Heal Country, Heal Ourselves

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The theme for NAIDOC Week 2021 is ‘Heal Country’, calling on all of us to continue to seek greater protections for our lands. A connection to Country is inherent to Aboriginal identity; spiritually, physically, emotionally, socially, and culturally.

This NAIDOC Week, a group of Aboriginal leaders share some of their rich personal stories, and offer a rare insight into the true meaning of Country in their lives.

Fay Carter AO is a respected Elder of the Yorta Yorta and Dja Dja Wurrung clans. For over 40 years she has worked with families, reform welfare programs, and set the standard for Aboriginal aged care services. Aunty Fay Carter is a Life Member of VACCA.

“Going out on to Country and walking Country is the most wonderful spiritual experience. To actually walk on the country, to walk in the footsteps of your ancestors, you get the feeling of being there with them, of understanding them, of feeling them. To walk Country is very, very spiritual, very important. You can talk about Country, which is also important, but to walk it and talk it, it's an amazing experience,” she said.

Jodie Chatfield works in the justice sector on behalf of Aboriginal people. She is a proud Wiradjuri woman from Dubbo, NSW, and shares her family connection to Country, and bringing her daughter to Country for the same experience. Melbourne-based Jodie gets back to Country as often as possible, though the pandemic has made it difficult at times, and she has found the separation to be particularly difficult.

“That Country is what keeps us all coming back. We all moved away. Especially growing-up in a rural town, you move away for opportunities. But there’s something … but I feel complete. I feel whole. I feel me when I’m actually back on Country. When I drove over the border, I just felt a whole heap of calmness,” she said.

Kevin Russell, a proud Yorta Yorta man, works to reunite members of the Stolen Generation. He comes from a family with a long history of highlighting injustices. In 1938 his maternal great-grandfather, Aboriginal activist William Cooper, famously walked from Footscray to the German Consulate in Melbourne with a letter decrying the Nazis treatment of Jews during Kristallnacht. William Cooper dedicated his life to working for Aboriginal rights, education and citizenship.

Being on Country is very important to Kevin; walking Country, listening to the stories of the Elders, and now bringing his own sons to share in that special connection. And its benefits are far-reaching.

“I believe that the whole healing of Country, healing of community, healing of individuals is interwoven. It’s that very holistic understanding of connection, that one thing can’t be out of whack otherwise it will affect everything else,” he says is of greatest importance. As we heal, Country heals, we heal as a people, and as a community. We all benefit from that,” he said.

Muriel Bamblett is a Yorta Yorta, Dja Dja Wurrung, Bunnerong, Taungurong woman who has been CEO of VACCA since 1999. She is also Chairperson of SNAICC, the peak body representing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander child and family services nationally, and serves on over 30 advisory groups.

She continues to be a strong and dedicated advocate for the protection of Aboriginal children, families and communities. Healing has been an important factor in her work.

“To me country has so many healing properties, it relates stories of our many peoples; of our lands; of our resilience and survival; it links us with healing ceremonies of smoking; with the animals of the land as our totems and moieties that we use in healing, of Bunjil and the possum skin cloak. Land links us with spirituality – through our stories of the dreaming,” she said.

Wally Harrison is a Cultural Facilitator with VACCA in Melbourne’s eastern region. A proud Yorta Yorta and Dja Dja Wurrung man, he has worked for many years in VACCA’s family violence services, and understands how the deep wounds of the past continue to impact the lives of many Aboriginal people. He is passionate about supporting young people and the reunification of families.

He believes letting go of barriers and educating non-Aboriginal people about Aboriginal culture and identity is paramount to moving forward.

“Healing has to start from community. It has to be adopted by families, community … to let go of the past. Look forward to tomorrow,” he said. The video series can be viewed on our website www.vacca.org or via our You Tube channel https://www.youtube.com.

NAIDOC Week: It is 46 years since NAIDOC (National Aborigines and Islanders Day Observance Committee) became a week-long event in 1975, beginning as a Day of Mourning in 1938. This year, NAIDOC Week runs from Sunday 4 July to Sunday 11 July.

VACCA services are holding local events in areas across Victoria. Virtual events are also a popular choice this year. There is still time to host your own Morning Tea for Culture. For details please visit the VACCA website – www.vacca.org.

For all media enquiries please contact Sarah Gafforini, Director Office of the CEO | sarahg@vacca.org 

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website may contain images, voices or names of deceased persons in photographs, film, audio recordings or printed material. To listen to our Acknowledgement of Country, click here.