25 Years of Reconciliation in Nillumbik

Words by Christian Kuhlmann

During National Reconciliation Week 2023 an event to celebrate “25 Years Of Reconciliation In Nillumbik”, organised by the Nillumbik Reconciliation Group (NRG) and supported by a grant from Nillumbik Shire Council, was held on 28th May, at Eltham Community and Reception Centre.

Jan Mackenzie, President, and Julie Allen, on behalf of NRG welcomed members of the community and distinguished guests.  An Acknowledgement of Country was given by Lyla, Ollie and Corrie, a proud First Nation family living in the Shire.  Wurundjeri elder, Ian Hunter (who requested that the term Uncle not be used), conducted “Welcome to Country”, as he did at the ceremony 25 years ago. On stage was the Coolamon, now in the Nillumbik Shire Council (NSC) art collection, that Ian Hunter had made and presented to the Mayor in 1998.

The Honourable Kate Thwaites, Federal Member for Jagjaga, talked about past Federal actions of Reconciliation and the Referendum that will be held later this year to enshrine a First Nation Voice in the Australian Constitution. 

Past President Jan Aitken, in providing a history of NRG, paid tribute to members in the audience who were present in May 1998, and who have shaped NRG from that time. 

The Honourable Vicky Ward, State member for Eltham, talked about the importance of community and of the Victorian Government commitment to Reconciliation through the current Treaty process. 

Mayor Ben Ramcharan acknowledged the close partnership Nillumbik Shire Council have with NRG and reinforced the Council’s commitment to Reconciliation through the current Reconciliation Action Plan. 

Wurundjeri Elder Ian Hunter presents the coolamon to the Mayor of Nillumbik
Photos supplied by Jan Mackenzie

Mandy Nicholson, manager of the Djirri Djirri Dancers was warmly welcomed on stage. She spoke of her Wurundjeri family and personal journey, and that she was proudly representing her late father Uncle Bill Nicholson Senior, who in 1998 accepted the Document of Commitment from the Mayor of NSC. The performance of the Djirri Djirri Dancers was introduced by Mandy who also explained each of the three songs and dances. The six women and girls danced as Mandy sang in Woi-wurrung and provided the clap stick accompaniment.

Nerida Kirov, music director of the Chocolate Lilies community choir, spoke about her own connections to indigenous culture, including the origin of her given name, and how her formative years included the inspirational influence of Sebastian Jorgensen’s reconstructions of Wurundjeri songs and his collaborations with song men from the Northern Territory. 

The Chocolate Lilies performed ‘Kulba Yadayay’ by Christine Anu, followed by Nerida’s arrangement of ‘From Little Things, Big Things Grow’ written by Kev Carmody and Paul Kelly. (This song was requested by Reconciliation Australia to be performed nationwide during National Reconciliation Week).  Jan Mackenzie reflected on the song’s message, and spoke about current Reconciliation activities happening in schools and groups within the Shire, demonstrating how things do grow and change.

Singer, musician and songwriter, Scott Darlow, performed three songs. He spoke eloquently and entertainingly about himself, his Yorta Yorta heritage, and about each song. Firstly, an electrifying version of Goanna’s 1982 chart topping “Solid Rock” written by Shane Howard (who also sang on Darlow’s recorded version released in 2016). Darlow’s second song involved using a loop pedal to build additional guitar parts and vocal harmonising, before finishing by adding didgeridoo. After swapping back to guitar, Darlow’s performance ended with his song “Our Deadly Heart”.

Kirra Imbriano, Youth Mayor of Nillumbik Shire Council, provided an address that exemplified the 2023 theme for National Reconciliation Week: “Be a Voice for Generations”. Kirra emphasised that her goal as Mayor was to ensure Reconciliation remains ongoing with young people. She encouraged all to be involved and to take hope and passion from everyone present. 

It was significant that the Eltham High School Symphonic Band performed, as they also did at the event held 25 years ago. Dr Jodie Bradshaw, composer and educator, was commissioned by Eltham High School (EHS) to compose a work for the occasion. Although Jodie was unable to attend due to illness, a message was recorded explaining the journey undertaken with the students in composing “Old Trees, Old Wisdom. Reconciliation is a personal journey to be undertaken with minds and hearts open. The audience was invited to pause at the Walter Withers Hall on the way out to listen to the Band’s performance, conducted by Rick Keenan, musical director at EHS.

In Jan Mackenzie’s final remarks the importance of “Being a Voice For Generations” was again emphasised – to close the gaps, and so that Australia can grow as a nation.

As attendees exited the building they were invited to participate in the Smoking Ceremony given by Ian Hunter to the sound of clap sticks. Despite the drizzling rain, nothing could dampen the celebration of NRG’s first 25 years, as attendees were inspired to reflect on how to continue the unfinished business of Reconciliation in Nillumbik.