We acknowledge the Gunaikurnai People as the Traditional Owners of the land on which we live and work. We pay our respects to their Elders, past, present and emerging.

NAIDOC Week – an annual commemoration and celebration of the histories, cultures and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

Hosted during the first week of July, NAIDOC Week is a momentous event for Indigenous people and a highlight on the Blak calendar, with local events hosted across the nation to celebrate Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, culture, survival, resistance and more than 65,000 years of history.

One-year-old Milani Cook shows off her fresh face paint with a smile at last week’s Family Day event. Photos by Zoe Askew

Family Day, an annual NAIDOC Week event hosted by Ramahyuck – a community-controlled, member-based health and wellbeing organisation that delivers high-quality services aligned with the aspirations of Aboriginal families living on Gunai Kurnai Peoples’ lands – was among the many local NAIDOC Week celebrations this year.

For the first time since the local NAIDOC Week event began, Ramahyuck hosted Family Day at Nakumbalook Environmental and Cultural Education Centre amid the towering gum trees between Sale’s Lake Guthridge and Lake Guyatt, having previously hosted the event at Ramahyuck head office on Foster Street.

“It’s really nice that Wellington Shire has supported the event, and we’re using the cultural centre and this surrounding outdoor area,” Ramahyuck CEO Nancy Binotto said.

“It is just lovely to have some grass for the children to run around and play on as well.”

The relocation of Family Day to Nakunbalook Environmental and Cultural Education Centre this year was in response to the ever-increasing popularity of the local NAIDOC Week event, which has well outgrown its former hosting venue.

Creative juices were flowing for four-year-old Stevie Dimarco and five-year-old Janarlee Nelson as the pair got crafty at the art table.

With a particularly wet, cold and windy weekly weather forecast, it was much to the relief of Ms Binotto and Ramahyuck General Manager of Corporate Services Andrew Dimarco that grizzly grey clouds and sporadic showers of rain dissipated before Family Day began on Wednesday.

“We are so grateful the rain held off,” Ms Binotto said.

Local emergency services representatives at Ramahyuck family day, paramedics Tim Handley and Tom King, alongside police officers Sarah Reggardo and Cory Zidarich.

Ramahyuck’s 2023 Family Day was the largest and most well-attended Family Day event to date, with more stalls, activities, and visitors than ever before, attributable to the ongoing expansion of community support, enthusiasm, and attendance.

“We’ve been amazed,” Ms Binotto said.

“Monday’s (July 3) flag raising was so well supported and attended, and it’s great to see that.

“[For Family Day], we just needed more space and it’s great to have Community coming back, especially after the COVID restrictions we’ve all had.”

There were a plethora of activities to keep one entertained at this year’s Family Day, with sports games run by GippSport, a face painting stall, an arts and crafts station, a baby animal petting zoo, bug demonstrations by Bug Blitz, and the chance to get up close and personal with Australian animals of all shapes and sizes at the Animals of Oz stall.

A baby goat – one of the many animals that could be spotted at Ramahyuck’s family day last week.

Local organisations and groups were well represented through the likes of Ambulance Victoria paramedics Tom King and Tim Handley, Victoria Police police officers Sarah Reggardo and Cory Zidarich, Parks Victoria rangers Camila Castellanos and Roxy Stocker, Maxima Job Link, Ramahyuck dental and medical services, Headspace, Bunnings, Forest Fire Management Victoria, Gippsland First Custodians Network, Wellington Shire Council and Country Needs People.

“Family Day is a lovely opportunity for all families to come along and just enjoy the day,” Ms Binotto said.

“There’s no formality to it; it’s just a day of fun.”

Indi from Animals of Oz shows off her froggy friend.

While NAIDOC Week and its events are a celebration of the histories, cultures and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, it is also an opportunity for the wider non-Indigenous community to learn and better understand the oldest living culture in the world, who have walked the land for upwards of 65,000 years.

“NAIDOC Week in itself is a really good opportunity for the wider community to show support and increase their understanding of the cultural significance for the local Aboriginal community,” Ms Binotto said.

“It is great to have their support and to see so many people interested in learning, and this year’s theme, For Our Elders, has been really nice to mark the significance of the Elders and their contribution to the community.”

Electra Greene from Bug Blitz with her huntsman spider friend. Photos: Zoe Askew

Across every generation, Elders have played, and continue to play, an important role and hold a prominent place in Indigenous communities and families.

Elders are cultural knowledge holders, trailblazers, nurturers, advocates, teachers, survivors, leaders, hard workers and loved ones who have guided and continue to guide generations through years of advocacy and activism and in everyday life.

Amy Rust, the First Peoples’ Assembly of Victoria’s head of engagement and media, said this year’s theme is to honour, appreciate and recognise Elders and their accomplishments.

“The theme this year is about recognising and respecting our Elders and all they’ve done to stand up for our rights and keep our culture strong, but obviously NAIDOC has always been about celebrating and taking pride in our wonderful culture,” Ms Rust said.

“It’s the oldest living culture in the world, and it has so much to give. Whether you’ve always had that connection or you’re reconnecting. And it’s great to also give our culture and achievements visibility to newer Australians; they can also deepen their understanding of our history, both the old history and the living history right here today.”

Four-year-old Kiah Cook bravely investigates the creepy crawlies at the Animals of Oz stall.

NAIDOC Week is about coming together and commemorating several millennia of continuous culture and is the most significant celebration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, culture, history, and their survival.

“It’s important to have a dedicated time for our people to celebrate,” Ms Rust said.

“What we choose to celebrate as a society says a lot.

“When you think about it, we have public holidays for things like the King and a horse race and the football, but we don’t have any public holiday about to celebrate the oldest living culture in the world.

“So it’s good to have NAIDOC week to have some time to celebrate us mob.

“Maybe that’s something the elected Assembly Members will want to push along with Treaty, a NAIDOC public holiday. Why not?”

Two-year-old Noa Bouras feeds the baby goats at the Ramahyuck family day petting zoo.

Ms Rush said the First Peoples’ Assembly of Victoria’s engagement team attended events across the state of all shapes and sizes this NAIDOC Week.

“We have a great time at all the deadly events, big and small, and it’s a great way to have a yarn with the mob about the shared journey to Treaty in Victoria,” she said.

“NAIDOC celebrations have been popular with community for a long time, but it does feel like this year there’s also a lot of allies coming out to show their support, probably because people want to get behind the YES vote for the referendum.

“It’s good. There’s always a lot that people can learn, and it brings everyone together.”