STORY AND PHOTOS BY TELISSA RYDER
“It is an Aboriginal celebration – an awareness culture week when all the communities get together and have events, to encourage families and friends to come along and learn more about our culture.”
Noongar woman and Wirrpanda Foundation student Rosalyn Taylor shares the meaning behind the annual NAIDOC (the National Aboriginal and Indigenous Day Observance Committee) Week celebration, and the plans in store for her local area.
Louise and Paul Garlett are also students joining Rosalyn in helping plan NAIDOC Week.
These students at Wirrpanda’s Kwinana office, along with the local Indigenous community, are busily preparing for an event that is close to their heart.
Although NAIDOC Week traditionally begins on the first Sunday of July, this year in Kwinana the week’s celebrations will start at the end of June.
The celebrations will begin on Friday, June 24, with the official opening on Monday, June 27.
For Rosalyn, the shy mother of 10 children, helping with and cooking for this year’s NAIDOC Week is a big deal, for her and her children.
“I have known about NAIDOC Week but never got into it to share the celebrations of the week. This is my first time,” she says.
“I am looking forward to it and think it is important so my kids can get involved and get to know more about their culture.
“I am cooking the damper and the kangaroo stew. Uncle Lindsay [Calyun] and the boys will go out bush to get the kangaroos for us.”
She says the celebrations will include an opening with a smoking ceremony, a welcome to country, awards, dance and “lots of food”. “We are also helping out with the senior lunch on Wednesday, and on Thursday there is a movie night which we are helping to set up.”
Rosalyn, or ‘Ros’ as she’s better known, is involved in The Wirrpanda Foundation’s Gaining Access to Training and Employment program, offering a Certificate 1 qualification in key employment skills through the North Metropolitan TAFE.
The employment program has been running since February, engaging Indigenous students with three components: 1. pathways focusing on career development, communication and return to study; 2. the community; and 3. technology, teaching computing and technology skills.
Diane Samson is a North Metropolitan TAFE lecturer and assessor of the technology component of the emloyment program. She has watched students like Taylor gain a new-found confidence and set of skills which has helped them to take part in organising NAIDOC week, the type of task they would usually avoid.
“One of the biggest problems Indigenous students face is shyness,” she says.
“It has been a privilege to get to know the [students and] group members, to see them develop skills and confidence and to work with them to achieve goals. At times their kids come in, see them learning, and will join in and do some work. So it’s a positive thing for the kids as well, having that good role modelling.”
With NAIDOC week fast approaching, much of the general public is unaware of the significance of this annual celebration to the Indigenous community.
Wirrpanda Foundation CEO Lisa Cunningham says the event is about participants feeling proud of themselves and their culture, and sharing this with the general public.
“This is the key event on the calendar. It is a time to get together and celebrate culture. It’s a time to attend a ball, get dressed up. It gives purpose and showcases Aboriginal culture to the wider public,” Ms Cunningham says.
This year’s annual NAIDOC ball will be hosted in Darwin and Cunningham, who has attended this Indigenous “night of all nights” in previous years, expects guests to be dressed to impress.
“It is a black tie event, very glamorous,” she says.
“I did attend the ball when it was held in Perth in 2014. Each year a city hosts. The year it was held in Hobart.
“David Wirrpanda won NAIDOC person of the year 2012.”
The 2016 NAIDOC theme, Songlines – The living narrative of our nation, will highlight the importance of songlines to the existence of Aborginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
On the official NAIDOC website, NAIDOC committee co-chairs Anne Martin and Ben Mitchell say: “Through learning more about songlines, all Australians can celebrate Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures as the oldest continuing cultures on the planet.”
With a rich history spanning more than 90 years, NAIDOC began with the boycot of Australia Day by Aboriginal rights groups, in protest against the status and treatment of Indigenous Australians.
Australia Day in 1938 saw one of the first major civil rights gatherings in the world known as the Day of Mourning. Protesters marched through the streets of Sydney followed by a congress attended by more than 1000 Aboriginal people.
From 1940 until 1955, the Day of Mourning commemoration was held annually on the Sunday before Australia Day and became known as Aborigines Day.
After the 1975 formation of the National Aborigines Day Observance Committee, or NADOC, it was decided that the event should cover a week, from the first to the second Sunday in July.
The committee expanded in 1991 to recognise and include Torres Strait Islander people, expanding the acronym to NAIDOC, and a different theme is chosen each year to reflect important issues and events for the week.
The Kwinana community and council, the Australian Red Cross, Relationships Australia, the YMCA and Wirrpanda Foundation students revisit and acknowledge this history as they plan the local NAIDOC celebrations.
GATE program pathways assessor Maxine Tomlin says although it’s great to see the community come together to organise NAIDOC week, more support and improvements will make next year’s celebrations better and more inclusive.
“I think what’s always hard is trying to get the views of everybody in the community,” she says.
“Two of the biggest issues is that there is a lack of funding, and I think what we need to do as an organisation is apply for funding nine months before NAIDOC so that we can actually access some better services.”
To better prepare for next year’s celebrations, there are already talks of a NAIDOC committee being set up, and GATE students are already putting their hand up to join.
Ros Taylor has a simple, yet powerful reason for staying involved.
“For my kids, and the rest of the Aboriginal community, to teach their kids to feel proud of who we are.”
To learn more about what the city of Kwinana has in store for the upcoming NAIDOC celebrations, visit www.livekwinana.com.au.
STORY AND PHOTOS BY TELISSA RYDER