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Smoking Ceremony welcomes 2024 vintage workers to Margaret River

Dianne Bortoletto -

Vintage in the Margaret River Region in Western Australia's southwest requires the help of seasonal workers who have travelled from around the country as well as Timor Leste, Fiji and Tonga for jobs in viticulture.

On 8th February, 250 people gathered at Pioneer Park Amphitheatre in Cowaramup in the heart of wine country for the second annual welcoming ceremony that began with a warm Welcome to Wadandi Boodja performed by Wadandi Pibulmum Elder, Dr. Wayne Webb and custodian Zac Webb. This was followed by a Smoking Ceremony, to cleanse and purify the spirit, body and soul, signifying the beginning of something new.

In a cultural exchange, attendees were treated with a traditional dance and song by over twenty workers from Timor Leste, who have been employed by South West Labour Solutions over the last nine months and actively involved in all aspects of the Margaret River viticulture industry.

Mr Martinho represented the group and presented Indigenous Elders with a traditional tais, a cloth from East Timor, as a sign of respect to Dr Webb and his family for allowing them to dance on their country.

MRWA CEO Amanda Whiteland acknowledged that it can be difficult to live overseas and be separated from family.

"Seasonal Workers are critical in our region, particularly in viticulture, and we really appreciate the workers who are here through the PALM scheme," Ms Whiteland said.

"It was so beautiful to see the performances by the crews from Timor Leste and Fiji, as they shared some of their culture with us tonight."

Music was played by local band The Nomadics, including their song, 'Wadandi Boodja', which was nominated for the WAM Song of the Year award in the folk category in 2021.

With the support of Wadandi Elders and Cultural Custodians, this song has become an anthem in Woodichup Bilya / the Margaret River, with each line sung in both Wadandi and English. It is a fabulous offering to strengthen language and love/koorda for boodja/country.

The evening concluded with two traditional songs, a Fijian dance performed by a crew of Fijian workers, and a presentation of a Salusalu, Fijian garland.

MRBTA CEO Sharna Kearney thanked Dr Wayne Webb and the Undalup Association for offering the cultural ceremony.

"As we welcome the region's newest arrivals, this unique event offers us all the chance to acknowledge how privileged we are to live and work on Wadandi Boodja."

Margaret River Wine Association reported that the 2024 vintage season has started almost a month earlier than usual.

The hot weather has seen an abundance of Marri blossom which is keeping the native Silvereye birds away from the grapes, but as a precaution, nets are being placed over fruiting vines at a rapid rate.

The welcome ceremony was organised by Margaret River Wine Association (MRWA) and Margaret River Busselton Tourism Association (MRBTA) and supported by the Shire of Augusta Margaret River through their Community Development and Event Grant program.

Photo: Ovis Creative

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