Tuesday, August 9, 2022

Adyi ngadya arraygi ngulungginy, ngamiiga

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Geoff Helisma, Clarence Valley Independent

Yuu, ginagay; adyi Yaygirr wadyarr. Adyi ngadya arraygi ngulungginy, ngamiiga.

Translated from the Yaygirr dialect (historically spoken near the mouth of the Clarence River) these words are: ‘Hello there, how are you; this is Yaegl country. I remember my Elder men and Elder women.’

On Friday July 22, as part of the NAIDOC Week exhibition of Yaegl Elders portraits at the Yamba Museum, a book was launched, Keeping our Stories – Stories from Yaegl Country.

“I think it’s important to capture these stories because this is our living memory,” the book’s lead project manager, Frances Belle Parker, told those at the gathering.

“These are stories of our people, and we need to share these stories with the younger generation because that’s how we keep our history alive.”

The book tells the stories of 25 Yaegl Elders in their own words; poignant vignettes providing insight into their lived experiences.

Yaegl Traditional Owners Aboriginal Corporation CEO Billy Walker walks through the smoking ceremony at the book launch, which “assists in cleansing the area and the people of bad spirits and to promote the protection and well-being of visitors”.
Photo: Clarence Valley Independent

The site upon which the launch was held was once an Aboriginal camp put in place by the government of the day.

‘We lived at the old camp at ‘Clay Canyon’ in the bush. Our home was a tin shack and I remember Nanny cooking on the open fire outside,’ Aunty Thelma Kim Ferguson recalls in her story.

‘We were very happily living there until the government forcibly moved us all to the Pippi Beach Reserve.

‘They did this under the Aboriginal Protection Act that I did not understand, but I do now.’

Another of the Elders featured in the book, Reverend Aunty Lanore Parker (Anglican Church), gave the Welcome to Country.

“I stand as a proud Yaegl Elder, because when you become an Elder, you are called into different places, different communities, different tribes … we are many tribes with one heart, a heart of love and community.

“Take that deep breath, breathe in the breath of life. Breathe in the breath of love, breathe in the deep, deep peace.

“When I walked in here, I knew I wasn’t alone; I could feel all our old people are here, because this is where we lived.

“Our grandparents lived here, so I can feel that they are here with us today … this dream that we’ve been holding onto within our lives, this ancient dreaming; and now it’s the new dreaming that we all come to.

“So, when we hear and read the stories of these amazing people, I’m sure you will be touched deeply because it is that same spirit that is within us….

“I warmly welcome each and every one of you here today, on behalf of all our beautiful Yaegl brothers and sisters, but also all the other tribes (from all over) that used to come and visit [here].

“And may we open our hearts, our minds, and our ears as we listen to each other [and] take in the stories that we’re told by the people here.”

Uncle Lester Mercy, who recently passed, was the catalyst to bringing the book to fruition.

“The start of this book began when Uncle Lester rang me and said he wanted to have a yarn with me,” said Mudyala Aboriginal Corporation CEO, director and founder, Aneika Kappen. “At the same time there happened to be a heritage grant available, so, together, we put in for the funding and we managed to get it.”

Ms Belle Parker said her involvement with the book’s production was a “special experience”.

“Unfortunately, we have lost some of the Elders since this project began … but I think it’s amazing to have this project in hard copy form, such as this beautiful book … because it will allow these stories to continue to live on.”

She said that producing the book was a team effort, which started with the Elders’ portraits in 2018.

“That idea continued to grow and flourish in late 2021 when Uncle Lester approached Aneika and had pretty much the same idea, let’s capture the stories of our elders whilst they’re here,” she said.

“Sadly, since then we have lost a number of Elders, [but] with the family’s permission [we] publish their photographs and stories, as well as, in some cases, having the audio of their voices in the exhibition.”

Meanwhile, at the end of the Welcome to Country, Aunty Lenore led an impromptu singing of the first verse and chorus of the Bruce Woodley and Dobe Newton song, I Am Australian.

“I came from the Dreamtime, from the dusty red soil plains / I am the ancient heart, the keeper of the flame / I stood upon the rocky shore, I watched the tall ships come / For forty thousand years I’ve been the first Australian….

The book can be purchased at the museum or through the Mudyala Aboriginal Corporation’s website.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are advised that this story contains the names and images of people now passed and resting in the Dreaming.

Clarence Valley Independent, 27 July 2022

This article appeared in the Clarence Valley Independent, 27 July 2022.

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