Tom Parry

PROUD members of the Gunaikurnai community and their supporters gathered on Monday (July 3) to mark NAIDOC Week.

A flag-raising ceremony was hosted by Ramahyuck District Aboriginal Corporation (RDAC) at its Noel Yarram (Snr) Centre on Foster St, Sale, which saw more than 120 attendees.

General Manager of Corporate Services at Ramahyuck, Andrew Dimarco was Master of Ceremonies for the occasion.

Mr Dimarco told the Gippsland Times the event was an opportunity to celebrate Indigenous culture and come together as a community.

He also said it was “an opportunity for our Aboriginal community to pass on their knowledge and culture to the non-Aboriginal community”.

A sizeable crowd was in attendance for the flag-raising ceremony.
Photo: Stefan Bradley

The event began with a Welcome to Country from Aunty Di Hurren, followed by a Smoking Ceremony.

A long queue formed in the centre’s carpark, as attendees made their way towards a small fire, accompanied by the sounds of Gavin O’Shannesy playing the digeridoo.

Once everybody had made their way through the smoke, Ramahyuck’s Cultural Connect Dance Group performed three traditional dances for the crowd.

This was followed by the raising of the three flags at the gates to the centre, with Uncle Rob Douthat hoisting the Torres Strait Islander flag, Aunty Kathy Fennell hoisting the Aboriginal flag, and Aunty Bonnie O’Shannesy hoisting the national Australian flag.

Next, the crowd heard speeches by Aunty Bess Yarram, who spoke about her upbringing as a Noongar woman; and Uncle Gerry Laughton, a self-described “younger elder” who discussed his experience as an Arrernte and Luritja man.

The event concluded with a presentation of Ramahyuck’s NAIDOC Week Awards, followed by a barbecue lunch.

Aunty Kath Fennell and Aunty Bonnie O’Shannesy raising the Aboriginal and national flags.
Photo: Tom Parry

Wellington Shire Council Mayor, Ian Bye was among those in attendance, describing the event as “fantastic”.

“To see the community come out and support NAIDOC Week is very pleasing to see,” he told the Times.

Mr Laughton, who has attended multiple NAIDOC events at the centre, said he was “quite surprised” by the size of the crowd.

“I’m at awe at the amount of people – it’s probably twice as much (as last year),” Mr Laughton said.

“It’s very surprising and humbling.”

Aunty Bonnie O’Shannesy with Gavin O’Shannesy. Photo: Tom Parry

Other attendees spoken to by the Times agreed that the crowd was larger than in previous years, including Cr Bye and Mr Dimarco.

“I think today was a really great turnout,” Mr Dimarco said.

“It’s very pleasing to see a lot of our support agencies and funders, (and) the Aboriginal community obviously, but also the broader community coming together to learn about NAIDOC Week and celebrate it.”

NAIDOC Week is observed nationwide, occurring annually from the first Sunday of July to the following Sunday.

The event takes its name from the National Aboriginal and Islander Day Observance Committee, an organisation which seeks to celebrate and recognise the history, culture and achievements of Australia’s First Nations peoples.

Each year incorporates a different theme, with 2023’s being “For Our Elders”.

The flag-raising ceremony was one of many events hosted by Ramahyuck during this year’s NAIDOC Week; other events included an Elders’ Luncheon at Sporting Legends on Tuesday, a Family Fun Day at Nakunbalook Environmental and Cultural Education Centre on Wednesday, and another family day at Stratford’s Knob Reserve on Thursday.

Zaiyan Davies-Hood performing with the Cultural Connect Dance Group.
Photo: Tom Parry