Treaty Engagement At Willum Warrain

January 28, 2019

 by Charles Pakana, Treaty Engagement Correspondent 

On Saturday the 17th of November, I was invited to attend a gathering of the local mob at the Willum Warrain at Hastings on the Mornington Peninsula. The event was the first of two community gatherings to discuss and better understand treaty.

In stark – and delightful – contrast to many other community-based treaty gatherings, Willum Warrain adopted an open-arms approach, making welcome all locally-based Aboriginal people (to the first event) and non-Aboriginal people (second event).

Peter Aldenhoven, Willum Warrain President, said: “The thinking behind having a two stage treaty yarning circle and then a cultural forum was to get our mob across what treaty might mean in the Victorian context and for them as Aboriginal people, and then – stage two – open it up to a broader Peninsula audience.

“Obviously, treaty is going to need the broader support of non-indigenous allies for it to get up; and we see ourself – Willum Warrain – as a destination for reconciliation.”

An opportunity to “speak”

On the Saturday, with just Aboriginal attendees, the group split up into two separate yarning circles. In both circles, mutual respect was evident, with everyone being afforded the opportunity to ask questions and share thoughts.

It was after the two circles met, when everyone gathered again in a larger circle that common questions were addressed. One of those was on the subject of the Aboriginal Representative Body (ARB) voting eligibility of Aboriginal Victorians who were not Victorian Traditional Owners.

“I’ve had quite a few conversations or been in meeting where at times us Aboriginal people from beyond the Victorian borders feel a little left out,” Mr. Aldenhoven said. “While we have a vested interest in a pan-Australian treaty, in the Victorian context if you’re not of the 38 clans you feel to some extent that treaty’s not pertinent.

“However I was surprised by the desire of people [at this event] to vote. I hadn’t really that what that would mean – to be voting as an Aboriginal bloc in Victoria.

“When you think about it, we’ve been so disenfranchised since colonisation that here’s an opportunity to speak for the first time, really.”

The Commissioner shares knowledge

On the following Wednesday evening, all community members were invited to listen and speak to Aunty Jill Gallagher, Victorian Treaty Advancement Commissioner during the second of Willum Warrain’s treaty circle events.

Aunty Jill gave the packed house a glimpse of why Treaty was needed, retelling in chilling terms of the massacre at Mount Emu Creek’s Murdering Gully. It was there, in 1839, that 35-40 people of the Tarnbeere Gundidj clan of the Djargurd Wurrung were murdered.

“The reason I like to share these horrific stories is not to make people feel that we’re pointing the finger at other people,” she said, “because we’re not! We don’t tell these stories to make non-Aboriginal people feel embarrassed or ashamed, because you’ve got nothing to be ashamed about. I share the history to show why we need treaty in this country.”

A treaty for now

As I spoke to non Aboriginal attendees at the second event, I gained a growing appreciation for the passion that drives many in their support of Treaty. “As a non-indigenous person, a second Australian if you like, I’m constantly trying to resolve the tensions between this being Aboriginal land, never ceded and should still, I believe, be under Aboriginal sovereignty,” one man said to me.

And from an older lady: “We’re all Australians and share the history, horrible as some of it is, and we’re all going to be living together. I think it’s terribly important we have a treaty because we’ve taken over other people’s land for which we ought to be absolutely ashamed and think it’s fair we have a treaty and sort it out.”

Possibly the most poignent comment I heard over the two events was from Isaiah Columbine, a 16-year old Palawa (Tasmania) man. “I thought I knew what treaty was. I thought it was when John Batman came and exchanged things with the Aboriginal people. But it’s come to my understanding that treaty is so much more than that. That’s what treaty was.

“But now if we’re looking at treaty, we need to do something that’s not only going to last but we need to do somethign that’s for the Aboriginal people now!”