Shepp News: Cummeragunja Walk-Off Celebrated

Shepp News: Cummeragunja Walk-Off Celebrated

Chris Walker

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Proud: Yorta Yorta Nation Aboriginal Corporation chief executive Monica Morgan and chairman Uncle Lance James. Picture: Ashlea Witoslawski

There was an overwhelming sense of pride and prosperity at Cummeragunja Aboriginal Reserve on Saturday as hundreds gathered to commemorate and celebrate the 80th anniversary of the Cummeragunja Walk-off.

On across three days, the event was organised by Yorta Yorta Nation Aboriginal Corporation chairman Uncle Lance James and chief executive Monica Morgan.

Mrs Morgan said they expected to welcome about 1000 people onto the reserve.

‘‘The community of Cummeragunja have rallied together and helped us pull off this event,’’ she said.

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Saturday involved coming together and sharing stories, while Sunday included a welcome to country and dancing in the morning, followed by more music and dancing in the evening.

Concluding today, many will take part in a walk-on that will start in Barmah, and will have participants walk across the bridge and back onto the reserve.

Mrs Morgan said some people were camping for the whole weekend, with many more driving over from nearby towns each day to take part in the celebrations.

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Located on Yorta Yorta country along the Murray River in NSW, the station was founded in 1888 when residents of Maloga Mission near Moama, NSW, became dissatisfied with its authoritarian and highly religious leadership.

Cummeragunja was established following an appeal to the NSW Government for the creation of a new reserve.

In the 1930s, the Cummeragunja community experienced a number of deaths that were attributed to the minimal rations, lack of sanitation and poor living conditions.

Petitions and calls for change fell on deaf ears or resulted in bullying and brutality.

In an act of defiance, about 200 residents walked off the reserve on February 4, 1939.

Those involved crossed the Murray River, leaving NSW to eventually settle in the nearby towns of Echuca, Kyabram, Barmah, Mooroopna and Shepparton.

Yorta Yorta elder Lance James said celebrating the walk-off was important for his people.

‘‘We’ve retained our culture, our knowledge, our language, who we are, our identity — and those things are really important to us,’’ Mr James said.

Mr James is proud to see the Yorta Yorta people thriving, ‘‘some 15000 strong’’.

‘‘The thing that has made us who we are today is our family connection,’’ he said.

Mr James’s family, including his grandparents Thomas Shadrach James and Ada Cooper, settled in Shepparton after the walk-off.

‘‘We all have a story to tell, rich in family values,’’ he said.

‘‘We have our history — which we are really proud of — as well as our achievements.’’

Mrs Morgan, who lives on Cummeragunja, said it was important to celebrate her people’s achievements so far, but believed there was still a long way to go.

‘‘The struggle for our rights did not end 80 years ago with the walk-off, it continues today,’’ she said.

‘‘We don’t have the ability to say what we want to have happen on Cummeragunja.

‘‘We are really living the same way our ancestors did 80 years ago, in some respects.’’

Mrs Morgan stressed the importance of those living on the reserve being able to set their own agendas.

‘‘We want the mob on Cummera to have a say for themselves,’’ she said.