Crucial step taken in service

June 11, 2018

Descendant of Daniel Cooper, Graham Cooper-Briggs played the didgeridoo for the service.

It was a poignant moment.

A reflection of the past — a past that refused to acknowledge the greatest sacrifice.

A past that allowed prejudices, racism and lack of compassion to override what was the right thing.

But on Sunday, May 27, a step was taken to put this right.

A remembrance service at Eastbank, to acknowledge the service of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander servicemen and women in wars as far back as the Boer War, was this step.

And that is how Reconciliation Week in the Goulburn Valley started — taking the theme ‘‘Don’t Keep History A Mystery: Learn, Share, Grow’’ seriously.

As Shepparton RSL sub-branch president Bob Wilkie spoke movingly of the exclusion of Aboriginal servicemen and women, there was an opportunity to reflect and by doing so to ‘‘learn, share, grow’’.

The plaque beside the mural on the northern end of Eastbank expanded on the Aboriginal experience of war service — another step in ‘‘learning, sharing and growing’’.

This learning continued with the screening of Gurrumul — a portrait of one of Australia’s most important voices.

It offers a unique glimpse into a parallel world of the Yolngu community on Elcho Island — a world strong in culture with deep ties to country, family and community.

It was a joy to watch and again an opportunity to learn.

And then there was the launch of the murals of Aunty Marge Tucker and Nanny Nora Charles, complementing the stories of Uncle Doug Nicholls and Uncle William Charles launched last year.

We heard stories of birthing when Aboriginal women were not welcome in local hospitals and the importance of a safe environment and familiar face to welcome babies into the world.

We also heard stories of activism and leadership in a time when it was difficult for Aboriginal people to travel, when there were all sorts of regulations imposed on Aboriginal communities.

But one theme that was woven through these stories was pride in the achievements of these women, the importance of culture and the determination and resilience necessary to make a difference for their people.

Giving voice to the diversity of culture and stories, Ilbijerri Theatre’s Which Way Home performance at Westside explored growing up in a single parent Aboriginal family.

Again it challenged our preconceptions, sharing experiences with the audience.

As Broadsheet Melbourne said: ‘‘Ilbijerri exudes a defiant sense of honesty and clear determination to create change through story.’’

And then there was The Flats Walk with Uncle Reuben.

For many these were new stories.

The close proximity to Shepparton and Mooroopna only highlighted the otherness of these experiences.

But the theme ‘‘Don’t Keep History a Mystery’’ underpinned the walk.

A recent article in The Age quoted the Australian Heritage Council’s call for governments to better recognise indigenous stories — including courageous resistance against European colonisation.

In Shepparton, there are steps being taken to better recognise the many stories of our area.

There is a way to go, but the recent HART Award for the Dana Djirrungana Dunguludja Yenbena-I (Proud, Strong Aboriginal People) Aboriginal Street Art Project acknowledged the importance of stories and their part on shining a light on our local history.

To find out more go to http://greatershepparton.


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