The Aboriginal Gathering Place project was a dream of the community long before its current state. A group of dedicated community members and strong advocates have been campaigning for a culturally safe space and platform for their voices to be heard in this region for many, many years.
It was the plight of these people that led to conversations with Colac Area Health, Barwon Health and Wathaurong Aboriginal Co-operative some years ago that started the conversations that led us to be able to open the doors of our site Caracaramigen House at 4 Miller Street, Colac on the 3rd of November 2017.
The idea of the Gathering Place was born from the outcomes of a Community Mapping Project undertaken in 2016 but many will say (and rightly so) that it’s been in the hearts and minds of this community for many years. The Local Aboriginal Community along with the Local Aboriginal Action Group have been working hard on the Aboriginal Gathering Place Project alongside the current Project Worker who is employed to work 12 hours a week by Wathuarong Aboriginal Co-operative.
In the 2016 Census it was shown that the Colac Otway Shire, Surfcoast Shire and Corangamite Shire Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Population had over 500 residents identifying and over 200 households. We are Aboriginal people, First Nations People living on Gadubanud, Gulidjan and Djargurdwurung lands. We are babies, children, youth, adults and the elderly. We are living, loving and continuing to care and advocate for our people, our rights and our country. We are students, we are teachers, we are knowledge sharers, we are mother and fathers, sisters and aunties. We are hardworking, we are sharing and we are giving. We are lovers and we are fighters. We are the sons and daughters of our Ancestors, proud and strong in our identity. We are the present and we are the future, we are worthy and we are willing to put in the hard work required to realise our dream which is a permanent culturally safe space for Aboriginal People of Colac, the Otway Ranges, Corangamite and surrounding areas
It is likely that more people within our shires feel more confident to identify as Aboriginal because of the work we are achieving already at the Aboriginal Gathering Place.
The heritage and culture of the Colac, Otway and Corangamite Shire is energetic, magnificent and diverse. We have community members with blood ties as far as the Torres Strait, from the Kimberly, Noongar Country, from the Centre of Australia, the waterways of Northern New South Wales and we have blood ties as close as our front door, right here in Maar Nation. We value the eclectic diversity of our community and take a strength’s based approach at learning and growing from each other’s knowledge and experiences.
The Aboriginal Community living in this region have historically been subject to a range of issue due to the lack of advocacy and understanding around cultural safety in health, community, family, education and a range of other services. Being graphically located at minimum over 100kms from an Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation, (Wathuarong, Gunditjmara and Ballarat and District) it is clear for us as Aboriginal people to see the gaps, but not as clear to the mainstream world why these gaps exist.
Since the opening of the doors of The Aboriginal Gathering Place these issues are now slowly
Having a physical space has benefitted not only our own Aboriginal community, but also the non- Aboriginal community. It has been an opportunity to have some robust conversations about ‘the gaps’ and needs of our local Aboriginal Community whilst dispelling myths and mistruths.
The broader community of the Colac-Otway region are embracing the new partnerships and alliances with the local Aboriginal community and many new program opportunities are arising as a result of the establishment of the Gathering Place. An example is the Colac Otway Shire providing funding for the Possum Skin Cloak Project .
At the heart of these programs is the acknowledged need to have the local Aboriginal community identify, support and control delivery of services from Caracaramigen House, and through these programs build connection to family and community, which is a critical domain for Aboriginal health and social and emotional well-being. Connectedness and social inclusion are an essential health and well-being outcomes of Gathering Places, which address isolation and community fragmentation. The wider Colac Community have come together to support and create this important space for local Aboriginal people who have previously been disconnected, discriminated against, stigmatised and forgotten in Colac and surrounds.
Unity in Community Project
An exciting project called Unity in Community is an Arts Trail that we will be embarking on over the next twelve months. The trail highlights Aboriginal people in a positive and thought provoking lens through street and public arts in the Colac central business district.
We will use art created at the Colac Aboriginal Gathering Place by a broad range of age groups and abilities (for example, playgroup, youth and Elders) in many different forms on walls, windows and in public spaces. These works of art will be visible to the broader public in ways that challenge the thought process and begin to address generational racism and violence towards Aboriginal people in the Colac region that has been present since colonisation.
The Unity in Community Arts Trail will aim to have over 20 pieces of art in the Colac central business district over a 12-month timeline.
Editor’s Note: $1 for every hard copy sold of Otway Life Almanac 2019 will be donated to the Caracaramigen House Unity in Community Arts Trail .