Roles and Ritual

Roles and Ritual: The Inala Wangarra Rite of Passage Ball case study

This project aimed to explore the significance of the 2018 Rites of Passage program upon the lives of young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men.

Funding: Lowitja Institute, 2018-2019

Researchers: Chelsea Bond (UQ), Karla Brady (Inala Wangarra), Deborah Askew (UQ), Condy Canuto (UQ), Jon Willis (UQ), Bryan Mukandi (UQ), Tanya Sinha (UQ)

Inala Wangarra, an urban Indigenous community-controlled organisation, has hosted the biennial Rite of Passage program since 2009, first initiated by their Youth Committee as means of celebrating the transition of young people from adolescence to young adulthood. The program, open to 15–21 year old members of the Inala Indigenous community, is a sophisticated ritualisation of the location, presentation and celebration of its young people.

University of Queensland researchers in a unique partnership with Inala Wangarra documented, reflected on and analysed the processes leading up to and following on from the Rite of Passage ball in order to understand the impact of the ritualisation of coming of age on the participants.

Through an investigation of the Ball, the project aimed to illicit a deeper understanding of urban Indigenous masculinities, roles and expectations and highlight the agency and capabilities of young Indigenous men. A second aim of the project was to investigate the Rites of Passage Ball as a case study of strengths based community development in practice, exploring how it supports Indigenous young people and reconfigures Indigenous capacity. Finally, the Ball was investigated in its significance to ritual and ceremony in an urban Indigenous context.


  1. Describe an existing urban Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander ritual that celebrates the “coming of age” of young Indigenous men and women (Rite of Passage Ball).
  2. Investigate the impact of ritual upon young Indigenous men’s social and emotional wellbeing and their role(s) within their family and community.
  3. Examine the expectations of urban Indigenous young men, exploring the varying ways in which they enact and challenge racialised, cultural and gender expectations.

Activities undertaken:

This participatory action research project primarily used film, in-depth interviews and photovoice to gather qualitative data from young men participating in the 2018 Rite of Passage program, their partners, families, and stakeholders. The research project utilised a Participatory Action Research framework and the Most Significant Change technique for participants to explore the significance the program had upon their lives.


  1. Production of a series of video vignettes and podcasts chronicling the maturation of young Indigenous men as they participate in the “Rite of Passage” program.
  2. Well-developed theoretical understanding of urban Indigenous masculinities.
  3. Briefing paper outlining strengths-based community-led approaches to supporting Indigenous young people.
  4. Two-way knowledge exchange between Indigenous undergraduate students, University of Queensland researchers, and Indigenous community-controlled organisation staff.
  5. Commercial pitch for production of feature-length, high quality documentary.

Key Achievements:

Where do we go from here?

There is a clear need to for an Indigenous masculinities research agenda capable of interrogating the continuing denigrating settler representations of Indigenous men. Such an agenda should:

  • Take seriously the possibility of a strong Indigenous masculinity that is living in the here and now
  • Understand masculinity as experienced and articulated through both Indigeneity and Blackness
  • Privilege Indigenous men’s account of themselves independently of health and social problems, issues or risks
  • Consider the varying ways in which Indigenous men understand themselves as Black, Indigenous, man and human.

‘Strength-based’ approaches within Indigenous health need to be informed theoretically and practically by Indigenous peoples and communities.

Practitioners' Guide

Download the Practitioners' Guide to Strengths Based Community Development: An Inala Wangarra Story by clicking on the image below.

OIB - Original Inala Boys