opinion

"There is this lingering pain and hurt." Why NAIDOC week feels different this year.

This week is NAIDOC week and the theme for this year is, ‘Always Was Always Will Be’.

The first two things that come to mind when thinking of this theme are the power of country and the power of First Nations peoples who descend from country. 

NAIDOC week was born out of a day of protest and is now a time for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to come together and be surrounded by our families and communities to celebrate our cultures and our survival. 

This year’s NAIDOC theme allows for us to highlight that our sovereignty has never been ceded and that we have and continue to survive attempted genocide.

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When reading the words ‘Always Was Always Will Be’, I can almost instantly hear the voices of my people chanting these words in the streets, at rallies and wherever else needed. ‘Always Was Always Will Be’ is a phrase we paint on banners and wear proudly on clothing across our chest. 

You will always hear the echoes of this phrase ring loudly from the mouths of our grassroots people fighting for justice on the frontline. One place on the frontline of the fight to protect is Djab Wurrung Country, in south-west Victoria.

Djab Wurrung peoples have been protecting sacred women’s country from the Victorian government's Western Highway Duplication Project for over two years. It has been 870 days since the Djab Wurrung Heritage Protection Embassy was established by Djab Wurrung women. 

The Djab Wurrung Heritage Protection Embassy grew from a little blue tent to a fully functioning place for frontline warriors to survive the bitterly cold winter and the boiling hot summers. It is has become a place of learning, connecting and uniting to protect.

Djab Wurrung women in front of the little blue tent. Image: Supplied.

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The section of Djab Wurrung country that we are protecting is sacred women’s country, it withholds intimate importance to us as Djab Wurrung women and its importance is made up of many elements which form its entire being. There is an overwhelming feeling felt when first stepping on this section of our country, you feel protected, safe, connecting and healed. 

In 2018, the embassy was established to protect and protect it did, until October 26, 2020, when for the first time within the two-year battle we felt an irretrievable loss within the fight. Hundreds of Victorian police officers arrived with their colonising counterparts. 

We lost an element of our mother, of our protection, to the grinding teeth of the Daniel Andrews government chainsaws. Djab Wurrung women are feeling the bleeding pain and trauma as a result of the felling of our directions tree. We are mourning the loss of an integral element to our dreaming story, our song-line.

Sissy and the piece of Djab Wurrung Country that was removed. Image: Supplied.

On the same day that the Daniel Andrews government announced the easing of COVID-19 restrictions here in Victoria, a piece of Djab Wurrung Country was torn away from the roots of its belonging.

We are the land; we cannot exist as First Nations peoples without the song-lines of our countries weaving through our existence. When the land is hurt, so are we, we are suffering deep pain and we are mourning the loss of an element of country we will never see again.  

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NAIDOC week this year feels different, there is this lingering pain and hurt when attempting to celebrate what our people have survived and the traumas our people have overcome.

I am finding myself crying to Uncle Kutcha Edwards song ‘Is This What We Deserve’, a song that tells the story of the pain experienced by our people and questions if this is what we, the First Peoples of this country deserve.

The lyrics sing, “We been here since time began, our ancestors' footprints buried in the sand, we are but caretakers of this ancient land, but you still don’t understand” and “Your laws are so unjustified our basic human rights have been denied, you come up with excuses like your hands are tied but you go on committing genocide.”

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It is gut-wrenching that Uncle Kutcha wrote this song in 2007, 13 years ago and still we are finding ourselves with tear-soaked pillows listening to and connecting this song to what is occurring on Djab Wurrung country in the year 2020.

Being a First Nations person in the State of Victoria at this current time is very challenging, given that the very same government who we are begging for understanding, understanding of the importance of country to First Nations people, claims loudly its progressiveness with its treaty and self-determination agenda. 

The conflicting agendas are bold, you cannot claim to be progressive in that you’re embarking on a treaty process and then feel comfortable in destroying culturally significant country at the same time. It feels as though we are in an abusive relationship, whereby there is a honeymoon period of talking treaty and an abusive period whereby we are being silence, oppressed, abused and traumatised. 

NAIDOC week exists for a reason and so does the theme ‘Always Was Always Will Be’. The land that we are protecting right now always was and always will be Djab Wurrung country and the power of this land will continue to fuel its peoples to protect. With pain becomes strength, we will mourn but we will grow, unite and fight. 

Allies have been integral to the maintaining of this long battle, self-determination comes from the ground up and if you want to support us, support the asserting of our sovereignty. This is currently being done through the Wuurn of Kanak – Land back initiative, lead by a Djab Wurrung mother. Wuurn of Kanak - LandBack!

Sissy Eileen Austin is a Gunditjmara Keerraay Woorroong DjabWurrung woman. Sissy is a grassroots community member who works in an Aboriginal Community Controlled organisation in the family violence sector. Sissy is a freelance writer and has her own blog titled 'My Little Koorie Voice'. Sissy is passionate about self-determination and culture.

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