If you want to learn more about the ongoing impact of colonisation on Indigenous Australians living in Sydney – and particularly those living and working around Redfern, Waterloo, Glebe and La Perouse – Yellamundie: Voices & Faces of First Nations People in Sydney is an excellent place to start.
Thirty Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island people, including artists, firefighters, students, carers, pastors, activists, Stolen Generation survivors, teachers and community leaders, tell their stories and paint a sobering (though ultimately energising) picture of where we are in our journey towards reconciliation.
The photographs are lovely and project a strong message of resilience and determination.
Yellamundie is a Dharug word meaning “storyteller” and author Irish-Australian Michelle McGrath clearly earned the trust of her 30 co-authors in bringing their stories to life.
Michelle is a teaching assistant with Redfern Jarjum College, a school that educates urban Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children. A number of the moving stories in Yellamundie are those of her colleagues and students.
Les is a Gamilaraay man from Coonabarabran who works at Jarjum College as a teacher and Aboriginal Community Liaison Officer. “When done well, being there for a kid can change lives,” he says. “You can change a life.”
‘We’re still here’
Mark is from the Yuwaalaraay people. He was removed from his parents when he was just a few months old.
He says, “This disconnection of families, the Stolen Generations, has caused layer upon layer of trauma for Aboriginal people … Through the assimilation policy, the Stolen Generations, they tried to breed us out, tried to make us fit in. But we’re still here, that’s the bottom line.”
Lua is a Wiradjuri woman who grew up in Dharug country near Toongabbie. She says, “It’s so important that we listen to the Uluru Statement from the Heart and really push for some common ground and universal recognition of past injustices, so we can move forward together as a country.”
Shane is from Redfern and has connections to the Bundjalung, Wannarua, Guringai and Yugembeh mobs. He says, “There’s a whole movement of people now trying to drive strength-based communities. You can feel it in Redfern. It has become a place of can-do. I just feel blessed and grateful that I’m part of that.”
Liam is a Gumbaynggirr man who says what has happened over the past 250 years needs to be talked about. “It all needs to come out and not be bubble-wrapped,” he says, “because what ends up happening is we’re hiding the truth, and then people don’t understand that a trauma that happened generations ago is still affecting us today.”
Blak Douglas, urban artist and Archibald Prize winner for “Moby Dickens” in 2022, says, “Schoolkids today should know about the massacres and the slavery, to acknowledge the injustices that were caused. Paul Keating’s Redfern speech is a great place to start.”
To assist the education of young and old, Yellamundie offers helpful resources to read and to watch, as well a list of links to resources for teachers – including an excerpt from Keating’s influential speech.
Yellamundie: Voices & Faces of First Nations People in Sydney
Michelle McGrath (author) and Garry Purchase (artist/illustrator)
$34.95 soft cover, $39.95 hard cover
Buy Yellamundie on the website, Amazon, Booktopia and Barnes & Noble. All profits to Redfern Jarjum College.