News & Media

Aboriginal cultural awareness at Echuca Station

  • Echuca Fire Station Session
  • Prof Henry Atkinson
  • Ray Ahmat Yorta Yorta Nations
  • Rick Ronnan showing Artefacts
  • Rick Ronnan showing artefacts
  • Rick Ronnan lighting a fire in a traditional way

By: Angela Cook

Category: Community Safety, Partnerships, Training & Recruitment

  11.26 AM 8 October, 2015

Location: District 20 News, General

Views: 2085

Echuca Fire Station hosted an Aboriginal cultural awareness session on Wednesday 30 September 2015 for local CFA volunteers and staff.   

The session was attended by members of Echuca, Rochester and Barmah brigades and, although there was a lower than expected turn out on the night, those that were there felt it was an incredible session and well worthwhile. 

Operations Manager Peter Taylor and Operations Officer John Cutting attended and both agreed it was an important first step for CFA in the local area.

Professor Henry Atkinson, local Wolithiga Elder, started the session with a Welcome to Country and a presentation about what happened to Aboriginal people after 1770, giving participants an understanding of the history of Australia and Victoria. It helped participants understand how past government policies and practices have led to a complex and enduring legacy of exclusion for Aboriginal people, families and communities.

“It is not about apportioning blame or pointing the finger,” said Prof. Atkinson, “but it is about telling it how it happened and the implications for my people.”

A former Echuca Fire Brigade member, Prof. Atkinson joined the brigade as a young boy in 1954 and credits CFA for what it taught him and the self-confidence it gave him in a difficult time for Aboriginal people. Therefore, it was a very special occasion to have Prof. Atkinson return to the brigade last Wednesday night and to return the favour and this time teach CFA members about Aboriginal history and culture.

As CFA has recently committed to improved Aboriginal inclusion as part of CFA’s first Koori Inclusion Action Plan, these cultural awareness sessions are critical in helping CFA members understand more about Aboriginal culture, history, traditional fire management and working together.

Another local Wolithiga Elder, Rick Ronnan, followed on with a session about Aboriginal customs and practices. Rick’s session was very hands-on with lots of artefacts and demonstrations of how Aboriginal tools and household items were used.  Rick explained how local people traditionally hunted ducks, emu and kangaroo. Participants were on the edge of their seats watching Rick light a fire in a traditional manner and explain how to use local plants to combat infection and stay healthy. 

“Many of our CFA members would not have been taught much about Aboriginal culture and history when they went to school as it was glossed over back in the 60s, 70s and 80s, so this was a real chance for our members to learn about Victoria’s history and about protecting our shared history” said CFA Operations Manager Pete Taylor.

“When CFA members understand the richness and diversity of Aboriginal culture they will be more in a position to think about how to protect and preserve cultural heritage sites when out at an incident” he said.

This is why the final session for the night, by Yorta Yorta Nations Cultural Heritage Manager Ray Ahmat, was also important. CFA can learn about how to recognise and protect Cultural Heritage sites. Ray spoke about what DELWP (Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning) and Parks Victoria do in relation to protection of Cultural sites such as scarred trees during a fire.

CFA participants all expressed an interest in going out on a site visit to look at some of the cultural sites that will need protecting during a fire. Ray explained that site locations are not publicly known as they have had problems with site desecration in the past.  

As part of CFA’s Koori Inclusion Action plan CFA will be working alongside Victorian Traditional Owner groups such as Yorta Yorta Nations over the next few years to determine how CFA can protect and preserve Cultural Heritage during an incident or when conducting a planned burn, to ensure our shared history is protected.

Photos courtesy of Kirsten Dudink, CFA District 14.

Last Updated: 08 October 2015