The signing of an historic agreement between Port Stephens Council and the Karuah and Worimi local Aboriginal land councils has kick-started this year’s NAIDOC Week celebrations.
The Road to Tomorrow agreement, or in the Worimi language of Gatung Yabang-Gu-Butunga, will guide the councils in achieving a set of “mutually beneficial objectives”, or projects, each have agreed is important for Port Stephens.
“The agreement is a wide range of actions between the council and land councils,” Port Stephens Mayor Ryan Palmer said. “It’s a road map of what we want to achieve.
“It’s been in the works for a number of years, even before my time on council. It’s nice to be here to sign this agreement with both land councils.
“We’ve done this because we have a genuine relationship with the land councils. We value that relationship.”
Cr Palmer said it was fortunate timing that he and Port Stephens Council general manger Wayne Wallis were able to sign the agreement with Worimi Local Aboriginal Land Council chief executive officer Andrew Smith and chair Leigh Ridgeway plus Kaurah Local Aboriginal Land Council chief Len Roberts and chair Fiona Manton as part of the NAIDOC Week opening celebrations on Monday.
The signing came after the march from the Raymond Terrace war memorial to Port Stephens Council’s administration building on Monday morning – an event that has opened the Port’s NAIDOC celebration for many years.
A strong contingent of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal community members, children, Royal Australian Air Force personnel, police and government representatives such as Port Stephens MP Kate Washington and Paterson MP Meryl Swanson marched through the Terrace.
A march will also take place in Nelson Bay on Wednesday morning.
Worimi elder John Ridgeway OAM performed the welcome to country. His son Leigh Ridgeway performed a smoking ceremony.
Following the flag raising ceremony, which saw the Australian, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander flags raised outside the council building, Mr Smith paid tribute to the women who have influenced his life, who founded the Worimi land council and those in attendance at the Monday morning ceremony.
The tribute was to highlight the “important” and “powerful” 2018 NAIDOC Week theme because of her, we can.
“Because of her, we can is a very powerful statement,” Mr Smith said. “We’ve done our languages matter, song lines, we’ve done a lot of things around culture because culture is a part of who we are, it’s not something we own. But to recognise the women is very important, it’s very powerful.
“They say behind every man there’s a strong woman. Well, the women were standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the men during first contact.
“Those women weren’t holding back, they were out there as well looking at the boat and questioning: “who are you people?”
“They’ve been there from day scratch and have played a very important role and they are still playing a very important role today.”
Mr Smith also paid tribute to the women who sit on the Worimi land council board today, but particularly the woman who founded it – Jackie Henderson.
“As a young Worimi woman at age of 18 and working in Newcastle she organised first land council meeting,” he said.
“There was a really strong contingent of women who got the ball rolling here in Port Stephens for the Worimi land council.”