Reconciliation support at Strathalbyn

By Helen Stacey Bunton & Freda Jaadawa Mills

Posted in Culture

In 2017, Uniting Church communities across South Australia marked Reconciliation Week in different ways. St Andrews Strathalbyn Uniting Church took the opportunity to partner with the Strath Neighbourhood Centre and the Aboriginal Reference Group to hold two Reconciliation Week events.

The first of these was a bridge walk across the Strathalbyn Children's Bridge and through the surrounding gardens to the St Andrews church building. This was inspired by the bridge walks that took place around Australia in 1998 to mark the first Sorry Day.

At the beginning of the walk, Mark Elliott-Trevorrow, a Ngarrindjeri-Peramangk man, used his mother's coolamon (long wooden bowl) to hold smoking gum leaves – a cleansing ritual for the group as they passed through the smoke.

Passing this stage, the group walked over the bridge and through the gardens while holding an Aboriginal flag. When they arrived at the St Andrews church hall, Mark performed a ceremony to bury the embers and leaves.

“What is taken from the ground is returned to the ground,” he explained.  “And burying embers means you don't start a fire! In our culture there are often two reasons for doing a ritual – one is spiritual, the other is practical.”

During the afternoon, the church hall was abuzz with kids and adults, activities and singing.  Visitors were greeted at a bright entrance area, and a colourful “Sea of Hands” made by the Burkett Drive Child Care Centre was displayed on a board. Other children had coloured in huge feet to spell out this year's Reconciliation Week theme – “Let's Take the Next Steps Together”. Candy Scown made a display featuring local bush tucker, and there was another display of historic articles in remembrance of past events conncted with Reconciliation Week, such as the 1967 referendum and the landmark Eddie Mabo decision.

Centacare (Murray Bridge) sent their Po:rlar Ka:ngkun Tainkuwalun (PKT) or “Journey to Learning” mobile van to Strathalbyn, and set up Aboriginal activities for kids in the hall. 

The Wattles, a young singing group trained by Wal Hirschausen, sang Archie Roach's song “They took the children away” and “From my eyes” by No Fixed Address, accompanied by Lorraine Rice (guitar) and Heather Matheson (ukulele). The music continued after this performance with songs from Wal Hirschausen and Kerry Forward.

Finally, Freda Jaadawa Mills and David Bunton both spoke about the significance of Reconciliation Week.

The second Strathalbyn event was a Sunday service was held at St. Andrews Strathalbyn Uniting Church. Sean Weetra, a young Ngarrindejri artist and church leader, addressed the gathering, drawing on his experiences and the strength he has drawn from the Bible. The church community then offered a response acknowledging the pain of the past and pledging to work with Aboriginal people to make Australia a better place. A video was also shared from the 40 Stories website, featuring an interview with Derek Walker.

Three Elders from Kalparrin Faith Community, near Murray Bridge, attended this service - Victor Wilson, his wife Glenys and Marshall Carter. Uncle Victor spontaneously and movingly shared his faith, hope and vision for Australia.

The organisers of both events appreciated the way everyone came together to make them happen, particularly visitors and those who contributed to the events, as well as local businesses that offered support.

As people gathered for a BBQ lunch after the special church service, many were already talking about ideas for next year’s Reconciliation Week events!


Left: St Andrews Strathalbyn Uniting Church

Right: Freda Jaadawa Mills (Aboriginal Reference Group, Strath Neighbourhood Centre) with David Bunton (Secretary, St Andrews Strathalbyn Uniting Church) and Freda’s young family members – Danielle Campbell and Naphani Ellis (back row), and Jamaine Campbell and Aleckai Willis (front row). They are wearing floral leis in Aboriginal colours and holding the painting “Freedom Walk” by Diane Nikkolson, Freda’s cousin. The painting was featured on posters advertising the two Reconciliation events in Strathalbyn. 


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