NAIDOC Week launch in Newcastle’s Civic Park celebrates female pillars of the community

MAROOK Perry describes marching alongside her family members and peers in a sea of yellow, red and black as an “emotional experience”.

The Awabakal medical services manager and Worimi woman has participated in NAIDOC Week celebrations for as long as she can remember, but this one is different.

Ms Perry, her mother Michelle and her grandmother Colleen are three of 18 local Indigenous women  whose faces appear on banners across the city and in Wallsend Library, as part of a project celebrating this year’s theme, Because of her, we can.

“The main thing I think of when I think of Aboriginal women is respect,” Ms Perry said.

“Being strong, being proud, being a leader. Being there for your family and your community.

“I’m so proud of my heritage and this is a great day for everyone to get together and celebrate Indigenous culture.

“It’s an emotional experience to see everyone together, the Indigenous and non-Indigenous.”

About 200 people gathered on Monday morning at Civic Park, where Aunty June Rose performed a Welcome to Country and Awabakal board member Ray Kelly senior and Lord Mayor Nuatali Nelmes spoke.

“I, like all other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men, recognise that we couldn’t be the people we are without ‘her’: the mother, the wife, the daughters, the grand girls, all those important people in our lives,” he said.

“Men, it is time for us to take a backwards step and let the women in our communities truly have their voice because they deserve it.

“Historically they are the carriers of the law, they are the people who bring our future into the world and they sustain and carry our communities.”

Mr Kelly told the Herald women were the “backbone” of the community and the “pillars that hold us up”.

“Historically, white historians and anthropologists’s relationships were with Aboriginal men, so aspects and strengths of women’s stories have not been appropriately captured,” he said.

“But that’s doing an about face right now.

“Women hold the knowledge, they protect the community and they stand up.

“They remind us we’re not the only people in the game.”

The crowd was encouraged to think of female elders as the Aboriginal flag was raised.

They then marched through Wheeler Place and along Wharf Road to The Foreshore, for Newcastle NAIDOC Community Day.

Carly Hamilton recently moved to Newcastle and brought her children Kiahla and Herbie McGuinness. Their father is a Kamilaroi and Wiradjuri man.

“This is part of who they are,” she said.

“I want them to represent their culture, be proud of it and stay connected to it.”

Aunty June Rose said she was “very pleased” with the attendance.

“There’s lots of old friends and new friends here,” she said.

“This is a celebration of how far people have come to be a part of this today.”