2 August 2022

'Love it, live it and breathe it' - Aboriginal dancers converge on Gundagai for historic corroboree

| Chris Roe
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Aboriginal dancers

Dinawan’s Connection travels across the country sharing culture and staging corroborees. Photo: Dinawan’s Connection.

Steven Taylor is passionate about sharing his love for Aboriginal dance and culture.

“I didn’t really start learning about our culture until my late teens,” he says.

“There’s always been a connection but it was a matter of sitting around the right fires and getting that right connection.”

A Ngiyampaa and Wailwan man, Steve grew up in Cowra and is part of the dance and culture group “Dinawan’s Connection”.

“I was fortunate enough to start learning off some older men and learning stories about Country but also dancing,” he explains.

“The love for it just built from there and I’m still learning and still loving it.”

Dinawan’s Connection is helping to stage this weekend’s Commemoration Corroboree in Gundagai, the first such event in the town for generations.

Steve says the group was formed after a similar gathering in 2015.

“We had a corroboree in Cowra and the community really enjoyed it. So a lot of parents came up and asked us to teach dance and stuff for the kids,” he says.

“So that’s where it started.”

READ ALSO Gundagai prepares for Corroboree celebrating local icons Yarri and Jacky Jacky

As well as performing at events across the country, Dinawan’s Connection works with youth, sharing the old ways, connecting to Country and mentoring the next generation.

Steve and Wagga local Joe Williams have been holding workshops with young mob ahead of the Gundagai event.

“It’s just getting them used to putting the ochre on. We explain why we do it, explain the dances and where the stories come from and then get them involved,” Steve explains.

“It plants a seed with them and hopefully, they can go back to some of their elders and perhaps learn more or participate in more dancing.

“The fire has always been there, but you’re really lighting it up inside them and watering that cultural seed.”

Aboriginal Kids

Auntie Winnie Bulger (left) joins Steve Taylor (back) and Joe Williams (right) to rehearse with the kids from Gundagai, Tumut and Junee ahead of the corroboree. Photo: Joe Williams.

Gundagai elder Uncle Pete Smith says the success of the 2019 Wagga Corroboree inspired them to stage the event in Gundagai.

“We’ve gotta keep that culture alive so we don’t lose it, and we especially need to be teaching the young ones coming up,” he says.

The Commemoration Corroboree marks 170 years since Wiradjuri men Yarri and Jacky Jacky staged a dramatic rescue operation as floodwaters engulfed the town on 24 June, 1852.

Uncle Pete says the story and the statue honouring the two men are a source of great pride for the community.

“For about 72 hours they went into the water in just bark canoes. They’d come down with the people and then go back upstream and get people off rooftops and out of trees,” he says.

“An amazing sort of story because they did it with just those bark canoes, no rescue technology like we have today.”

He hopes the corroboree will help deepen local connections to traditional dance, song and language, which he describes as “the glue that holds it all together”.

“It will be good just to see it being performed, but also having people there from all walks of life and giving them that bit of knowledge,” he says.

Statues depicting Aboriginal people, one dragging a boat

The “The Great Rescue of 1852” statue features daring rescuers Yarri and Jacky Jacky. Photo: Visit NSW.

Steve Taylor says people are travelling from all across the region and will be treated to not only Wiradjuri dances but Gomeroi (Northern NSW), Ngiyampaa (north-western NSW) and Western Australia, too.

“For the non-Indigenous people, they can see and feel that culture is still alive and well in New South Wales,” he says.

READ ALSO ‘Crows’ or ‘Dancing’? Are you still wondering what Wagga means?

“For the young kids and older people as well, it’s to say that the culture is still going, there are people that still love it, live it and breathe it and it’s not going anywhere.”

The Yarri & Jacky Jacky Commemoration Corroboree will be held on the Gundagai North Common at sundown (5 pm) on Saturday, 25 June. See the Visit Gundagai website for more information.

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