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Coota Girls surviving, guiding and thriving at Yabun

Rudi Maxwell -

Day of Mourning, Invasion Day, Survival Day, the Day of Remembrance or Australia Day, January 26 carries many meanings for different people.

For surgeon Kelvin Kong, a proud Worimi man who was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) for his service to Indigenous health, accepting the honour meant an opportunity to highlight the disparities in access to health care, while recognising the complexities January 26 brings.

"The challenge that we have is how do we frame the awards and the achievements (in a way) that doesn't let our close history overshadow the positive, exciting news and narrative that this brings," he said.

"I really encourage our leadership to unify us as a nation because there are so many beautiful, amazing Australians and it'd be so wonderful to celebrate this on a day that we all recognise together in some way that will then bring harmony to our nation."

Seed, an Indigenous youth climate network, has published a guide for non-Indigenous people wanting to be good allies to First Nations people on January 26.

While every year there is heated discussion surrounding whether or not the anniversary of the day the First Fleet landed in Australia is appropriate as a national celebration, the #ChangeTheDate campaign has grown.

There will be protest marches led by Indigenous people around the nation, with huge gatherings expected in Naarm (Melbourne) and Meanjin (Brisbane).

The Sydney protest begins in Central's Belmore Park and ends at Victoria Park, Camperdown, where Gadigal Information Service, which operates Koori Radio, is hosting the Yabun Festival.

"The Yabun Festival is more than just a gathering, it's a living testament to the enduring strength and vibrancy of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures," Gadigal Information Service chair Dallas Wellington said.

"This year's theme, 'Surviving, Guiding, Thriving', celebrates the resilience of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities."

Performers Isaac Compton and Majeda Beatty will MC the day, which features a heap of performances, including by Emily Wurramara, Mi-kaisha and Frank Yamma, talks and activities.

The Coota Girls Aboriginal Corporation, which represents survivors of the notorious Cootamundra Domestic Training Home for Aboriginal Girls, will have a stall at the festival, where they're inviting people to come and learn about the history of the Stolen Generations.

From the early 20th century up until the 1970s, the state forcibly removed thousands of Aboriginal children from their families.

Many were placed in brutal institutions, like the Cootamundra Girls home in southwest NSW, where they were abused physically, sexually, emotionally and culturally - not allowed to speak their own languages or see family.

Coota Girls chief executive Alicia Bairle, a descendant of a survivor, said often when people first hear about the Stolen Generations, their reaction is shock and disbelief, particularly if they were taught at school the false history that this country was settled peacefully.

"People are floored to hear why our organisation exists in the first place," she said.

"So to be able to educate the wider community is important because many people don't have an understanding that this is recent history ... when they realise that it could have happened to someone who lives next door, to a relative, someone in their community it's a bit of a shock."

Yabun Festival goers can also cool off with free entry to the Victoria Park Pool.

Rudi Maxwell - AAP


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