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Dungala Kaiela Oration record audience

Volume 6 Number 8 August 9 - September 12 2010

Yullara Lowe (left), Sophie Winmar and Rashana Celatano (right), members of the Dhungala Children’s choir who entertained the capacity crowd at this year’s Dungala Kaiela Oration. The choir will form the children’s chorus for Pecan Summer, Australia’s first Indigenous opera, which premieres on October 9 at the WestSide Performing Arts Centre in Mooroopna. Pecan Summer, created and composed by Yorta Yorta soprano Deborah Cheetham, commemorates the first mass strike of Aboriginal people in Australia when in 1939 150 residents walked off Cummeragunja Mission in protest over conditions and treatment. Picture Peter Casamento/Casamento Photography
Yullara Lowe (left), Sophie Winmar and Rashana Celatano (right), members of the Dhungala Children’s choir who entertained the capacity crowd at this year’s Dungala Kaiela Oration. The choir will form the children’s chorus for Pecan Summer, Australia’s first Indigenous opera, which premieres on October 9 at the WestSide Performing Arts Centre in Mooroopna. Pecan Summer, created and composed by Yorta Yorta soprano Deborah Cheetham, commemorates the first mass strike of Aboriginal people in Australia when in 1939 150 residents walked off Cummeragunja Mission in protest over conditions and treatment. Picture Peter Casamento/Casamento Photography

When speakers and presenters at the Dungala Kaiela Oration addressed a packed audience in Shepparton last month, they spoke with one voice. Gabrielle Murphy reports.

Shepparton lies on the banks of the Goulburn River as it flows towards the mighty Murray. The Yorta Yorta people, custodians of Indigenous culture and lore of the Goulburn Valley, know the Murray River as Dungala, the Goulburn as Kaiela.

Each year, the Goulburn Valley community gathers to hear the Dungala Kaiela Oration which is jointly hosted by the Kaiela Planning Council and the University of Melbourne. This year, the local community was joined by guests from Melbourne, across the state and as far afield as Western Australia to be delivered a simple message: jobs are key to closing the gap for Indigenous Australians.

The Dungala Kaiela series of orations is delivered under the overarching theme ‘Defining Shepparton’ to celebrate Aboriginal cultural identity, create a shared vision for the people of the greater Goulburn Valley region, and promote Aboriginal cultural and socio-economic development.

The focus of this year’s event was ‘social and economic inclusion’, allowing each speaker to concentrate on what this means for their immediate communities, and what they considered needs to be achieved to secure social and economic inclusion for Australia’s Indigenous communities across the board, and for the Indigenous communities of the Goulburn Valley in particular.

Uncle Colin Walker, well-known and respected Elder of the Koorie community, welcomed the audience to Yorta Yorta country and in a spirited and heartfelt address provided the audience with the historical context of his people’s long struggle to fulfil their potential as business people against the many and varied challenges thrown at them since white settlement.

“We are business people, have always been business people,” says Uncle Colin, “we just haven’t been given a fair go. But we have the eyes to see, the ears to listen, and the knowledge to know when to talk.”

Following the inaugural Dungala Kaiela Oration given by the Hon. Professor Carmen Lawrence in 2009, this year the keynote speech was delivered by Richard Goyder, Chief Executive Officer of Australia’s largest employer, retailing giant Wesfarmers. Wesfarmers retail outlets include Coles, Target, Kmart, Bunnings and Officeworks.

The Wesfarmers CEO was invited to present the oration by the chair of the Kaiela Planning Council, local Yorta Yorta man, Aboriginal activist and visionary Paul Briggs. It was Paul Briggs, in his capacity as president of the Rumbalara Football Netball Club, who supported the Yorta Yorta people’s push for a partnership with the University of Melbourne to establish the Academy of Sport, Health and Education (ASHE) in Shepparton in 2004. In line with Paul Briggs’ vision, ASHE uses sport as a springboard to engage Indigenous youth in high quality, culturally relevant education programs.

“There’s a high expectation that we’re going to meet the measurements and standards that have been set by mainstream society on the inclusion of Indigenous peoples,” says Mr Briggs. “The challenge for the people of Dungala and Kaiela is to protect our identity and sense of Aboriginality, while giving our kids the capacity to be engaged with national symbolism shared by all Australians. We need to protect and maintain our unique culture in all its expressions, and we need to establish a social and economic base to do that,” he says.

Mr Goyder, who has already visited Shepparton earlier this year to witness first hand the strength and resilience of its Indigenous programs, acknowledged that it’s now time for Australian businesses to make a commitment to employing a greater percentage of Indigenous Australians. Wesfarmers currently employs one in 70 Australian workers, 700 of whom come from the Goulburn Valley area, only 10 of whom are Indigenous.

“None of us has the answers, neither business, government, nor Wesfarmers,” says Mr Goyder. “But Wesfarmers believes that it can at least facilitate the solutions. And in my opinion, the Goulburn Valley has shown through what it has tried and what it’s achieved, that it does have the answers.”

Mr Goyder’s keynote address was followed by a response by Professor Marcia Langton, the Foundation Chair of Australian Indigenous Studies at the University of Melbourne, and one of Australia’s leading commentators on Aboriginal affairs issues.

Professor Langton thanked Richard Goyder for his ‘lovely oration’ and admitted that her ears pricked up when she heard that Wesfarmers employed 10 Indigenous workers in its Goulburn Valley businesses. “But that’s a lot better than most businesses,” she concedes, adding that to reach population parity, Wesfarmers would actually need to employ 50 Indigenous workers.

“The reality is stark and the solution simple,” she says. “Real goals for Indigenous employment, based on population parity, need to be set. The difference real employment makes in Indigenous communities is miraculous. I’ve seen the difference with my own eyes.”

In closing, Professor Langton addressed Richard Goyder directly. “I could hear in your voice that you were genuine in expressing your intention to improve the situation in the Goulburn Valley by offering Indigenous people more jobs. That’s the best thing you could do. Thank you very much.”

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