By Colin MacGillivray
MEMBERS of Seymour’s Aboriginal community gathered to celebrate NAIDOC Week with non-Aboriginal allies and community organisations at Kings Park on Wednesday.
The Seymour Local Aboriginal Network organised a NAIDOC Week event for the fifth year in a row, with food and family-friendly activities on offer.
NAIDOC Week is an annual nationwide celebration of the history, culture and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
Seymour Local Aboriginal Network organiser Bobbie Pepper said the event had been a success, with hundreds of people attending during the day.
“It’s lovely to have such a great turnout,” she said.
“Because of last year being cancelled [due to the COVID-19 pandemic], we weren’t sure of the turnout that we’d get, but to have this many people is a great result.
“Our mob don’t get to do too many things together, so this is our one big event for the year.”
Many Seymour-district community organisations, including emergency services, police, health groups, environment groups, army members from Puckapunyal and Mitchell Shire Council’s Mitchell Youth Services set up stalls and mingled with attendees.
Ms Pepper said it was a great way to bring Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people together.
“With this whole ally movement that’s happening at the moment, it’s a wonderful cause and a wonderful time for people to be able to come out and celebrate,” she said.
“Whether it’s organisations or individuals, it’s their way of turning out and supporting us and saying ‘we’re all here for each other’.
“The services that are here are people who have interacted with us or helped us in some way, so it’s great to be able to share this moment with them.”
Taungurung Elders Uncle Larry Walsh and Auntie Jo Honeysett officially opened the event and spoke of the importance of this year’s NAIDOC Week theme: heal country.
Mr Walsh said looking after the land had a common benefit for everyone in the region.
“Our bushland is a rich economy, as in tourism. It attracts, throughout our region, most of the money that comes into local areas. Destroying the local environment destroys the tourism and destroys the small towns,” he said.
“Our generation’s job is to maintain and preserve what’s left of our cultural heritage, and that means if we can preserve some of our forests and waterways, we can allow our culture and heritage to one day be part of the whole of Victoria’s culture and heritage.”
Ms Honeysett asked people to look after the country, saying it would in turn look after them.
“We ask you do these things for us – look after our people, look after our land, look after our children, look after our trees, look after our country,” she said.
“The area we stand on today is still strong in culture and rich in beauty as it was for our ancestors. I think it’s a fantastic way to show the connection we as Taungurung people still have with our culture and our country.”
Matthew Graham, an Aboriginal community development worker for the Department of Premier and Cabinet, said the success of the Seymour NAIDOC event was due to the hard work of the organisers.
“Around the state a lot of events have been postponed, but with the commitment and the work ethic and desire to keep connecting the community together, it’s been well recognised across the state that Seymour is running this event,” he said.
“There is a legacy that was set many years ago for us to come back and connect on country, and people have put in the hard yards and given up their livelihood for us to have an opportunity to connect and celebrate what we do.
“I think the commitment is still there and it is still strong, and I strongly believe that in this region and this area it’s going to continue to get bigger and more celebrated as time goes on.”
Ms Pepper encouraged people who were unable to attend this year’s event to attend in future years.
“If anyone didn’t make it this year, come next year. This is about showing how much we can give to the community and how much we can get back in return,” she said.