There is a palpable ‘buzz’ in Urunga at the moment. The anticipation is building towards January 26th. The entire community has come together in preparation for Urunga’s Australia Day event, called ‘The Peoples’ Day’. (Photo: Event co-organisers from left Tyrone Sheather, Suzi Kelly, Mark Learmonth (rear) and Peter Lister).
“The Peoples’ Day is all about inclusiveness, bringing the entire community together. We recognise all of our ‘Peoples’ as one,” says event co-organiser Peter Lister.
Last year’s inaugural ‘Australia Day- The Peoples’ Day’ was well received. “We took cautionary baby steps last year. We wanted a day for everyone. The overwhelming feedback we received from all members of the community was it was all right to move forward this year. So this year’s event will be much bigger,” says Peter.
The inaugural event certainly ignited conversations around reconciliation, the meaning of Australia Day and how it should be marked or celebrated. But after talking with many of this year’s event organisers (and there are now more than 20 volunteers), one realises that they see the day as more of an opportunity to build bridges and make new friends.
“The day is about connection- building bonds between all peoples. Not preaching about the right or wrongs of Australia Day but rather uniting the whole community as one,” says event co-organiser and local indigenous artist and videographer Tyrone Sheather. “When you walk down the street and recognise others you’ve been in ceremony with- that builds trust and a powerful connection.”
It certainly takes many from the community to create ‘The Peoples’ Day’. Organisers have been working with members of the Urunga Chamber of Commerce for the past 12 months to build an unforgettable experience. Peter Lister has created a website for the day www.thepeoplesday.com and a community video, with cameo roles for the entire community (literally). Local businesses are sponsoring children’s activities, including a jumping castle and merry-go-round, all free for the kids. There will be market stalls, coffee vans and a gold coin donation for an egg and bacon roll breakfast and vintage cars.The line up for the day’s entertainment includes various singers, dancers, musicians, Aboriginal smoking ceremony and of course, the Citizenship presentation.
Local Gumbaynggirr elder Micklo Jarrett and Urunga Chamber of Commerce President Steve Allan will preside over the day, again reflecting a true sense of cohesiveness and inclusiveness. “How many people can become an Australian citizen and be part of a smoking ceremony all at once. And receive a rock painted by a local indigenous artist,” says event co-organiser Mark Learmonth. The ceremony will acknowledge Gumbaynggirr history and more than 60,000 years of country.
And if you’ve noticed a distinct change in ‘flavour’ in Urunga lately, it may be the brightly coloured event T-Shirts designed by local indigenous artist Lisa Kelly, which is being proudly worn by many of the Urunga community. The T-Shirt artwork depicts the Old Man Dreaming and the Bellinger and Kalang Rivers meeting the sea, with the Gumbaynggirr spelling of Urunga across the front.
Tyrone has decorated a surfboard with his unique artwork, which is just one of the items to be raffled on the day and two of his stunning sculptures will adorn the stage. There is no doubt; these dedicated Urunga locals see the day as a necessary way forward. This is a way of approaching the conflicts pertaining to Australia Day to create a day for all, that could be replicated all over the country. “I have seen connections and understanding of traditional culture grow during my lifetime here in the Bellingen Shire,” says event co-organiser and local indigenous woman Suzi Kelly. “But this process is slow and needs to continue.”
“Last year’s event was about acceptance, this year we hope to build knowledge. It’s a slow progression towards true reconciliation,” says Peter. “If you don’t come together, how can we ever build a stronger community.” So true.
‘Australia Day- The Peoples’ Day’ commences 8am Morgo Street Reserve Urunga.