Learn, Respect, Celebrate: The Flats Walk

NAIDOC Week was launched in the Goulburn Valley on Monday 6 July with a smoking ceremony and breakfast at Rumbalara in Mooroopna. The week celebrates the history, culture and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. The theme for this year's celebrations is We All Stand on Sacred Ground: Learn, Respect and Celebrate. On Monday afternoon, Uncle Leon Saunders led a guided walking tour of The Flats, a place of historical significance to the local Aboriginal community.

We all stand on sacred ground — learn, respect and celebrate.

The theme for this year’s NAIDOC Week highlights Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people's strong spiritual and cultural connection to land and sea. The theme focuses on paying respects to our country; honouring those who work tirelessly on preserving land, sea and culture and who share the stories of the many sites of significance or sacred places across the nation.

The Flats - Mooroopna

The area known as The Flats, became home to many after the Walk Off from Cummeragunja at Barmah on 4 February 1939. The first ever mass strike of Aboriginal people, the Walk Off was due to the increasingly restrictive controls upon the movement and activities of the people, the poor rations and cruel treatment they received and the increasing removal of children. The Flats were chosen, as the Yorta Yorta nation had an extended traditional association with the environments in close proximity to rivers such as Kaiela (Goulburn River).

Uncle Leon Saunders led the walk and thus began a living history of The Flats. He told us that he first came to The Flats when he was a 2-year-old boy. At each and every point where Uncle Leon Saunders stopped and gave a talk, he gave respect to those whom the walk commemorated, and also gave respect to all the people he told stories about. This was not only an experience of connection to the story of country, it was also an experience of connection to living stories, stories where respect was given to the people whose lives were narrated.

In telling the story of The Flats, Uncle Leon explained that by the early 1950s approximately 300 people were living on the river flats, moving to higher ground (Daish’s Paddock) when flood waters came. Eventually after many consultations this site was proved as an unhealthy environment for these people. After describing conditions on The Flats, Uncle Leon shared that in 1958 The Aboriginal Welfare Board and Housing Commission erected ten prefabricated houses which were constructed entirely of concrete and consisted of 3 small bedrooms, a small living area, no hot water or sewerage. In 1967 hot water and sewerage were installed and the houses were extended by the addition of a bathroom, lavatory and laundry constructed in brick. Rumbalara was not intended as permanent housing but as a stage in the plan to re-house our people within the wider community. By 1969 most local families had been re-housed.

Uncle Leon also spoke about the Queen’s visit of 1954, when hessian bags were placed along the causeway to prevent Her Majesty from seeing the humpies and tents. Kids were over in Daish's Paddocks and got in front of a space where they could waive to the Queen. Some did manage to wave. Uncle Leon told that the hessian sacks remained on the sides of the road for weeks.

Guide to the Mooroopna Walk

The Walk ended at the river bank - Kaiela, the Goulburn River. Here Uncle Leon Saunders spoke of the challenges of the peoples who lived on the river. He spoke of the sacrifices of some people and the respect he would always have for the peoples who lived here. The Flats Walk highlighed the purpose of NAIDOC Week: NAIDOC Week is an opportunity to celebrate culture, to learn more about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander history, arts and stories and to recognise the contributions that indigenous Australians make to our country and our society.

Uncle Leon Saunders giving a talk at one of the signs on the Mooroopna Aboriginal History Historical Walk

You may read more about the NAIDOC Week Ceremony and tour of The Flats here



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