Tuesday, February 5, 2008

My First Blog

This is my first blog. It's the one I wrote for ANTAR on 26 January, known in Australia as Survival Day.
I intend to post here regularly now.
Happy reading!

January 26 - celebrating the survival of the First Australians

As dance groups from the four corners of NSW welcomed us through corrroboree to Victoria Park yesterday, I stood alongside the Minister for Local Government, Aboriginal Affairs and Mental Health Paul Lynch and I smiled. The sun was streaming down upon us as the sounds of the didgeridoo and clapsticks echoed across the park. I even felt momentarily maternal as I watched a young Koori boy of no more than five years of age dancing for the crowds. He was so cute. And he was the future of our people in front of us. We had survived the past 220 years since the point of first contact, and we would survive another.

The crowd had gathered at the annual Yabun Festival hosted by Gadigal Information Service, the home of Koori Radio 93.7FM. They came along in droves to help us celebrate not only the survival of Aboriginal peoples and cultures in the city of Sydney, but also across the state of NSW and around the country.

Collectively our non-Indigenous friends, international visitors and officials such as the Lord Mayor Clover Moore, Councillor Marcelle Hoff, the Governor of NSW Her Excellency Marie Bashir and local MP Tanya Plibersek, validated for us what we already knew; that January 26 marks a significant moment for Aboriginal peoples in recognising the consequences of invasion and colonisation, and how they continue to impact upon us as Australian citizens.

Indeed, January 26, 2008 marked the 70th anniversary of the 1938-Day of Mourning Protest and Conference in Sydney, and the beginning of the civil rights movement in Australia. So it was important that while celebrating we also took the opportunity to acknowledge those warriors who have fought for human rights for our people until now, but also to discuss the current state of affairs for our people including the NT legislation, the issue of an apology, the road to reconciliation and so on.

12,000-plus festival goers made it clear that we weren’t on this journey alone, and as I strolled the park in my capacity as Chair of Gadigal I knew that the tide had turned, that 2008 was going to be a positive year on many fronts for Aboriginal Australia. I knew this because I’d just heard award-winning authors Tara June Winch and Romaine Moreton talking about the books, and I saw Kutcha Edwards, Shelley Morris and Whitehouse among other top quality musicians on stage. I knew we were going to thrive because I watched people in the AIATSIS tent talking about their family histories, and I saw a visual dsipaly of photographer Mervyn Bishop documenting the history of Yabun Festival’s to date.

I joked with the Minister in the funny hat, and offered to pay the $2 so he could have his face painted. He declined. I shared stories with the Governor about the Black Armband’s performance at the Sydney Opera House earlier in the week. I don’t know one person - accept perhaps an ignorant reviewer - who wasn’t in awe of their show. For what it’s worth, I believe it was the best musical performance of any kind that I had ever seen, and I had never seen the Concert Hall so rocking.

Back to Yabun (sorry this is my first blog post and I’m not really sure what I’m supposed to do!), and I sat under a tree with Wiradjuri author, poet and photographer Kerry Reed-Gilbert, who was there to launch her sister Minmia’s book Under the Quandong Tree. We just caught up as people do when they go to Yabun.

I yahooed (because I can’t whistle) as I watched young kids on the dance stage learning to breakdance. I had a helmet, tracksuit pants and a piece of cardboard myself ready to go, but didn’t think the 39 year old Chair should embarrass herself.

I spent most of the day with a dreadful headache because I didn’t drink enough water (to be honest I hate porta-loos so was lessening the need to go!). But I was filled with the spirit of unity that marks every Yabun Festival, and I felt so much alive.

The sense of unity that most Kooris feel at Yabun comes from not only all the blackfellas that travel across country to be part of the day, but because of all our supporters there as well. What I saw was a diverse crowd that spoke volumes about the way in which Australians think about and choose to celebrate January 26 in Australia today.

Gone are the days when Aboriginal festivals such as Yabun are considered fringe activities. We have asserted our rightful place in the calendar of events that make up what some term Australia Day.

We are a vibrant, talented and passionate people with much to offer when we are given the opportunity to be heard. Please come join us on January 26 2009, because the party will be even bigger.

Yours in peace and unity,

Dr Anita Heiss
Wiradjuri Nation


Project_SafeCom said...

It IS big time worldwide news for sure, Anita - and there's reports everywhere around the planet!!!

A Dutch paper my family used to read when I was still little and in Holland (loooong time ago!), had the story of Josie Boyle from WA in the paper yesterday (see it here), and via my rellies who I emailed this pic, they're now contacting AAP in Canberra to put the picture in their weekend edition.

Cool stuff, that you're Blogging ... you should come over to WA, organise yourself to do some readings at UWA, I'm sure Terri-Ann will help. If you do I can set one up in Freo!

Dr Anita Heiss said...

Thanks for the comment and checked out the pic - SENSATIONAL!!! Am in WA right now actually for the storytelling forum tomorrow and Tuesday. Will be inspiring. Just a flying visit though, but next timne will definitely do a reading... Peace, Anita