With a Federal election looming, the Committee for Geelong has been meeting with a range of Federal Ministers and Shadow Ministers during the past months to discuss priorities of importance to Geelong.
As part of our advocacy for local economic and social infrastructure, we have been deeply engaged with the Wadawurrung Traditional Owners Aboriginal Corporation (WTOAC) and supporting their voice to government.
Wadawurrung Woman & Manager for Cultural Education, Corrina Eccles, along with WTOAC CEO, Paul Davis attended multiple meetings with Federal MPs with the Committee for Geelong. What was made clear is that the voice and cultural knowledge of the Wadawurrung in early planning for our city-region is not only essential but a key part of our identity.
In several meetings, we discussed at the need for support of the You Yangs Masterplan. The You Yangs Precinct includes the distinctive granite peaks of ‘Wurdi Youang’ and Serendip Sanctuary and is located on Wadawurrung Country. We heard from Corrina Eccles during our meetings about the significant natural and cultural values of the area where she told stories that resonated with a history of more than 65,000 years. The You Yangs is already a popular landscape for cultural, nature-based and adventure tourism.
The Master Plan is sets out a vision and recommended direction for the Precinct. Parks Victoria has been working in collaboration with key stakeholders, the community and partner, Wadawurrung, to inform the future vision and is due for imminent release by State Government. As a visitor destination, the opportunities for the area will strengthen connections to Country and recognise and respect Wadawurrung’s living culture and significance through storytelling and caring for Country.
This project was met with strong support from both Federal Government and Opposition MPs and we will continue advocating for the funding required over the coming months.
The conversation regarding the importance of voice for Wadawurrung went far deeper when we met with Minister for Indigenous Australians, Ken Wyatt. From a personal perspective, this meeting was one of the most powerful I’ve attended with a Member of Parliament.
The need for Constitutional Recognition of First Nations people in our country is vital. While this is not an easy or fast process, there is strong support from Australians to make the change. In 1967, over 90 per cent of Australian voters said ‘yes’ to change the Constitution to include Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in the Census reporting and provide the Commonwealth with the power to make laws for ‘the people of any race for whom it is deemed necessary to make special laws.’ This referendum also removed some constitutional discrimination against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples but fell short of properly and respectfully recognising them as First Nations Peoples.
Minister Wyatt is a passionate advocate for the need for change and encouraged us to lead by example in our community to make sure our support for this change is heard by local MPs.
In a June 2020 article in the Geelong Advertiser, I wrote: “Australia is the only Commonwealth nation that does not have a treaty (or treaties) with its Indigenous peoples and is now potentially delaying progress to change our constitution and give Indigenous Australians a voice to Parliament. There is no doubt that this process is vital for our country and must continue.”
If you haven’t read the Uluru Statement from the Heart, please do so. Part of the statement says:
“We seek constitutional reforms to empower our people and take a rightful place in our own country. When we have power over our destiny our children will flourish. They will walk in two worlds and their culture will be a gift to their country.”
The Committee for Geelong stands ready with Wadawurrung to continue calling for constitutional recognition and asks for our community to do the same.
And in the meantime, perhaps we should be known as the Committee for Djilang.
Chief Executive Officer
Committee for Geelong
Artwork: Ammie Howell.