23 January 2023

Wagga to welcome the inaugural First Nations opening event ahead of Australia Day

| Shri Gayathirie Rajen
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(From left) Wagga Council’s Emma Corbett, Cr Jenny McKinnon, Vickie Burkinshaw, Kimberly Parker, Aunty Cheryl Penrith, Leanne Sanders, and Aunty Mary Atkinson. Photo: Shri Gayathirie Rajen.

Wagga Wagga City Council is bringing together the inaugural First Nations opening event for Australia Day.

”Mawang ngiyanhi bala Yarruwala”, meaning ”Together we are strong and mighty”, is a free community event that was organised by Wollundry Dreaming and will be held at the Wollundry Lagoon Amphitheatre.

The opening proceedings will be held today, Tuesday, 24 January, with a smoking ceremony followed by a reading of Growing up Wiradjuri at The Curious Rabbit, a weaving workshop, a cultural walk and a free community concert from 7 pm.

Aunty Cheryl Penrith said the initiative was brought to Wollundry Dreaming by the council’s Australia Day 2023 Committee.

“It’s really exciting … we’ve got a team working on an event, and we’re happy with what we’ve come up with in a short period,” Aunty Cheryl said.

Aunty Mary Atkinson said the event was a positive step for First Nations people.

“We are Australian; we want to celebrate but not on that day,” Aunty Mary said. “The event means we can all come together and do that.

“It’s [Wollundry Lagoon Amphitheatre] a place where we can all gather together and come and be positive about things.

“I must say my thanks to Wagga City Council for putting their hands out to us at Wollundry Dreaming … and starting the year on a good note, we can celebrate together, especially because this year’s NAIDOC theme is also for our elders.”

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Aunty Mary said the council’s initiative showed the community was listening to First Nations people.

“It proves they are finally listening to what we are saying as a community, and as people, we don’t want to celebrate that day and all that comes with it,” she said.

She said the event would be held annually until the date was changed.

The Curious Rabbit owner Vickie Burkinshaw is thrilled to host the Growing up Wiradjuri reading by the elders at her venue.

“When you hear stories from Growing up Wiradjuri from our elders coming from their beginning, it is really important and special,” Ms Burkinshaw said.

“They are heartfelt, empowering and emotional because we know growing up in Wiradjuri has been tough for all our elders.

“They come through, are so strong and compassionate, have so much to give, and are still so generous to us.”

Wagga City Council Deputy Mayor Jenny McKinnon said it was exciting to have various activities and parts of the community involved in the celebrations.

Cr McKinnon said the celebrations were always special but this year, bringing in many different facets of the community made them even more so.

“We have such a fantastic community here, and so much of that is contributed by our private citizens, and there’s so much to celebrate,” Cr McKinnon said.

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She said the events team had designed a variety of activities for people to look forward to, including a thong-throwing competition and finalists from the National Anthem Competition.

It was exciting to celebrate the First Nations people and multicultural communities, and induct more than 70 new citizens, she said.

Wagga City Council events officer Emma Corbett said there was plenty to do for the 2023 Australia Day celebrations, starting with the First Nations opening event.

“Wednesday evening, we’ll announce the award ceremony, and on Thursday morning, we’ll have our community breakfast with halal and vegetarian options,” Ms Corbett said.

“There will be family-friendly activities in the garden followed by our citizenship ceremony.”

2023 Australia Day Celebrations

Tuesday, 24 January
Mawang ngiyanhi bala Yarruwala at Wollundry Lagoon Amphitheatre from 5 pm to 8:30 pm.

Wednesday, 25 January
Australia Day Awards ceremony at Wagga Wagga Civic Theatre from 7 pm to 9 pm.

Thursday, 26 January
Free community breakfast, a sand sculpture demonstration, a biscuit-decorating workshop, face painting and a thong-throwing competition at Victory Memorial Gardens from 7 am to 9 am.

The Australia Day citizenship ceremony will be held at the main stage in the gardens from 9 am to 11 am.

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