The Riverine Herald : 2018-11-26

MONDAY CONVERSATION : 12 : 12

MONDAY CONVERSATION

PAGE 12—Riverine Herald, Monday, November 26, 2018 riverineher Monday conversation ... STRAIGHT TALKERS GATHERED IN CANBERRA FOR SOME STRAIGHT ANSWERS IVY JENSEN talks to three Yorta Yorta women who are delivering not just services but also a culture at the grassroots level and whose reputations have seen them invited to a national forum where the focus is all about straight talking STRONG, proud and purposeful are three words that sum up Greta Morgan, Hilda Stewart and May Andy perfectly. They are also some of the reasons the Barmah women were chosen to attend a national summit which aimed to amplify the voices of Aboriginal women across the country and empower them to bring about positive changes in their communities. ‘‘It’s about giving us a voice,’’ May said. The Yorta Yorta women were among more than 70 inspiring Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women who travelled from around the country to Canberra for the Oxfam’s Straight Talk national summit, which finished on Thursday, where they got to share their stories and sit down with women from all sides of politics. Greta, who works alongside Hilda as a Parks Victoria cultural education interpretation officer, said she valued networking with other strong women. Working at Parks Victoria for almost 30 years, Greta has a passion for educating visitors about issues of environment and cultural connection to country. Greta said she wanted to learn about how to tackle issues around public housing and make sure medicinal plants and indigenous foods were not taken from the land but cultivated sustainably and with protections afforded to the intellectual property of First Nations’ people. ‘‘One of my interests is sustainable housing and solar power. We live in a country that can be so resourceful but instead we have these high electricity prices,’’ she said. ‘‘It’s really hard because in housing now, they’re just putting in inverters with the hot and cold and they run the electricity right up. And the elders are paying their power and amenities they can’t get the right foods. ‘‘Environment is always on the front for Aboriginal people because it makes us who we are. Especially being a Yorta Yorta person. We have our Dreaming, our significant sites and all our foods. We still go out and gather our foods as well as our medicine plants. ‘‘And just connecting back to country itself is so important for our people. When you come out to the bush everything, else seems to take second place. ‘‘It’s a big part of health. It’s a grounding issue. With the stresses of everyday living, worrying about where that’s going to come from. The environment helps to be able to forget about all that for a little bit and balance yourself again.’’ Greta’s love for the environment and the country where her ancestors lived was the main reason she had been with Parks Victoria for so long. ‘‘Speaking about country and helping them to understand how important it is to respect it and help it to survive and not to just take from it. Give back to it,’’ she said. The mother-of-two and a grandmother of five grew up in Barmah, spending a lot of her childhood at Cummeragunja because of family connections. After finishing year 11, she moved to Melbourne for five years before returning to Barmah, working for Warma Co-Operative (now known as Njernda) and Cummeragunja Viney Morgan Medical Service under the Cummeragunja Housing Development Aboriginal Corporation, and raising her children. ‘‘One day, my Aunty Elizabeth Hoffman called in. She was one the prime movers behind the Dharnya Centre and Yorta Yorta Aboriginal Corporation and she said that they needed me to fill in so I started at Dharnya on a two-day basis, relieving the worker and from there it turned into a fulltime position and I have been here ever since,’’ she said. ‘‘You’re not confined to an office, you’re out on country speaking to groups about your culture and country and the environment. ‘‘As kids we were always out in the bush with Mum and Dad and the information they were giving us, well you wouldn’t think we would take it all. But then when I needed to use it, I remembered Dad or Mum saying that about this plant or that area and what it was used for and so all that came back to me. ‘‘I started using it as well as passing it onto our younger generations and I also do a lot of work with camps and holiday programs. “If you have elders, sit down and have a yarn to them about their life and find out what they’ve done and it will help you in your years in travelling through life.’’ Just like Greta, May has a wealth of experience when it comes to Aboriginal health and education. ‘‘I call myself a Jill of all trades,’’ she said. As well as having several degrees, including in primary school teaching, she has worked with the Dandenong District Aborigines Co-operative, Victorian Aboriginal Child Care Agency, Aboriginal Community Elders Services in Brunswick and Rumbalara Elders Facility. Now, she is an Aboriginal health worker with Viney Morgan Aboriginal Medical Service. As such, she has a huge interest in health among women and children, which she discussed at the summit, as well as issues of housing, employment and education. ‘‘I wanted to know how they make their decisions on indigenous issues when it comes to women and children. And I’d like to know if the grassroots people have a say in anything?’’ she said. ‘‘We’re a small isolated community. Our needs would be a lot different to city needs. I’ve lived in both city and country and the needs of different communities aren’t the same.’’ Growing up on Cummeragunja, May was one of the last students to attend the school there. ‘‘I loved my time at Cummera. I remember all the swimming, fishing and camping spots and a lot of the culturally significant burial sites,’’ she said. ‘‘The tradition and culture are strong within our family and we’ve always tried to keep it alive.’’ By the time she was 19, she was working at the aged care hostel at Cummeragunja before marrying and having her first child. A move to Dandenong saw May work with women and children through the Dandenong and District Aborigines Co-operative under elder Uncle Reg Blow. During that time, the Aboriginal community in and around Dandenong suffered from a lack of support in areas such as health, welfare and unemployment. Uncle Reg helped secure government funding for a hostel in the area and set up a childcare service and training programs to teach life skills and improve employability. May later returned to Cummeragunja where she raised her four children and worked in various roles in child and aged care, before starting with Viney Morgan Aboriginal Medical Service. May said she was looking forward to building on her skills and learning about the political process at the summit, which finished on Thursday. ‘‘I think it’s been a good opportunity to share knowledge, culture and every day issues for women in the community,’’ she said. May, as well as Greta and Hilda, attended the summit’s official opening ceremony at Parliament House, co-hosted by Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne, Labor Senator and Shadow Foreign Affairs Minister Penny Wong and Greens Senator and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander spokeswoman Rachel Siewart. They also took part in small group meetings with politicians at Parliament House, attend Question Time, in a Senate role play and had the chance to hear from MP Linda Burney, Senator Malarndirri McCarthy, Senator Patrick Dodson and MP Ken Wyatt. This year, they also heard from Straight Talk trailblazers such as Karen Driver, the inaugural Faculty Fellow for Inclusive Excellence for Native American Affairs at the College of St Scholastica in Minnesota, who was an appointee of President Barack Obama as the Specialist Assistant to the President for Native American Affairs. ‘‘We got to do a lot of networking; to share and get ideas of what worked and what didn’t work,’’ May said. ‘‘We had been looking forward to meeting other women from other indigenous communities; sharing the culture and the knowledge with them and getting ideas from them, especially from the elderly women there that I can learn from. ‘‘Women are the teachers and the educators so I think it’s about time the government comes to the women to break down some of the barriers. ‘‘Hopefully everything we have learnt out there, we will take back to the community.’’ Oxfam Australia chief executive Helen Szoke said the summit was always more than the sum of its parts for its many attendees, facilitators, guest speakers and trailblazers. ‘‘Not only did they get to sit down with Parliamentarians, establish ongoing relationships and develop more tools to engage with the political system, chances are the women walked away with something far more powerful — a greater voice in the decisions that affect their lives,’’ she said. Since it began in 2009, Straight Talk has engaged more than 650 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women from across Australia. PRINTED AND DISTRIBUTED BY PRESSREADER PressReader.com +1 604 278 4604 ORIGINAL COPY . ORIGINAL COPY . ORIGINAL COPY . ORIGINAL COPY . ORIGINAL COPY . ORIGINAL COPY COPYRIGHT AND PROTECTED BY APPLICABLE LAW

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