IN THE BEGINNING ...
On the weekend of 30 and 31 January a cluster of women embarked on a special journey. This was the first event organised the Women’s Interfaith Network Foundation - however, it was deliberately kept small.
The Women’s Interfaith Network Foundation has been established as a legacy of the Parliament of the World’s Religions.
Our very special journey took us north to the Murray River. A number of us had been this way in November on the Walking Humbly: a journey to the Murray tour organised as a pre-Parliament event by GreenFaith Australia. On that trip, we had met with women leaders of the Yorta Yorta nation and they had shown us the Yorta Yorta lands of the Barmah Forest. But two busloads of people don’t allow for deep conversation.
This time a small group of women was returning and the highlight of the day would be a visit to the Birthing Tree in the Forest. We were accompanied on our journey by Aunty Walda Blow, a Yorta Yorta elder, who is Vice-President of WIN Foundation.
On arrival in Barmah we were greeted at the Aboriginal Training Centre by Aunty Denise and Aunty Greta. Also waiting for us there was Sister Bernadine Kelly of the Brigidine Sisters in nearby Echuca. Needless to say, we put the kettle on and relaxed at their centre – and did our conversation cover some territory!
We talked about the land, the cultural mapping being done by the Yorta Yorta, the Stolen Generations, the 1967 Referendum and on and on. There was a wonderful, sad. Inspiring sharing of the problems they have had in being non-persons & non-Australians for so long and the racist attitudes of the local whites.
And the pain in thinking that ordinary whites knew their plight and didn’t care yet many white people were ignorant of their plight and their pain. Again, Sr Bernardine says she was very unaware of this injustice till she was asked to present a paper to other Brigidine Sisters in about 1987, on how the Aboriginal people in the Echuca area coped with the white “Invasion.”
Eventually, we had to get ourselves together so that we could do what we came to do...visit the Birthing Tree.
It was a hot January day as we drove the dirt roads of the forest seeking out the Tree. We had a couple of false starts before we located the spot. The Birthing Tree is a short distance from the road. It is clearly ancient. Not a leaf on it. Too sacred to photograph. Before, Yorta Yorta culture was disturbed and the nation dispersed, this is where people began life. A mother, knowing the time was near, would come to the Tree – perhaps walking some considerable distance. Sr Bernardine wishes she had sung This is holy Ground in both places but whites, she says, are slow to acknowledge/feel their spirituality!
After the Tree, we visited Cummeragunja and the cermetery there. The visit to the cemetry was amazing. It is a peaceful restful place in the Australian bush and there were many famous Yorta Yorta people there, the historic figure, William Cooper and his family; distinguished Australians like Pastor Sir Doug Nicholls, his wife and children; Margaret Tucker and her daughter; Hyllus Maris and her daughter. This was an amazing experience to see extended Yorta Yorta families resting here. We had, ever so briefly, traversed the Yorta Yorta journey from birth to death. On the way we met the most interesting people – not only our wonderful hosts but people who kept a culture alive in life and in death and people who have made the most significant contribution to Australian life in spite of dispossesion, obstacles and vicissitudes.
Tired and dusty, we then headed for Echuca where we all had dinner together followed by a walk along the banks of the Murray. Needless to say there was plenty to talk about – but one thing has come from all this: a project. The Yorta Yorta are planning to carry out some work and improvements at the cemetry and we of the WIN Foundation plan to work alongside them. Sister Bernadine in Echuca is involved with Landcare and will be working to get the local Landcare group involved in the project. The Yorta Yorta elders are establishing what the local Council can assist with. WIN Foundation welcomes assistance in this, including help from men. Those of us who went to Barmah aren’t really pick and shovel material and a bit of that may be needed so some interested men would be most welcome.
Our Sunday was spent in Echuca where we joined worship at the local Catholic Church and met the Parish Priest who welcomed us before his congregation. We lunched as we tripped up and down the Murray on a paddle steamer. And then it was back to Melbourne and a final cuppa at the home of Aunty Wanda Blow as we explained our wonderful trip to Uncle Reg, President of COMMON (Centre of Melbourne Multifaith and Others Network).
So if you wish to join the WIN Foundation or become involved in the Cummeragunja Project please contact the Secretary, Brigid Walsh on 9874 0947 or 0439 425 751.
Learning and talking at the Aboriginal Training Centre, Barmah
Aims and Objectives
To provide an opportunity for women of different faiths and ethical backgrounds and who are of culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds to come together to share from their traditions.
To address issues and concerns faced by women of different faiths and ethical backgrounds and of culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds living in Australia.
To mutually encourage women of culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds to enrich and enhance their contribution to Australian society from their individual faiths, ethics and values.
To encourage city/country, rural/regional connections and support across Victoria among women from different faiths and ethical backgrounds and from culturally and linguisticall diverse backgrounds. .
To support Victorian children of culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, irrespective of their faith and ethical backgrounds, and aid and assist them in their holistic development.
To act as a bridge between peoples and organisations and facilitate and promote the diverse contribution that culturally and linguistically diverse communities as well as the different faith and ethical traditions bring to mainstream culture in Victoria.