announcements of ceremonies, disputes, invitations, warnings, meetings, events and happenings. 

The Background to my Message Stick

I had the idea for a ‘Mediation Message Stick’ after researching the conflict resolution stories from various indigenous cultures, including the Australian Aboriginal Peoples, with whom I have spent considerable time.  Over dinner with Michael West, an Aboriginal artist and activist, we hatched the idea of a ‘Mediation Message Stick’ and discussed dispute resolution theories and the mediation process. 

Following that conversation and many more, Michael and his artistic colleague Graham Toomey designed and made the ‘stick’ and presented it to me. The Iconography (symbols, images and words) was the chosen by Michael and Graham, from our conversations.  These two artists have designed Message Sticks for many notable people and institutions – among them the Queen of England, and the High Court of Australia.

My ‘Mediation Message Stick’ is the only one of its kind in t