'The Flats' walk to mark NAIDOC week 2017

The University of Melbourne’s Department of Rural Health conducted a community walk at 'The Flats' to mark NAIDOC week 2017.

Uncle Leon and Leah Lindrea-Morrison at the Flats

In the year following her succession to the throne, Queen Elizabeth II and her husband Prince Philip embarked on a six-month grand tour of the Commonwealth and the Dominions. During their 58 days in Australia, the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh visited 57 cities and towns across all states and territories.

On March 5 1954, they visited the town of Shepparton.

Known as Australia’s food bowl, the Queen’s duty included the commemoration of a rose garden that is still a part of the town and continues to be nurtured.

Travelling through Shepparton, Their Royal Highnesses would have passed places such as “The Flats’ and viewed the Goulburn River.

But what they may not have noticed, were the hessian bags placed against miles of fencing to shield them from the views.

Behind the obscured fences were residents of Shepparton; those who were not yet counted, represented or recognised.

Now in 2017, the hessian bags are no more and the roads belong to everyone. To mark NAIDOC Week 2017, the University of Melbourne’s Department of Rural Health conducted a community tour open to all of the local community.

The tour was organised by Ms Leah Lindrea-Morrison, a Yorta Yorta woman and the Department of Rural Health’s Aboriginal Community Partnerships Officer

Graham Briggs

Walkers and participants were introduced to and in some cases re-acquainted with the significance of “The Flats.”

Yorta Yorta and Dja Dja Wurrung Clans elder Uncle Leon Saunders led the tour and he started with the significant events of 1939.

Uncle Leon draws on the recollections of his great-great grandmother from the Yorta Yorta tribe.

“The area known as ‘The Flats’ was settled after local Indigenous people left Cummeragunja at nearby Barmah. This was in 1939 and became home to over 200 people,” Uncle Leon said.

The big “Walk Off” was due to the people being subjected to unreasonable restrictions, poor rations, cruel treatments and the increasing removal of children. This site was partially chosen to be near the Kaiela (Goulburn River).

“My great-great grandmother told me that despite the physical hardships endured by the people, there remained a strong sense of caring and support.  People would look out for each other, would mind children to allow others to work and make sure everyone had enough to sustain them,” he said.

“The only work available to the women was fruit picking and for the men it was shearing. My great-great grandmother reminded me that these times created a sense of lasting resilience in the community.  She had a saying that I tell myself every day about never, never giving up.”

Uncle Leon has led the tour for several years and hopes to lead many more. He is heartened by the increase in attendance, the involvement in and the representation from the Goulburn Valley community.

Leah Lindrea-Morrison is a vital part of her community and she too understands the history of the local land. Her own parents lived on “The Flats”.

She believes that by connecting with community leaders, listening to their stories and recollections and engaging with Indigenous perspectives, everyone gains.

“There are so many stories to tell and I am a great believer in storytelling as communication. The Elders in our community are best at telling their stories as they draw on the rich traditions of the past,” she said.

“They take us down winding roads and we experience the vast and nuanced contours of their history.”

Uncle Leon Saunders took the walkers from 1939 to 1956 to ‘The Flats” that were prone to flooding.

“We know the power of the river and floods were often devastating and sudden. The flood of 1956 was particularly devastating but the community moved to higher ground at a place once known as Daishs’ Paddock. This was on the site of an old tip and once again, the resilience of the community was sorely tested, both physically and emotionally,” Leah said.

At the conclusion of the walk, the group gathered to share some food and some new words. This year’s NAIDOC Week theme was Our Languages Matter and so with that in mind, it was a good time for local community leader Graham Briggs to teach some didgeridoo and learn the Yorta Yorta language. Taleah Briggs led the singing of “Bura Fera.”

Mooroopna- deep water hole

Yalka- youth

Dhurringle-crouching emu

Barmah- meeting place

Bukkah- Head

Winya- Women

Yenbena People

The preservation of the local languages is vital and resonates with all of us especially as we look to the Elders to continue with the story-telling. It is with one voice that we celebrate the Indigenous voice in our community.