The Illawarra is celebrating the culture of our First Nations people and honouring the region’s Aboriginal elders at NAIDOC events this week.
Hundreds of families started the school holidays by flocking to Shellharbour for a community fun day where kids had the opportunity to be immersed in cultural activities like painting and weaving.
Shellharbour Mayor Chris Homer said the event brought people of all ages together at a crucial time of recognition for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
“People come here, they get to know about First Nations culture,” he said. “They get to speak directly to the elders and it brings it all back to the fact that we are one people and that’s what we need to move forward.”
Local elder Uncle Richard Davis said he has watched the NAIDOC events grow in recent years as more of the wider community get involved.
“It’s always good to see our people come together,” he said. “The cross-section of the community is here, all nationalities are here.”
This year’s theme is ‘For our Elders’, but Uncle Richard said that recognising the strength and wisdom of those who paved the way should not be limited to one day.
“It shouldn’t just be for today this theme, it should be all the time, my past elders are my heroes,” he said. “The things that they had to go through when they were young, growing up, the services that they fought for, we wouldn’t have those services if it wasn’t for those people.”
He hoped the events would also give the community a chance to reflect on the past, and discuss the parts of history that aren’t always positive.
“Learn about the First People that are here and the atrocities, let’s talk about them and not forget it,” Uncle Richard said. “And it’s not about a blame game, it’s just about learning about our history.”
These conversations have become pivotal as the ‘Yes’ campaign for the Voice to Parliament gains momentum.
“We’re moving towards the healing of a nation, we’re moving towards a referendum, and now’s the time to start getting the whole thing together and realising that First Nations people need to be a part of this country in what’s considered the birthplace document of a nation – the constitution,” Cr Homer said.
Uncle Richard said the community needed to eliminate the fear from the campaign and focus on creating the kind of country we want to be.
“It’s about moving forward and being a leader in the world, showing the world that Australia can come together with our First Nations people to recognise the past,” he said. “We’re out there now, Aboriginal people have voices and we’re speaking up and that’s what we want to continue to do.”
NAIDOC week will continue to be marked with cultural and community events right across the region, including an art exhibition at Coomaditchie, a special feature by the Illawarra Film Society and cabaret performance by Merrigong Theatre Company.
Family fun days are also scheduled for Tuesday 4 July at Warrawong and Thursday 6 July at Koonawarra.
On Saturday 8 July, the achievements of Aboriginal people and organisations from Wollongong, Shellharbour, Kiama and Shoalhaven will be recognised at the Local Government Regional NAIDOC Awards, which have been held annually for more than a decade.