Shepparton News

It pays to explore indigenous heritage

- WORDS IN ACTION Shepparton Region Reconcilia­tion Group


Protecting heritage is everyone’s business.

It means we all get to share in so many extraordin­ary stories and gain a deeper understand­ing of our country.

There is the ancient cultural and spiritual heritage, knowledge held by the many traditiona­l owners across this vast land.

The many First Nations peoples know and understand their history — they understand the social value or special meanings attached to places and the obligation­s they have to protect these sites for future generation­s.

It is for these reasons they continue to fight for stronger protection­s for cultural sites.

It is also why Aboriginal people should have the final say on what does and does not happen on their land.

There is also the more recent heritage, the heritage that communitie­s are continuing to shape for themselves, again with special meanings attached to places.

The Goulburn Valley has several places of significan­ce — places that hold historical, cultural and spiritual importance.

Many of us know about ‘‘The Flats’’, a culturally significan­t area on the floodplain between Shepparton and Mooroopna.

Maybe you have walked there, guided by a local elder or by yourself, have followed the signs that tell the story of struggle, leadership, resilience, determinat­ion, community.

Perhaps you are yet to hear the story of the related 1939 ‘‘Walk-Off from Cummeragun­ja’’ — the first mass strike of Aboriginal people in Australia and a milestone in the Aboriginal struggle for rights.

Even though this occurred when Aboriginal people left the Cummeragun­ja reserve on the NSW side of the Dungala (Murray River), many of the families settled on ‘‘The Flats’’ making this story part of the heritage of the area.

It is a story of determinat­ion and leadership despite so many barriers and unfair policies of the time.

There was the determinat­ion to leave a situation with restrictiv­e controls over movement, limited rations, lack of sanitation and cramped living conditions — all leading directly to a number of deaths — as well as the cruel treatment meted out by station manager Arthur McQuiggan.

It is also the story of the strong leadership of Jack Patten, William Cooper and others and the courage of those who left with their families.

Even though people should have had the right to live free from such harsh conditions and to protest about the unfairness of policies of the time, Jack Patten received a gaol sentence for ‘‘enticing Aborigines to leave a reserve’’.

The Flats was home to some Aboriginal families prior to the Walk-Off and the site, due to its proximity to the Kaiela (Goulburn River), provided plenty of food and springs for drinking water and to keep food cool.

It already had a strong sense of community.

Aboriginal people and culture are strong and resilient and, just like everyone else, thrive when able to set their own course and make decisions about what’s best for people and for country.

In Mooroopna, on the edge of town, off the Toolamba Rd, is an important historical and cultural place linked to The Flats — Rumbalara (meaning the end of the rainbow) Aboriginal Cooperativ­e now incorporat­ing the Rumbalara Medical Clinic.

Originally part of a transition housing estate for families being moved off The Flats in the 1950s, the site eventually became the administra­tive centre for the co-op in the early 1970s.

There are many stories of life in the concrete houses and one house still remains as part of the heritage of the site.

Since the establishm­ent of Rumbalara as a community centre there have been many changes.

We all know that every family needs good healthcare to enjoy life to the fullest.

A lack of local culturally sensitive medical services meant many Aboriginal people were missing out on quality health care, so, in 1981, the Medical Clinic was establishe­d to provide a medical service where everyone could feel safe and cared for.

Rumbalara is a special place, and its many stories of determinat­ion and leadership are part of this local heritage.

Even as Rumbalara continues to evolve — being the first community-controlled health organisati­on to go out to deliver COVID vaccinatio­ns to Aboriginal community members in their homes — it is shaping its story.

On the other side of the Kaiela — on the north end of town — is the Rumbalara Football Netball Club, an Aboriginal community-run sporting club: another place steeped in history, cultural and, some may say, spiritual significan­ce.

As noted on the club’s website, ‘‘For us history is not just a matter for books and archives; it is a living oral, tradition connecting us to the past and sustaining our sense of who we are.

‘‘Our oral history is very strong. It is the history of our people, our own history as families and our own personal identities.

‘‘And with other Aboriginal communitie­s, land plays a central role in identity.’’

There is a strong link to Cummeragun­ja woven through this history.

From the Cummera Invincible­s football team, which won six premiershi­ps in the 11 seasons it played until it was forced to withdraw after the league banned players over the age of 25, to the All Blacks team from The Flats who won the Central Goulburn Valley League Grand Final in their first season in 1946, only to be expelled the following year after club members were instructed to vote against the inclusion of the All Blacks for the following season.

The presence of a strong, organised and resilient allindigen­ous team was not welcome.

Rumbalara Football Netball Club’s fight to be accepted into a local league was finally successful in 1997 when it was invited to participat­e in the Goulburn Valley Football League.

In a fitting link to the past, on the centenary of the first grand final win by the Cummera Invincible­s, the senior football team won the Premiershi­p.

As with The Flats and Rumbalara Co-operative, Rumbalara Football Netball Club’s story is a story of strength, determinat­ion, triumph, leadership, and significan­t place.

The oval and clubhouse on the north end of town are part of an important local heritage.

These values of resilience, determinat­ion, strength, courage and leadership are values to which we can all aspire.

Protecting this country’s heritage — including the more recent heritage — means we all get to share the stories, to understand our history, to learn, to value the extraordin­ary country on which we live and the extraordin­ary achievemen­ts local people and communitie­s have made.

It also helps us consider what, as a nation, we value and how we ensure this is protected for our future generation­s.

 ?? Photo courtesy of the Yorta Yorta Nation Aboriginal Corporatio­n ?? Big achievemen­t: A photo of the Cummeragun­ja Football Club in 1927 with their recent premiershi­p flags in the background.
Photo courtesy of the Yorta Yorta Nation Aboriginal Corporatio­n Big achievemen­t: A photo of the Cummeragun­ja Football Club in 1927 with their recent premiershi­p flags in the background.
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 ??  ?? Milestone: Kalun Atkinson and John Murrayart take part in a commemorat­ion of the Cummeragun­ja walk-off.
Milestone: Kalun Atkinson and John Murrayart take part in a commemorat­ion of the Cummeragun­ja walk-off.

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