AROUND 200 people braved bad weather to take part in Warragul’s Kurnai Dreaming Long Walk yesterday.
The walk, a small replica of Essendon Footballer Michael Long’s Long Walk from Melbourne to Parliament House in 2004, was held as part of National Reconciliation Week.
The Baw Baw Shire Council Statement of Reconciliation, first signed by the council and Kurnai elders in June 2000, was reaffirmed for the first time by elder Cheryl Drayton and mayor Murray Cook in a ceremony at the end of the walk.
Ms Drayton told The Warragul Citizen the walk was an important coming together of the local Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal communities.
“It’s about the recognition of who they are and the importance of acknowledging… it’s not about the invasions, but it’s about acknowledging our history and our relationship-building efforts [with] the non-indigenous people,” Ms Drayton said.
LISTEN: Ms Drayton interviewed about Warragul’s Long Walk: If audio controls are not visible above or do not work correctly, click here to download the MP3.
“It’s important to share this history, to share this heartache, and some of the heartache may come from the non-Aboriginal people about not understanding, but it’s about building the trust in the relationship that’s important.”
Ms Drayton said she was happy with how the walk and ceremony went.
“Extremely pleased with the effort that was put in, particularly by Baw Baw Shire staff who we’ve been working with and we have this partnership arrangement with the shire around indigenous events,” Ms Drayton said.
“Walking up here, it says to people this really is reconciliation, we really should be one, not a black and white.
“It’s also about having our Aboriginal children recognising that we walk for particular things, and this is about building their strength and resilience of being able to obtain the knowledge of who they are and be proud of their heritage.”
Cr Cook said there was a need for the Statement of Reconciliation to be signed again.
“We definitely need to reaffirm these things – there are a lot more people living in Baw Baw now and they need to know where their council’s coming from and we need to work together in regard to aspects like this,” Cr Cook told The Warragul Citizen.
When asked what the council was doing beyond signing the agreement, Cr Cook said the council was “well aware of what needs to be done.”
Cr Cook noted the good turnout in bad weather, and that the number of people participating in the walk, which took place along Smith Street between Queen Street Park and the West Gippsland Arts Centre, grew as it approached its end.
“People had made up their mind that they were coming,” Cr Cook said.
“[What] I found interesting was as we walked up the street people added to the line, they joined as the march went on so there were a lot more people at the end than when we started.”
Noting Eddie McGuire’s recent racial gaff, Cr Cook said: “I think Eddie McGuire did us a favour in some aspects by focusing number one news item on the day (sic) and really brought reconciliation and what we’re on about to the fore.”
The Statement of Reconciliation acknowledges the need for better cultural understanding, commits the council to eliminating all racism and discrimination, acknowledges the customs of indigenous Australians and commits to mutual respect.
Kurnai community elder Linda Mullett told The Warragul Citizen she was overwhelmed by the turnout for the walk.
“I think it went really well with all the rain and all the weather, the turnout from non-indigenous people was overwhelming,” Ms Mullett said.
“It’s great to see that people are recognising the importance of coming together as a community to celebrate…. Reconciliation Week.”
Ms Mullett said she hoped people who participated in the event will help give “their broader community… an understanding and to break down… the myths they believe around Aboriginal people.”
Non-indigenous walk participant Cindy Jones said she was participating to help her educate her daughter Indyanna about indigenous Australian culture and history.
“I want my kids to have a different version of Australian history,” Ms Jones said.
“I want them to know the truth about how there were once inhabitants of this land that were in a relationship with the country and country was in a relationship with them… and I feel we’ve lost a bit of that.”
Ms Drayton said next year’s event is likely to take place in Drouin, and she was looking forward to the community “coming together with [no] real intentions than to share each other’s company.”