Women inspire at NAIDOC celebration

Published on 11 July 2018

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Panellists shared tears and laughter amid inspiring stories of strength at Surf Coast Shire Council’s NAIDOC Week celebration at Anglesea.

Corinna Eccles, Aunty Colleen Howell, Ebony Hickey and Jodie Sizer spoke of personal challenges and powerful female influences on their lives as they reflected on the national NAIDOC theme Because of Her, We Can!

Ms Sizer rated the theme as NAIDOC’s best yet.

About 100 people attended the event at Anglesea Memorial Hall, marking the start of the national week of celebration, acknowledgment and learning.

NAIDOC stands for National Aborigines and Islanders Day Observance Committee. NAIDOC Week celebrations are held each July to celebrate the history, culture and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. 

Because of Her, We Can! focuses on the strength and leadership demonstrated by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women across generations.

Wadawurrung traditional owner Ms Eccles shared a Welcome To Country and smoking ceremony, accompanied by the Deadly Dancers.

Ms Sizer, a Djab Wurrung / Gunditjmara woman, lives in Torquay and is joint owner and chief executive officer of PricewaterhouseCoopers Indigenous Consulting and board member of the Australian Institute for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies.

She said she had been ‘horrible’ when she left home at 15 and lived in a girls’ hostel, but completed year 12 and at a Koori jobs fair became inspired to attend university.

She paid tribute to the females who helped inspire and forge her path, from her nan to her daughters.

“At each point in time when I’ve had to make a decision and come up with a challenging way forward … those women have been there,” she said.

“My mum was there as the strength, always the voice of you can do it. My sisters are always the source of truth.”

Community Elder Mrs Howell, from the Arrernte tribe of Alice Springs and a member of the Stolen Generation, shared a poem telling her story of separation and eventual finding of belonging.

“When she was about 12 years old there was more grief and horrid pain,” the poem said in part.

“The authorities came and took her away again.

“She did not know why, she just wanted to die.

“She didn’t know what she had done. She felt unloved by everyone.

“At night she would sing her own sad song.

“Who am I? What am I? Where do I belong?”

Mrs Howell said the strength of her foster mum Joan Hart had been a central inspiration in her life.

Her daughter Renee later sang a version of the poem with Deadly Duo acoustic partner Em.

Ms Hickey, a Gulidjan woman who works in Aboriginal community development in Wadawurrung country in Geelong and Gulidjan / Gadabanud country in Colac-Otway region, told of having overcome tough personal challenges. She also spoke of her passion for her work.

“Challenges, success, pain, love, you wouldn’t do community work if you didn’t love the community you lived in,” Ms Hickey said.

“So much love around you all the time.”

Cr Rose Hodge welcomed people on behalf of Surf Coast Shire Council and hailed annual NAIDOC celebrations among highlights on the Council event calendar.

Cr Hodge acknowledged that the shire spans the lands of three Aboriginal nations, Wadawurrung, Gulidjan and Gadabanud. She said NAIDOC Week should be embraced as a time for discussion and cultural learning.