Deniliquin Pastoral Times
Plaque honours First Nations families
It was a celebration of culture, history and reconciliation at ‘The Flat’ on Saturday, with nearly 150 people gathering to hear and share stories of the Aboriginal families who resided there before moving to other suitable housing across town.
A partnership which was formed more than 60 years ago between The Deniliquin Salvation Army and Deniliquin Rotary Club was celebrated, and a plaque commemorating the flats families was unveiled.
In the 1950s the organisations worked together to build a hall on ‘The Flat’ for the families to learn, gather and worship together.
Former resident of The Flat Hewitt Whyman said while the event was emotional at points, it was a great success.
“A grand day was had by all,” said Mr Whyman.
“It was certainly emotional at times, but there was also lots of laughter and smiles on peoples faces.
“Former flats people came back with their children and grandchildren to commemorate the period we lived there.”
The event also included a Welcome to Country by Mr Whyman, a cleansing ritual performed by Mr Whyman’s grandson Caius Mescia and music from the Salvation Army Brass Band from Geelong.
Mr Whyman was able to share his story of his time at The Flat, alongside fellow former resident Vince Ross, which he said had its “happy times and sad times”.
“Aboriginal people were controlled by the Aboriginal Protection Act at the time,” he said.
“We were always afraid they would come and take our children away, which they did. “We still live with the pain of that.”
The 1915 amendments to the Aborigines Protection Act 1909 gave the New South Wales (NSW) Aborigines Protection Board the power to remove any Indigenous child at any time and for any reason.
Mr Whyman was 14 years-old when the hall was officially opened in 1961 at The Flat- his family had been living there since he was eight.
“It was the first act of reconciliation toward our people,” he said.
“It (the hall) was a community meeting centre. We had Sunday School there, families gathered in there to worship, people got married there and did business there.
“For a lot of us coming back to this spot (The Flat) brought a lot home, so it was very emotive at periods, but it was great to celebrate this action of reconciliation from 60 years ago.”
Mr Whyman hopes The Flat will now be a place of reflection for the community.
“Some towns people who I spoke to at the event didn’t even know there was black history in Deniliquin,” he said.
“People need to embrace and support reconciliation and recognise the past so we can continue to move forward. “
Mr Whyman thanked The Salvation Army, Deniliquin Rotary Club and Vince Ross for making the event happen.
“This was something Uncle Vince Ross and I mentioned to each other three years ago.
“It was meant to happen last year on the 60th anniversary, but due to COVID we were forced to reschedule.”
The 13 families showcased on the plaque are Sampson, Whyman, Jackson, Moore, Barrett, Atkinson, Mullins, Swindle, Bell, Bligh, Kirby, Higgins, Farrant, Ross, Rhodes, Pickens, Foster, Murray and Smith.
The plaque is located at the Edward River Flat, off Chippenham Park Lane. The community is encouraged to visit and reflect.