WADAWURRUNG woman Tammy Gilson says her old people would be proud to see the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island flags as permanent fixtures by Lake Wendouree.
Each flag was officially raised by the lake for the first time in more than 20 years, staking a spot at View Point either side of the Australian flag from Monday.
Ms Gilson, a Wadawurrung leader, said this was a fitting place historically - as an area with plenty of resources - and away from the traditional cityscape of Ballarat where flags are raised outside town hall. She said being on Country offered a better chance for Ballarat people to connect and heal together.
View Point has also become the space for the annual national Survival Day dawn service on January 26 in Ballarat.
In a rare move, non-Indigenous City of Ballarat councillors Belinda Coates and Tracey Hargreaves were invited to take part in traditional dance as part of the smoking ceremony.
For us today, it's about being inclusive with everybody. This is about reconciliation, voice, truth and strength.Tammy Gilson, Wadawurrung leader
"For us today, it's about being inclusive with everybody. This is about reconciliation, voice, truth and strength," Ms Gilson said. "It doesn't normally happen at all, but it's nice to share our culture as well."
Cr Coates was humbled and excited to be part of traditional dance for the ceremony, which coincided with the start of NAIDOC Week, a period of reflection and celebration led by National Aborigines and Islanders Day Observance Committee.
Aunty Diana Nickleson raised the Aboriginal Flag and Deb Clark raised the Torres Strait Island flag.
Cr Coates said to raise both flags by the lake was a beautiful way to embody the NAIDOC theme of healing Country and to celebrate the city's work alongside the region's Indigenous peoples.
Cr Coates and Ms Gilson each said there was still a lot more healing work to be done, but the flags were an important step for this city and particularly in a time with such an acute awareness of climate change.
Ms Gilson said healing Country was also about raising education and awareness of traditional methods, such as fire, to manage the land with western technology and data. She said it was about getting the balance right again, since colonisation.
What does 'healing Country' mean for Ballarat this NAIDOC Week?
A TUMULTUOUS year of devastating fire, flood and the coronavirus pandemic makes a focus on healing Country a timely reminder for all Australians to consider, Ballarat Aboriginal leader Jon Kanoa says.
Healing Country is this year's theme for NAIDOC Week, a period of reflection and celebration led by National Aborigines and Islanders Day Observance Committee.
Mr Kanoa, who is Ballarat and District Aboriginal Co-operative's chief operations officer, said for this region, the week was a chance for Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples to walk together and create positive spaces for discussion and education.
"It's a great opportunity to look at what it means for us to heal Country," Mr Kanoa said. "A big part of history for Aboriginal people is in the land - the men's and women's sacred sites, the waterways, the rock art - as opposed to just the verbal history of oral storytelling.
"We have a lot of waterways in this region with songlines, a lot that people have grown up with for 40 to 60,000 years.
"Caring for Country, ultimately means Country cares for us. Respect Country and it can look after us spiritually, which is really important for us."
Mr Kanoa said the NAIDOC theme of Healing Country, helped move community talk beyond issues of ignorance and racism to celebrate survival, consider how to close the gap and generate understanding.
He said caring for Country encompassed big issues in Australia like mining, but also a chance to work with farmers across the region.
"Sometimes people just might not know significant sites may be on their farm and these are unfortunately removed," Mr Kanoa said.
"...A lot of farmers don't realise they can register these significant sites and that does not mean your land is taken away from you, it's just about keep track of history and caring for Country together."
BADAC marked the start of NAIDOC Week with a smoking ceremony and annual walk to Ballarat Old Cemetery and the grave of Mullawallah, also known as King Billy, and one of three Aboriginal people in the region given the title king by European settlers.
BADAC youth group leaders Sonni and Evie raised the Aboriginal flag, alongside the Torres Strait Island flag, at the cooperative on Monday morning. The pair were recognised for their work in sharing stories and culture with the region's junior Indigenous members this school holidays.
BADAC children and youth services team leader Aaron Clarke said traditionally NAIDOC Week events did not involve a lot of young people and it was great to have young Indigenous people, like Sonni and Evie, heard and seen more.
"They have really been able to stand up and mentor younger kids and not just their siblings but also the next generation coming through," Mr Clarke said.
"NAIDOC Week is a chance to celebrate our culture but every week we're celebrating our culture."
IN OTHER NEWS
BADAC has about 70 junior involved in its youth group.
City of Ballarat is set to raise the Aboriginal flag at Lake Wendoure for the first time in more than two decades.
This will take place in a NAIDOC event on Monday afternoon.
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