January 26, 2021 – A Day of Conflicting Meanings

Yorta Yorta WokaShepparton’s first Survival Day Dawn Ceremony was heled on 26 January 2021, in Kaieltheban Park in Mooroopna. It was attended by about 30 people. Other survival day vigils and dawn ceremonies were held across the nation, encouraging reflections and conversations about how we mark January 20 each year. The Ethnic Council of Shepparton and District supports Reconciliation, Treaty, the Makarrata – the Statement from the Heart and all efforts to understand and integrate with the all indigenous peoples of the Goulburn Valley.

26 January 2021. The weather report was for rain at 6 am.

Better grab an umbrella.

In the dark, on the way to the meeting place, there was time to think. 6 am Survival Day Dawn Service and smoking ceremony. Thoughts about the significance of the day.

A day from the past that irrevocably changed the future.

A day of conflicting meanings.

What does this day mean — for me, for my community, my country?

As a whitefella: someone whose ancestors “settled” the land and benefited from country stolen. Country whose sovereignty was never ceded. As a whitefella whose stories from the past skated over the grim reality for the original occupants: their stories of fierce resistance, massacres, murder, dispossession and the relentless onslaught of the invaders.

The settler stories that told of brave forging of a new life in a new land. Of their hardships and determination to “tame” this unknown place. And it was a hard life in a country that seemed to be both bountiful and harsh. A country whose delicate balance was not understood. But there were other settler stories, often written in code.

Stories of cleansing sorties, of tackling the problem of the “blacks”.

Of needing to “teach them a lesson”.


Is it a day of celebration? A real celebration of this country? Or is it something else? A day in which spirits of the past still linger. Spirits who demand to be heard, acknowledged, understood.

The world was stirring. The early morning calls of the birds. That time just before dawn when the air is still and the waters of the Kaiela continue to move silently on their way to the meeting with the mighty Dungala.

Gathering on the Mooroopna banks of the Kaiela – on lands of the Kaieltheban clan — there was a coming together.

The formation of a circle -— a special space — and in the middle, smoke.
Smoking ceremony
A gentle welcome. “Yorta Yorta woka . . .” The words of an ancient language: talking to us; talking about connection to this land, this river. Making a sacred place.

The leaves of the river redgum smoking, cleansing, connecting to ceremonies and stories from the past, Linking to ceremonies and stories of today and tomorrow. There was an invitation, a sharing: “Feel the smoke, allow it to gently wash over you.”

And then a telling of history. A time to listen, to hear, to really hear. To absorb the truth.

And then a time to stand in silence and reflect.

To imagine a time when people tended country and country looked after people.

A time of deep knowledge and rich culture, of ancestors. To hear the stories of resistance: The Day of Mourning, Uncle William Cooper, Uncle lack Patten, Uncle Doug Nicholls, Aunty Marg Tucker, the Cummeragunja Walk-Off.

Stories of survival, perseverance and endurance. Of other stories of living on the banks of the Kaiela, of moving sheep across the river. But there was also an acknowledgement of everyone’s stories: that they are part of the story of this country we all share.

The sound of the yidaki echoed across the river.

Clouds hung low in the sky, but still there was no rain.

Mother Earth allowing a time for truth-telling, for sharing of a sacred space and the whispers of spirits of country.

We left with the words,

“Walk gently and safely on the land”

passed on to us.

A generous gift” that left us moved and humbled. And with the feeling that we had participated in something powerfully moving.


Holding the flag
Solemn Day: Shepparton Region Reconciliation Group convenor Dierdre Robertson with Rumbalara Aboriginal Cooperative chief executive Felicia Dean


Source: Shepparton News, Monday, 1 February 2021


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