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Camp Jungai hosts a historic 'Gathering of Mob'

Dechlan Brennan -

Taungurung Country hosted an historic 'gathering of Mob' over the weekend, which saw more than 300 people from across Victoria come together to share stories, yarn and heal.

Held at Camp Jungai in central Victoria, a place of cultural significance for Indigenous Victorians that comes from the Wurundjeri language meaning "place of many possums", 60,000 years of Aboriginal culture was brought together in a gathering of Elders, youth, and leaders from clans across the state.

National Indigenous Times attended by invitation and witnessed communities who had experienced a disappointment on October 14 discuss ways to champion the rich culture of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and forge a way forward.

The Victorian Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (VACCHO) helped organise the weekend. VACCHO CEO, Gunditjmara woman Aunty Jill Gallagher, said the gatherings and events were vitally important for all Indigenous communities.

"It's crucial. Not only because of the disappointment that we're dealing with because of the referendum, but it's crucial that we stay strong together," Aunty Jill said.

"The Gunditjmara mobs can come down and hear Taungurung stories, and we can all dance our different culture dances. We're just all together. That is how we keep our culture both strong, and alive."

All the attendees helped deliver the message that First Nations communities were as strong as ever and would not falter.

On Friday evening, the weekend was opened with the lighting of the ceremonial fire, before Taungurung Elder, Aunty Joanne Honeysett, delivered the Welcome to Country.

On Saturday, Community participated in events such as basket weaving, spear throwing and body painting. In the afternoon, the Koori Youth Will Shake Spears dance group performed, before getting children up to join in.

They told the crowd how oral language, story-telling and dance had always been the means to pass on information and how learning and history had been shared. By involving young people in the dance, this will hopefully be the next step in passing that knowledge on.

The day also saw performances from Illana Atkinson and Uncle Herb Patten.

Gunditjmara, Yorta Yorta and Wiradjuri man Jessie Williams said the importance of a gathering of Mob was the facilitation and continual connection for various communities throughout the state.

"Making sure that our relationships are strong within our own community and being able to return to that on Country, while practising culture, it's invaluable," he said.

"Furthermore, [it's] being able to transfer our knowledge to our young ones. As you can see, we've got lots of little young ones around and just being able to share bits and pieces of our culture around the campfire.

"I think connecting is one of the most important things you can do while practising culture to make sure that we can heal in a strong manner."

Camp Jungai has been a significant meeting place for Indigenous communities, including the Taungurung, Wurundjeri and Yorta Yorta people, for thousands of years. It holds a rich history and cultural significance, and has historically been a place of gathering, learning and community.

Since the mid-20th century, Camp Jungai has become a focus of cultural revival efforts, playing a role in preserving and passing down knowledge, including language, dance and art.

Elders and leaders use the camp for cultural education and fostering a sense of pride and identity for younger generations and in 2018 it was handed back to the Taungurung people.

Aunty Jill said the site was of "great significance" to Aboriginal Communities throughout Victoria.

"Prior to colonisation the land was an ancestral ceremonial site for Taungurung people," she said.

"To be here to gather around the ceremonial fire, share stories, listen to wisdom from Elders, and watch the amazing dance performances was something truly special."

Both Mr Williams and Aunty Jill argued that the referendum result came partly down to some people simply not knowing any Aboriginal people and culture.

Mr Williams said that Indigenous culture needs to be valued and respected, for everyone to understand and appreciate it.

"By us being able to connect as a people, as a Mob, to laugh and make sure that we can support our elders and our young ones in these spaces. We'll be able to strengthen our cultural bases so that more non-Indigenous people can understand."

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