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Soon after the launch of The Last Cry, together with two other like-minded souls, Elizabeth Kooroonya Savage and John Browning, I was approached by the then Shire of Eltham and asked to organise a ceremony on the hill-top Kangaroo Ground War Memorial Reserve.   This ceremony was for the Shire to make its formal Apology and Acknowledgement to the traditional owners of the land known today as the Shire of Nillumbik.

It was a tall order for anyone to take on, but we accepted it with enthusiasm, holding our first meeting on the hill-top where The Last Cry had both opened and closed.  Our first decision was that a reserve dedicated to mainstream war wasn’t an appropriate location for the mainstream to apologise for a war it still refused to recognise.  We then advised the Shire to move the big event to the more tranquil creekside setting of Wingrove Park.

The ceremony we devised for the Apology was based upon a traditional Gayip performed after neighbouring clans had had a falling out and were working towards closing ranks again.  We then organised school children to collect hundreds of metre-long bush poles and asked that they deck them out in ochre, leafage, flowers and shells, etc., for volunteers to create a smoke-filled avenue for the celebrants to walk through to the appointed apology site.   We then gathered together piles of foliage collected from every bush and tree in the park for the main participants in the Gayip to sit upon, the message here being that they would be welcome to the fruits of the land from their roots to their topmost boughs.

 

The Gayip of 9 March 1997 was an outstanding success.  The Festival Grounds were prepared with a large marquee, food-stalls, tents, story-telling fires and the colourful avenue of weer-reeps and smoking fires.   An enthusiastic crowd of Nillumbik folk had gathered in Alistair Knox Park ready to commence their kilometre-long parade down Main Street to Wingrove Park.  There, the full Eltham Shire Council, backed by an orchestra, awaited the arrival of Uncle Bill Nicholson whom the Wurundjeri Council had chosen to receive the Shire’s Apology.  

 

As part of the day’s ceremonial, a special Coolamon had been cut early that morning by an elder from a creek-side manna gum and filled with creek-water. Stirred by a reed, it was then been passed around during the ceremony to be sipped from by the principal participants, the significance of the reed being that no weapon would be raised against the visiting clan elders.

Despite our initial nervousness about some locals perhaps not being in agreement with the Shire’s commitment, everything had proceeded famously on the day.  The Shire had made its Apology and made the seventeen commitments that our committee of three had drawn up.  These commitments were for the Shire to make amends for the injuries inflicted upon Wurundjeri people during the Frontier Wars.

Having fulfilled our task of designing a ceremony for the occasion, our small Advisory Group of three reconstituted ourselves as the Nillumbik Reconciliation Group to assist the Shire fulfil the seventeen commitments it had made to the region’s Wurundjeri people.  These commitments included the location of Acknowledgement Plaques on every one of its buildings and to make an Acknowledgement Statement at each of its formal gatherings, to fly the Aboriginal Flag on significant days.  Womin Je ka Welcoming signs were to be placed at the entrance to each of its townships and  where possible to give Wurundjeri names to newly installed parks and roads.

On 17 March 2008, the Shire of Nillumbik, having fulfilled its seventeen commitments to its Wurundjeri people, then invited the Hon Jenny Macklin, Federal Member for Jaga Jaga to launch them proudly as its Nillumbik Reconciliation Charter.  This ceremony took place on the originally chosen Kangaroo Ground War Memorial Reserve together with the official opening of the Moor-rul Viewing Platform designed to highlight Wurundjeri hunting and gathering strategies.

How The Last Cry changed the Shire of Nillumbik

 

MICK WOIWOD - Historian and Author

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