For every one of us, the initial reaction was embarrassment.
The first question in our pre-work was ‘How would you rate your knowledge and experience of Aboriginal people, and communities?’. The response, for all fourteen of us, was shamefully little.
People Measures identified the need for our staff to have a better understanding of Indigenous culture and wanted a true (if brief) cultural education, not a series of powerpoints. And so it was that we found ourselves in Nowra, hosted by the South Coast Women’s Health and Welfare Aboriginal Corporation (Waminda).
Waminda was created by the local Indigenous community and provides support to Aboriginal women and their families. Services include healthcare, housing, drug and alcohol services and family & domestic violence.
During a yarning session and walkabout through local parklands where the Dharawal and Dhurga people traditionally lived, our guide shared his ancestral knowledge. This contrasted with our next visit, to ‘the Mission’, an area where the local Indigenous population were forcibly moved after being displaced from their tribal areas. This became the Bomaderry Children’s Home, an infamous institution, one of the first in NSW for the Stolen Generation.
Dinner would have been a sombre affair if not for the joy and hospitality of our hosts, and the spread supplied by Nyully Tucker, a social enterprise established to provide employment for Aboriginal women. Over dinner, discussions continued, in a warm, open and generous environment accompanied by undertones of anger, shame and denial.
On our second day, we were welcomed by an elder at Hanging Rock Lookout, before spending the day grappling with issues of unconscious discrimination, European/white privilege, and Waminda’s approach to ‘walking between two worlds’.
The Waminda experience was meaningful for all of us and allowed us to engage in discourse with an open mind, without judgement. Our hosts were welcoming, sincere and optimistic for the future and shared an enormous amount about Indigenous culture and history. What we hadn’t anticipated was how much we would learn about ourselves, and each other, and how committed we would feel to supporting Australia’s Indigenous people.
In the words of Jackie Huggins (Indigenous Australian author, historian and Aboriginal rights activist of the Bidjara Central Queensland and Birri-Gubba Juru North Queensland); ‘We must respect each other's right to choose a collective destiny, and the opportunity to develop the legal and political rights for Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples so that we may enjoy the right to maintain our culture, our heritage and our land, as a united Australia.’