Discover the vision and message behind this year’s NAIDOC Week event at Rouse Hill House & Farm.

Sydney Living Museums’ annual NAIDOC event was held at Rouse Hill House & Farm on Sunday 14 July. The theme for NAIDOC Week 2019 was ‘Voice. Treaty. Truth. Let’s work together for a shared future’. This year almost 1170 people attended the event, an increase of 9 per cent on last year.

Rouse Hill House & Farm is on Darug Country. Today, the area around the historic site has large-scale property developments, shopping centres and a brand-new metro line. It can be easy to forget what existed here before, whether it’s the more recent history of the Rouse and Terry families, who lived on the farm for more than 160 years, or the tens of thousands of years of Indigenous connection to this land, still strong today. That’s why events such as this are so important.

Creating space for culture

SLM has run an event during NAIDOC Week for the past eight years. This year was my first opportunity to produce the program. My vision for the event is something that drives me in every area of my work: that is, creating space for Indigenous communities to practise culture and for non-Indigenous people to learn, understand and connect.

The event opened with a Welcome to Country and a song in Darug language from proud Darug woman Stacy Etal. Stacy’s mother, Aunty Judy Joyce, then read a beautiful poem reflecting on the treatment of her people, the wounds and healing within her family, and how this relates to identity and culture for her today. This was the first time Aunty Judy and Stacy had been involved in producing a major festival with SLM, and we’re proud of the deep new connection which has developed since we met them during community engagement at the Eel Festival in March.

The welcome was followed by a smoking ceremony and a corroboree by Nulungu Dreaming, a team of talented dancers and performers who have an ongoing relationship with SLM.

Activities for all

The day’s events included cultural workshops, and tours of the historic house and farm. Drop-in sessions such as weaving and boomerang painting gave families the opportunity to learn traditional methods and make something they could take home with them, to encourage reflection and a growing connection to Indigenous culture.

The highlight of the day for many was the yarning circle, led by prominent local figure Uncle Wes Marne. Sitting there, 97 years young, surrounded by people of all ages and cultures, Uncle Wes was in his element. Sharing stories about his family, connections to place, historical moments, personal battles and more, he opened the minds and hearts of all who listened. As the crowds built during the day, a mic stand was introduced so everyone could hear his stories.

Uncle Wes took some time out at lunch to enjoy watching international performing artist Gumaroy Newman and his crew, who performed poetry and dances, as well as songs designed for kids to come up and join in, and adults too.

Learning Darug in the schoolhouse

Darug language workshops, run by Stacy Etal, were held in the Rouse Hill schoolhouse, built in 1888. To use this significant European building for the teaching of Darug language and culture is a powerful shift, a symbol of change and the times we’re moving towards.

One of the key aims of SLM’s Indigenous programs is to open up colonial and Eurocentric places and transform them into spaces where we can practise and share Indigenous culture. The organisation’s role is to look after historic sites, and it’s even more important that we use them to help shape the voice of our community.

Connecting to Country

Some NAIDOC Week events around major cities have become quite commercial, with promotional ‘freebies’, rides and junk food, and a little culture on the side if you’re lucky. My aim was to produce an event in which our Indigenous culture and connection was the main point of attending, as it should be. Success to me is encouraging visitors to relax, sit down, enjoy their time on this beautiful land – and, importantly, to learn, ask questions, engage with what’s happening. Get involved in weaving, painting, the touch table of cultural objects, dancing. Learn Darug language, take a tour of the property, have some bush tucker. And on that Sunday in July, our visitors did exactly that. Their day at Rouse Hill House & Farm provided a break from the rushing, the arm-wrestle of daily Sydney life, and a chance to increase their understanding of culture, to connect better with our people, and to reflect on what was, what is, and what could be.

Events such as NAIDOC are much more than just a fun day out for the family, something different to do in the area. They represent a continuation of culture, showing people that the Indigenous community is still here, we’re still strong, and we always will continue to be on Darug land.

About the author

Head and shoulders portrait of young man in blue shirt.

Hayden Walsh

Indigenous Programs Producer

Hayden Walsh takes a relaxed and optimistic approach to inclusion and respect in his role producing Sydney Living Museums’ Indigenous programs.