Dawn service launches day of mourning for Yorta Yorta

Held at Kaieltheban Park on the banks of the Goulburn River, or Kaiela as it is known by Yorta Yorta, the event featured a range of local First Nations singers and dancers, and Elders of the Yorta Yorta nation.

The ceremony was led by Yorta Yorta man Neil Morris, who said the gathering acknowledged the strength of First Nations people to find their rightful place despite the impacts of colonization and the Frontier Wars.

“We’re here today because of the unfoldings back in the 1700s that began to take place on the sacred landmass of which we are just one small part,” Mr Morris said.

“We acknowledge when those things began to unfold that those impacts were severe and devastating where they first took place and now impacted on every single Indigenous person to this day across the broader landmass of this sacred continent.”

Elder Aunty Sharon Jones told non-Aboriginal people in the crowd that she hoped they felt safe and welcome on Yorta Yorta land, and reminded all that Indigenous Australians had been protesting the date longer than it had been a national holiday.

“This day was the beginning of an invasion that practiced ethnic cleansing of our people,” she said.

“Eighty-five years today was when Elders stood at the front of the Parliament House and protested that January 26 should not be celebrated, and (instead) declared a day of mourning for First Nations people.

“It is so ironic that in 2023, we are still protesting for the date to be changed, so that we can celebrate together as a nation.”

living culture: Dancers Ezekiel Atkinson, Jayden Fowler, Tristan Miller and Zaya Bux-Bamblett express their traditional culture during the dawn service at Kaieltheban Park. Photo by Megan Fisher

Shepparton Reconciliation Group chair Uncle Bobby Nicholls said he had watched the debate about changing the date for Australia Day with interest.

He said Aboriginal people would continue to express their views on the issues that impact their lives.

“We have a voice and we will continue to voice our opinion in regards to the social justices and how Aboriginal people are treated,” he said.

Yorta Yorta man, and Greater Shepparton City Councillor, Greg James noted the presence of both Indigenous and non-Indigenous people, welcoming their support for changing the date of Australia Day.

He also spoke of what he described as a “historically symbolic” commitments made by council in October, 2022.

Council decided to lower the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander flags to half-mast on January 26 on council-owned facilities, to support the Survival Day dawn service, to consult the community about a day of celebration that is not on January 26 and to write to the Prime Minister and Minister for Home Affairs to change the date of Australia Day.

“This decision alone is historic because this council is the first council in Victoria, right across our regions, to vote unanimously on this decision,” Cr James said.

“Next year let us all join together and celebrate Australia Day. We all need to join together and celebrate Australia Day. Not on this day, on another day.”

In addition to Cr James, a number of other councilors and Mayor Shane Sali were present, along with representatives of Victoria Police, but no state or federal politicians were noticeably at the service.

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