Wiradjuri-Wolgalu man Joe Williams is preparing for another big corroboree on his home Country in the Riverina.
“We always say that Aboriginal culture is the longest continuing culture in the world,” he says.
“But it can’t continue if you don’t do it. So it’s about honouring that and continuing that practice.”
The former NRL player and boxer has become a leading advocate for Indigenous mental health and cultural practice.
The upcoming Commemoration Corroboree in Gundagai on Saturday (June 25) follows the successful cultural event staged in Wagga Wagga at the Marrambidya Wetlands in 2019.
It was the first corroboree held in the area in more than 150 years.
“When we had the Wagga Corroboree, we had Elders in tears, because they’d never seen anything like that before,” he says.
“To highlight culture, through dance and story and song is a special opportunity to not just share with the young ones who don’t have it, but to share with the old ones who weren’t allowed to have it.”
Joe says Elders from Gundagai approached him after the 2019 event with a view to staging a similar gathering in their community to mark a historic anniversary.
“It’s about coming together to celebrate the two old fellas who they’ve got in the bronze statue in the middle of Gundagai, Yarri and Jacky Jacky from the floods.”
The striking sculpture on the corner of Kitchener and Sheridan Streets commemorates the heroics of two Wiradjuri men who braved rising floodwaters on June 24, 1852 and successfully rescued one-third of the Gundagai town’s residents using a bark canoe.
Joe says it’s a beautiful story that resonates with the current generations.
“We’ve got people from my family, people from Brungle (community) and surrounding families from where those fellas came from, that are gonna be back dancing on that Country for them old fellas,” he says.
The celebrations will include men, women and children in an evening of cultural song, dance and storytelling.
“People think that dance or art, weaving or playing instruments is culture. Those practices are the processes of culture. What’s important about culture is the storytelling,” he explains.
“When you go to corroboree, you’re doing these beautiful dances, but you’re dancing stories. The stories are all elements of deeper values around connection, around looking after each other.
“That’s what we’ve missed as a community.”
He says it’s also important that the broader community gets involved.
“I think there’s a real thirst from the non-Indigenous community around learning about us,” he says.
“It’s about building a relationship. We’ve learned about you for 230 years, you’ve never learned about us.
“This is an opportunity to sit at our table and start to learn about us.”
The Yarri & Jacky Jacky Commemoration Corroboree will be held on the Gundagai North Common at sundown on June 25th.