Listening to Djaara

This week is NAIDOC week, with a theme of Keep the Fire Burning! Blak, Loud and Proud. The NAIDOC committee have said “‘Blak, Loud and Proud’ encapsulates the unapologetic celebration of Indigenous identity, empowering us to stand tall in our heritage and assert our place in the modern world. This theme calls for a reclamation of narratives, an amplification of voices, and an unwavering commitment to justice and equality. It invites all Australians to listen, learn, and engage in meaningful dialogue, fostering a society where the wisdom and contributions of Indigenous peoples are fully valued and respected.”

Here at Harcourt Organic Farming Co-op we have been working to listen and build a new relationship with Djaara, and new understanding of the history of this place. Here, Katie Finlay reflects on the process over the past couple of years that has led to “Supporting Djaara leadership and management at Leanganook” being included as a key component of our new Whole Farm Plan. We share it here not to pat ourselves on the back, but because we know it has already generated questions and interest from other farmers keen to take similar steps, and we’re committed to openly sharing the resources and process that we have worked on.

Discovering the farm’s true history

When I was a little girl, I grew up riding my pony and walking all over Mount Alexander. I never heard it called Leanganook, and didn’t know that was its original name. 

I’d heard about Aboriginal people but didn’t know they’d once lived in this place I called home, let alone the fact they were still living here! I’m ashamed to admit, I literally did not know there had ever been any Aboriginal people in Harcourt.

At school in the 60s and 70s, we didn’t learn about Aboriginal culture or heritage. In fact, there were Aboriginal people at my school, but as it turns out, some of them were not even aware of their Aboriginality at that time. 

This may capture just a fraction of how disconnected the education and culture of my youth were from pre-Colonial history. The genocide of Aboriginal people had been erased from the history books so completely that we didn’t even know that they had been here.

There must also have been willing blindness because there clearly were Aboriginal people in this area, but they were not acknowledged as such.

Fast forward 50-plus years and we feel like we have finally started learning the true history of the farm and taking some tentative steps on the reconciliation path.

A series of fortunate events have happened here at the coop. The first one was the arrival of Ira as the manager of the Murnong Mummas bushfood patch. It’s been a joy and privilege to have Ira in our community. 

Ira leads by quiet example in the coop by proudly bringing their Aboriginality to the table every single day in things as simple as what they choose to wear. They’ve shown patience, grace, and generosity in sharing their knowledge, and it’s been an unfolding journey of fun and education for the rest of us to be able to learn about Aboriginal history, culture, and bushfoods in a day-to-day, easy-going way.

However, we don’t expect that Ira should take on responsibility for educating us! The often unconscious expectation that First Nations people should educate others is part of the ongoing ‘colonial load’ they are frequently expected to take on. We’ve come to understand that it’s our responsibility to educate ourselves.

The second fortunate event was getting the Innovate to Regenerate grant from the World Wildlife Fund. The grant gave us opportunities and a budget to make connections with Djaara and start the slow process of building relationships and learning more.

Listening to Djaara

The process has unfolded slowly. We reached out to see if they would be available to come to the farm and hold a one-day workshop for us. After a few months, we got together with a Harley from Djaara for a chat and he was extremely positive about the idea.

A group of people are sitting in the fruit packing shed at Harcourt, looking at a presentation and two presenters from Djaara

Next, we attended the local launch of Djaara’s Galk-galk Dhelkunya (Forest Gardening Strategy), where we learned that they were keen to make connections with local landholders. A few chats and many emails later, we started forming a plan for the day.

Finally, after more than a year, it all came together and on 14th March 2024, Djaara (formerly Dja Dja Wurrung Aboriginal Clans Corporation) was funded to run a full-day workshop on the farm.

The purpose of the workshop was two-fold – first, to ensure any future plans for HOFC & the farm had the best possible historical understanding of Djaara culture & history and; second, to establish relationships and foundations for ongoing collaboration with Djaara on the farm. 

In attendance were: 

  • From Djaara: Paul Philips & Kyrun Kerr (Dumawal team), Harley Douglas (Program Manager Galkangu – Joint management) & Oli Moraes (Project Manager Galk-galk Dhelkunya – Forest Gardening) 
  • HOFC staff and volunteers: 8 people 
  • Other groups (Grow Local & Tumpinyeri Growers): 6 people

Paul & Kyrun conducted Tanderrum (Welcome to Country) followed by a cultural competency session which gave an overview of Djaara culture & history, exploring the ongoing impacts of colonisations and Djaara aspirations for the future.

The presentation was eye-opening. Paul and Kyrun were open about their personal journeys of trying to piece together histories and learn more about past events within their own families and communities. 

We appreciate their generosity in bringing the program to communities like ours even though discussing the reality of colonisation and its profound impact on families and culture reopens old wounds. The harsh reality is that massacres happened, people were displaced, culture was destroyed and languages have disappeared.

Attendees were encouraged to ask questions and have dialogue about good ways to work on this country, including better understanding cultural heritage, and how to approach Djaara. 

The group then walked on the farm and discussed Galkangu and Galk-Galk Dhelkunya, with a particular focus on Djaara aspirations for how Leanganook could be managed in the future and how HOFC might support those aspirations. 

A group of people stand under gumtrees listening to a Djaara presenter

This workshop laid the foundation for better relationships with Djaara, along with the possibility of further collaboration and ideas for cultural uses of the land at HOFC. 

The approach to managing country shared by Djaara was inspiring and galvanising for the whole group. It’s clear from reflections following the day that there will be ongoing impacts on how we see our relationship with this land and with Djaara as the role of HOFC evolves. 

One of the most practical outcomes of our new relationship with Djaara has been the inclusion of some specific reconciliation goals in our Whole Farm Plan. 

Including Djaara in our Whole Farm Plan

Under the broad goal of “Supporting Djaara leadership and management at Leanganook”, some key immediate actions emerged for HOFC to incorporate allyship and solidarity with Djaara into our practice. They are: 

  • Use HOFC public profile to support Djaara aspirations for management of Leanganook. This could take the form of an updated Acknowledgement of Country to be used in public, on tours, and on our website:
    We acknowledge that we live and farm on Djaara country, and that sovereignty on this land has not been ceded. We pay our respects to the Dja Dja Wurrung people as the traditional custodians of this land, and to their Elders past, present, and emerging. In particular, we acknowledge the enduring spiritual significance of this place, Leanganook, to the Dja Dja Wurrung people. We are grateful to Djaara for their leadership and commitment to working towards Djaara management of Leanganook. In solidarity, we also acknowledge the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout so-called Australia and their connections to land, sea, and community. We pay our respect to their Elders past and present and extend that respect to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples today. We would also like to acknowledge the generous contribution of First Nations people to the Harcourt Organic Farming Co-operative. First Nations Sovereignty, healthy country, and healthy food systems are inextricably connected and we will continue to strive to reinforce and strengthen this connection
  • Act as a conduit to the Djaara website and resources
    • Link to Djaara pages on our website 
    • Display Djaara resources (e.g. Galk-galk Dhelkunya Dja document in our farm shop) 
    • Link to Djaara pages and other local orgs like Nalderun in our email comms
  • Seek out, promote, and avail ourselves of opportunities for further cultural awareness learning opportunities (Uncle Rick’s Waaman tours, Dumawul tours in Bendigo, exhibitions etc) 
  • Allow time and patience for pace of collaboration – good things take time, and it’s important to value the cultural importance of taking things slowly. 
  • Continue taking steps to encourage use of land at HOFC for cultural purposes, building on relationships formed with Djaara. Be the people to reach out to contacts at Djaara (due to their limited resources and time) to offer space for cultural use of this land. 

In the medium to long term, other actions that could be taken by HOFC & members include: 

  • Ensure all future funding proposals incorporate resourcing for working with Djaara and other First Nations people, along with continuing to Pay the Rent
  • We might not know how to get there right now, but we hope that some of the above actions would mean that one day, we see emus return to Leanganook. 

Our understanding of the history of the land where we live, farm, and host the coop has changed completely since we first moved back to the farm.

We still feel like we’re at the very beginning of understanding the long, rich, cultural history of this land and the people who have lived here for many thousands of years, but we’re so pleased that we’ve taken the first few steps.