A crisp, winter morning saw the very first Yarrawonga Mulwala Cultural Connections Celebration begin with a symbolic march of representatives from local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and school students across the Yarrawonga Mulwala bridge.
Under the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander flags, the group left from Miss Ross Hill in Mulwala and marched across the bridge to the accompaniment of a lone digeridoo player.
Students clapped and banged sticks along to the digeridoo beat, enjoying the brilliant sunshine and kinship with Aboriginal elders and their descendants.
As part of the 2017 NAIDOC event meant to be a celebration of cultural connection, the marching contingent made their way to the lawns of Yarrawonga Health in Piper Street where they joined others in a sharing of Indigenous culture and traditions.
Aunty Merle Miller from Yorta Yorta Nation delivered a traditional Welcome to Country after noting her own sense of joy at seeing the community come together, saying “seeing everyone here, the feeling inside is just tremendous”.
Her sentiments were echoed in the words of Bangerang elders Uncle Freddie Dowling and Uncle Sonny Morgan who were clearly moved by the show of community support for Indigenous cultural awareness and inclusion.
Both welcomed the eager audience of school students and community members with Uncle Freddie saying “it’s good to know you all care about the Indigenous community – our ways, our culture and what the land means to us”.
Yarrawonga Health CEO Elaine Mallows welcomed everyone to the Many Mobs Yarrawonga Mulwala Cultural Connections Celebration, including elders of Yorta Yorta Nation and Bangerang, past and present.
She said the day was an important part of Yarrawonga Health’s commitment to provide care and services that are culturally appropriate and accessible for everyone.
Ms Mallows was supported by Yarrawonga Health Operational Director for Community Services Stephanie Kennedy who talked about the building relationship between the health service and the Many Mobs group.
“We are extremely proud to have a partnership with the Many Mobs group to ensure today is meaningful for everyone,” she said.
“I have learnt so much through working with the group and I continue to learn and I look forward to the partnership continuing into the future.”
In an emotional address, one of the founders of the Many Mobs group Sarah Hill talked about the all too common disconnect of Indigenous Australians within new communities.
“My mum was nineteen when she moved away from our family in Queensland to live in Victoria.
“With family meaning a lot within our culture…although only a couple of states apart, it was like moving to the other side of the world for her as she had no family or connections in her new home,” Sarah said.
“The only connection she had, Uncle Wally Cooper, welcomed us to country and gave us permission to enter, offering us safe passage and protection of all spiritual being during our journey.
“Today we find ourselves in Yarrawonga, where once again, we noticed how isolated we were from other Aboriginal people and how much of our cultural heritage was missing from the land.
“’Where are my people?’ we asked and so we reached out to her local health service here in Yarrawonga.”
What began as a small group in July 2016 became Many Mobs, a community group which aims to help keep indigenous culture alive for future generations.
“Even through our name, we hope to welcome all ‘mobs’, no matter where you’re from, if you’re travelling, if you’re lost or even just alone, we want to be able to support you, our people, in every way possible,” Sarah said.
The celebration continued with the talents of the Bangerang Cultural Centre Dance troupe who delivered a rousing welcoming dance, kangaroo dance and finally a dance of celebration.
Yarrawonga Health then unveiled a series of locally-created indigenous artworks to be kept on permanent display and accepted a collection of desk flags which will feature at the seven entrances to the service as well as in the meeting rooms to continue to provide a welcoming and inclusive service to all sectors of the community.