28 June 2022

Historic corroboree dances for the past, present and the future

| Chris Roe
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aboriginal dancers

More than 100 dancers gathered on Gundagai North Common to celebrate Wiradjuri heroes Yarri and Jacky Jacky. Photo: Darkeye Photography.

Wiradjuri elder Uncle Peter Smith’s voice is thick with emotion as he reflects on Saturday’s historic commemoration corroboree at Gundagai.

“Truly amazing. It’s just unbelievable… to get that feeling,” he says.

“All of us were just overwhelmed to be joining up again with the past. Just very emotional.”

Uncle Pete is one of many who braved the cold to gather at Gundagai North Common at sundown to celebrate the legacy of Yarri and Jacky Jacky.

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On the night of 24 June, 1852, the Wiradjuri heroes braved rising floodwaters in bark canoes to save dozens of stranded Gundagai residents.

Event organiser Joe Williams described the event as “a beautiful night” and pointed out that exactly 170 years earlier, the place they danced was deep underwater in Australia’s most deadly flood.

“What those beautiful old men did on that night and 170 years ago, it wasn’t about just going out and doing what’s right; it was about an obligation and responsibility,” he explains.

“They didn’t see race. They didn’t see colour. They didn’t see difference. They just saw life.”

Aboriginal dancers

Dancers of all ages braved the cold for the commemorative corroboree. Photo: Darkeye Photography.

Joe says it was an emotional night for both the Indigenous and non-Indigenous who attended and he believes there is a real thirst for a genuine connection to the culture.

For many, it was their first corroboree.

“I had a guy who was 50 years old and this was the first time he’d seen one of these and the first time he’d danced in one of these,” he says.

“A lot of our older people have never been exposed to it and they’re challenged by it at times because it’s still ingrained in them to not connect with this stuff.

“It was a protective thing because they weren’t allowed.”

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He says events like this are an important step in reviving cultural practices that have been “hidden” for a long time.

“On the other side of the coin, I’ve got my two boys who are seven and eleven that have danced in five or six of these,” he says.

“So it’s about changing the narrative of what’s next.”

dancer

The world’s oldest continuous culture is being passed on to the next generation. Photo: Darkeye Photography.

Steven Taylor from the Cowra-based Dinawan’s Connection dance and culture group says it was a powerful experience for members of the nearby Brungle community to dance for their ancestors.

“There was a lot of positive talk and it was good for people that haven’t danced in a long time, especially for the Brungle fellas to dance on Country; Special to dance for them old fellas as well,” he says.

Aboriginal Dancers

Joe Williams (front right) leads the dancers forward at the Gundagai Corroboree. Photo: Darkeye Photography.

Uncle Pete agrees that it was a proud moment for the community and he hopes it echoes into the future.

“I hope they’ll take away a better understanding of Aboriginal culture and people, and remember those two men who were willing to do anything to help save people,” he says.

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