People and Places
29/05/2019
A home by the sea By Liz Rogers

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It may be a bit tricky to find, but when you do finally walk through the gates at Willum Warrain, you’ll discover the wait was well worth it. This is a place pulsing with connection to country and the First Peoples of Australia who inhabit it. It is a sacred space where culture and healing intrinsically weave with birds chirping, frogs chanting and wide saltwater skies smiling. A kookaburra calling in the distance. Ballee trees swaying while symbolising children grown up by community rising from the Bunurong/Boon Wurrung earth. 

Here everyone is wominjeka. 

The name Willum Warrain means “home/house by the sea”. Established in 2014 with the support of the Mornington Peninsula Shire and funding from the Department of Health, this special gathering place was given its name by Parbin-ata Carolyn Briggs and opened after 15 years of campaigning for an Indigenous place where people could come together to create new beginnings. The executive officer of the Willum Warrain Association and past director of Indigenous education at Woodleigh School, Peter Aldenhoven, explains: “Compared to other countries, there are relatively few numbers of traditional owners living on the Mornington Peninsula. The Bunurong/Boon Wurrung people were impacted by disease, invasion and abduction and this is why we see an unusually high number of Koori Victorians and Aboriginal diaspora from across the country now living in the region. I come from Stradbroke Island and my clan is the Nughi Clan as an example. We are Quandamooka people or the people of Moreton Bay. There are many relatives of those ancestors who were abducted who have now returned. Two of the vital anchors for Aboriginal people are kin and country. Every week we see new Aboriginal people walk through our gates to find connection with their culture and each other. From an Aboriginal perspective, white people are like birds without a nest. For us, if you were born in a place, that’s where you stayed. Willum Warrain offers that place to belong, where we all can all come together.”

Not only is the atmosphere calm, creative and conducive to celebration of Aboriginal authenticity at Willum Warrain, it is also brimming with ideas, education and the possibility of learning from the past. Of working towards a brighter future. Peter continues: “We have 350 Aboriginal adult members and over 1200 extended family members at Willum Warrain. Non-Indigenous people can be associates of this ‘destination for reconciliation’ too. Ceremony at sacred sites right across Australia are vitally important to Aboriginal people because ceremony is immanent with deep potent spiritual power. Our Welcome Baby to Country ceremony, for example, run in conjunction with the Bunurong Land Council, is all about connecting our young to country. Aboriginal parents and grandparents now bring their children to our bush playgroup to allow them to grow up in culture, while our Deadly Kids program for upper primary school and young teenagers teaches Indigenous principles, values and connection.

“We have many cultural immersion programs including men’s groups, the men’s shed, women’s groups, community drop-in groups and there’s a kids’ dance group in development. Our Aboriginal Youth Summit proposed for later in the year will focus on leadership, while the Koori plant trail currently under development and bush tucker trail walks explore Indigenous foods. Our plants are still providing food and shelter. Plants like the cherry ballart (ballee) tree, where the fruit is eaten and the sap from the leaves is used as an antidote for snake bite. The wood is used for spears, tools and shields, while the leaves are used in smoking ceremonies  All these things can be learnt at Willum Warrain and all programs are offered for free, even the big mob cook-ups.”

There is too much to do and see at Willum Warrain in Hastings to mention here. Peter is also an executive officer of the Koondee Woonga-gat Toor-rong sub-Fund, which works with philanthropy to encourage greater investment in Indigenous Victoria, but that will also have wait until another day. Reconciliation Week may just be wrapping up but NAIDOC Week is just around the corner running from July 1-7 so you’ve got no excuse not to find out more about this living and breathing not-for-profit Indigenous paragon we have shining in our own backyard. Log on to www.willumwarrain.org.au to find out more.

Mornington Peninsula Magazine acknowledges the Boon Wurrung / Bunurong people, the traditional owners of the land, waters and skies of the Mornington Peninsula where we live.

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