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Babies growing up on country welcomed in contemporary reintroduction of custom

Jarred Cross -

A traditional ceremony and cultural practice has new life on Dja Dja Wurrung country with newborns and young ones of all backgrounds embraced in culture and community for their lives ahead.

DJAARA (Dja Dja Wurrung Clans Aboriginal Corporation) hosted a Welcome Baby to Country ceremony at the Garden for the Future in Bendigo on Tuesday, delivered in partnership with Bendigo Health.

For DJAARA general manager, Cassandra Lewis, the ceremony gave a start to all kids who will growing up on country to hold a connection and relationship to the land and a responsibility to show it care.

Ms Lewis said it's also a healing process for Djaara people still feeling the impacts of colonisation, and a step forward in reconciliation.

"50 years ago, and maybe more recently, there wasn't really much education about traditional owners. It's still not completely taught in schools to the extent that it should be so I think we're taking a really proactive approach to be present, to welcome community, to build relationships and to support others on their reconciliation journey," she told National Indigenous Times.

Ella said is was great for little Kylah Lee (pictured) and baby brother Jarrah to be welcomed to Dja Dja Wurrung Country. (Image: Jarred Cross/National Indigenous Times)

It was an important morning for Djaara elder Aunty Marilyne Nicholls.

Aunty Marilyne said ceremonies welcoming babies to country had not been survived to the time when she was born, with attitudes then far less open to First Nations culture.

"These kids are our future and they begin to understand Aboriginal ways at an early age because their parents are their teachers," Aunty Marilyne told National Indigenous Times.

"It was different when I grew up…(we) didn't share our culture in the way that we can now.

"For parents, and families that want to bring their children along to be welcomed to country, I feel we're on the right path together…(to) grow up with a connection and be one with people. Understanding begins from young."

Dozens of children walked and were carried with parents through a smoking ceremony, and presented with possum skin and childrens books.

It was the second Welcome Baby to Country hosted in 2023.

Djaara woman and emcee Rebecca Phillips said "it's something that we love doing"; acknowledging the importance of "place of birth and belonging to country", while Bendigo Health board chair Dr Ewa Piejko said it provides to "a child's sense of identity and belonging through connection to cultural lands".

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