18 November 2022

New 'Wollundry Dreaming' hub puts First Nations culture in the heart of Wagga's CBD

| Chris Roe
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Aunty Cheryl Penrith, Aunty Mary Atkinson, Uncle James Ingram and Leanne Sanders are mapping out the first three years for the Wollundry Dreaming hub. Photo: Chris Roe.

A new Aboriginal space alongside Wagga’s Wollundry Lagoon is set to place Wiradjuri arts and cultural practice right in the heart of the city.

“If you can’t smell the Murrumbidgee, you’re not home,” grins Uncle James Ingram as he explains the cultural importance of the location near the Civic Centre.

“This place connects us to the lagoon and also to the river.”

‘Wollundry Dreaming’ has begun setting up in a portion of the old Seniors Community Centre off the northern end of Tarcutta Street.

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The name (walan-dhuray) was given by Aunty Cheryl Penrith for its association with ‘strength’ and Wagga’s elders hope that it will become a place of empowerment for younger generations.

“We said on the day we got the keys to this place, ‘It’s not about me, it’s about we’, and I think that’s a really important thing for us to have that shared vision for what our community could look like,” she explains.

“I’m really interested in stylin’ up a different future for people and I think we’ve got a really wonderful little place here where we can coach people and develop their creativity.”

Wiradjuri Elders

The team behind Wollundry Dreaming. Front: Aunty Cheryl Penrith, Aunty Mary Atkinson and Uncle James Ingram. Back: Vickie Birkinshaw, Shanae Pope and Leanne Sanders. Photo: Chris Roe.

The philosophy of the new community hub will be built around the Wiradjuri cultural concept of ‘Yindyamarra’, something that Uncle Dr Stan Grant Snr explains is grounded in respect and integrity.

“This means we all have to work out how to find the strength to live a gentle, honest and respectful life” he says.

Uncle James says that the concept for Wollundry Dreaming grew from regular First Nations gatherings held at the Curious Rabbit Cafe.

“There are many Aboriginal communities out there with great ideas but have never been able to bring them to fruition and when we first started meeting down at the Curious Rabbit, it just showed us what can be achieved by a group of people that stick their heads together,” he says.

“We realised that we need to go after something significant, and that’s what we’ve ended up with.”

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Uncle James is proud of the way they have worked with the community to realise their vision.

“We’ve done it through reconciliation, and we’ve done it with Yindyamarra, and that’s what I like about it all,” he says.

Aunty Mary Atkinson is pleased that Wagga City Council has backed the initiative and is listening to First Nations voices.

“That’s what we want for our community and our young ones especially, to have their voices heard, and to have a safe place where they can come and we can lift them up,” she says and explains why it is important for Wollundry Dreaming to claim a prominent place in the CBD.

“We’re sat right here in the middle of town, because, you know what? Blackfellas are sick of being on the outskirts of town. That’s where we was forever.

“I grew up on nearly every mission around the Riverina and it was always on the outskirts of town. We want our young ones to stand up and have that voice and be proud.”

Aunty Mary also hopes it will be a place where the wider community can engage with culture and take the time to sit and yarn with the elders.

“It’s not just about rolling an elder out to do a Welcome to Country, there’s more to it than that,” she says to a chorus of chuckles from the group.

“It’s about sitting down and having those yarns.”

Three people

Leanne Sanders (left) will locate Visual Dreaming in the new hub. Pictured with Luke Carrol and Shanae Pope. Photo: Visual Dreaming.

Shanae Pope is an emerging young leader who will continue to coordinate the ‘Butterfly Dreaming’ program from the new centre.

Describing it as a Wiradjuri version of scouts, she says the young girls she works with have developed a sisterhood and deepened their connections to culture by spending time on Country with elders.

“When I was at school, I didn’t really understand the importance of it and this has really taught me about being connected to community,” she says.

“And for me as an Aboriginal woman, it’s about being inspired and being a role model too. ”

Aunty Mary says that’s what it’s all about.

“We’re not waiting for government to give it to us. We’ve got to take that self-determination ourselves by building on our future with our young ones,” she says.

“We’re about making dreams come true.”

Wollundry Dreaming is planning a ‘soft launch’ in mid-December to coincide with the graduation of the latest class who studied Wiradjuri language, culture and heritage at Charles Sturt University.

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