Reconciliation and NAIDOC Weeks 2011

To acknowledge Reconciliation Week 2011 a gathering was held to ‘talk recognition’ under the mirror ball of the Auchmuty Library with a piece of Italian continental cake (specially made for the occasion), and to launch the Exhibition comprising archival material and books and items kindly loaned to us by Mr Paul F. Walsh and Susan Harvey relating to their nationally acknowledged work towards reconciliation in the Hunter.

At the conclusion of the event both Paul F Walsh and Mr Rodney Knock said a few words regarding their reconciliation work in the Hunter Region.

The Novocastrian Tales and Currawong Projects

Novocastrian Tales, created, published, co-written and edited by Paul F Walsh was a national bestseller. The Novocastrian Tales project raised over $600 000 to build Yallarwah Place, the Aboriginal Accommodation Centre at John Hunter Hospital in Newcastle. Yallarwah Place serves the Aboriginal communities of Northern NSW.

Mr Walsh created and directed the Currawong Project during the Centenary of Federation Year. The Currawong Project was a national reconciliation project featuring the Currawong Exhibition, opened by NSW Governor Marie Bashir, and inspired by the novel Black Feather White Feather by Paul F Walsh.

The Currawong Project inspired such notables as Sir William Deane, Governor General of Australia, Marie Bashir, Governor of NSW, Bob Carr, Premier of NSW, et al, to plant trees with local Aboriginal people at the Bicentenary Memorial at Yallarwah Place. The Yallarwah Bicentenary Memorial is believed to be among the first united Aboriginal/non-Aboriginal memorials in Australia.

The memorial concept, design and symbolism were co-created by Paul F Walsh and Aboriginal author Ray Kelly. The reconciliation partnership of these two men throughout the Novocastrian Tales and Currawong projects was said to be reminiscent of the co-creative aspects of the relationship between Biraban and the Reverend Lancelot Threlkeld in colonial times.

Mr Walsh recalls: ‘It was Susan Harvey who slammed a coffee cup onto our kitchen bench and said: “Why don’t you create something with a team for a change?” It was Susan Harvey who co-published Novocastrian Tales and who organized us all. Without Susan Harvey there would be no Novocastrian Tales and there would have been no Currawong Project.’

Susan Harvey recalls: ‘It was one of those unique and joyful times in Novocastrian history when the disparate tribes within our community united to achieve a reconciling outcome via a reconciling process. Novocastrian Tales was a meeting point of three continuous processes of reconciliation. The most obvious of these is reconciliation between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians.

The least obvious, perhaps, is reconciliation between left and right political traditions. And the third is reconciliation of the past, present and future.’

I plant this tree in the spirit of
the currawong,
black feather white feather
lifting me.
I plant this tree to call upon
all Australians
to replant
a shared future together.

The  letter below that was written by Mr Paul F. Walsh to the future editor of Novocastrian Tales for the Tercentenary of Newcastle. The letter, along with the two new tales being submitted, is held in the Novocastrian Tales time capsule at Newcastle Region Library. It defines much of what Susan and Paul embrace in terms of reconciliation as an eternal process.

The Editor
Novocastrian Tales
Newcastle-Hunter Tercentenary edition
1797 – 2097

Heart of our nation

Dear Sir/Madam

I respectfully submit Newcastle and The Mathematics of Life for possible inclusion in the Tercentenary edition of Novocastrian Tales.

These submissions reflect my view that reconciliation is a continuous and expansive process, a limitless journey without maps or discrete destination. This seems true to me whether we are talking of reconciliation between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians, male and female, old and young, left and right, gay and straight, Islamic and non-Islamic, believers and non-believers, socialists and capitalists, global warmers and global coolers or teachers and students.

These submissions also reflect my sense of humour where no political cow is too sacred and every dog has her day. The failed politics of reconciliation has thus far spawned Aboriginal deaths in custody, homophobia, sexism, ageism, Global Warming, the Tampa, the War on Terror, a decaying education system and the victory of spin over truth. This list is not exhaustive but it is exhausting. I find myself breathless in a wardrobe, with a world I no longer recognize outside. Like the anonymous errorist who finds it hard to reconcile his current circumstance I am the only one left. And then in that wardrobe I discover there are people like me beyond the wardrobe. I find myself reconnecting with all that is good in my various lives. I see Nobbys, a navigational beacon reconciling us all, I see the giant black kangaroo, and I see my myriad selves taking up their quills.

I am sure that reconciliation manifests in your world in as many contexts as it does in mine. And yet all these personal reconciliation journeys without limit or destination make no sense to me, unless we are finding out who we are along the continuum. Each of us by virtue of our common humanity is walking the path of reconciliation whether we recognize the process or not. Maybe we are Simon, the brilliant young student, or maybe we are the anonymous errorist, or maybe we are an infinite number of selves trying to reconcile with each other through the fluttering of our quills.

Whoever we are, or are becoming, we are writers, you and I, separated by time and circumstance, but not by place or sense of mission. We are united in a common quest. We seek to reconcile the past, present and future. Perhaps it is a foolish quest, but it is an honest quest, and in that quest we may chronicle our emerging selves.

I wish you well on your editorial journey.

Heart of our nation

Paul F Walsh OAM
The Medal of the Order of Australia
Newcastle Citizen of the Year 2001
The Premier’s Award for Community Service
Australian Reconciliation Award
Novocastrian Tales
Newcastle-Hunter Bicentenary 1797 – 1997

Dated this 5th day of September 2007
on the occasion of the tenth birthday of the Bicentenary edition of Novocastrian Tales.



Yallarwah Place - An Act of Reconciliation

This was truly a magnificent day. On Friday 19th February 1999 Yallarwah Place was officially opened and born to the Community of the Hunter Region. Yallarwah Place is an accommodation centre for the families of Aboriginal people from the communities of the Hunter and Northern NSW who are receiving medical care at the John Hunter Hospital. It will also serve non-indigenous families as the need arises and is believed to be the first such facility in Australia. It also stands as the first physical act of reconciliation between the black and white cultures in this country. In the words of Aboriginal Elder, Uncle Bob Smith, and Ray Kelly, Chief Executive Officer of the Awabakal Co-operative, it represents black and white people coming together, working together to achieve one goal. If this is what dreams can do, then let’s have more dreaming!

Yallarwah is an Awabakal word meaning ‘resting place’. It is a place of healing and rest for people and also for the land which we share. Yallarwah was made possible through the vision and dreams of author Paul Walsh who created and directed the Novocastrian Tales project for the Newcastle-Hunter Bicentenary 1797-1997. The funds raised from the sale of the book, along with a generous contribution from the State Government of NSW and many corporate and community benefactors helped make the dream into reality. The Archives, Rare Books and Special Collections Unit of the Auchmuty Library is honored to have played a part in this very important event through the preparation of the portraits of Biraban and The Reverend Lancelot Threlkeld whose relationship spawned the inspiration behind the memorial. These framed works along with the bronze book and plaque, created by Vlase Nikoleski, Head of the School of Fine Art, formed the University of Newcastle’s gift to the project.

Order of Ceremonies

The Opening Ceremony for Yallarwah Place was created by Paul F Walsh and Susan Harvey

The Aboriginal Smoking Ceremony

Aboriginal Smoking Ceremony

Upon arrival the guests were invited to pass through the smoke of the Yallarwah campfire as a ritual of purification and unity. The Smoking Ceremony was performed by the respected Aboriginal Elder Uncle Bill Smith, with assistance from Mimaga Wajar (Mother Earth) Traditional Custodians, Michael Moran, William Smith and Malcolm Smith.

Eagle-Hawk Mosaic

A Prayer of the Smoke Uncle Bill Smith, Aboriginal Elder

For thousands of years the campfire of our ancestors marked their places of rest and celebration in this Hunter Valley. May the glowing of this fire remind us of the Father’s love for us and our love for one another. As the smoke from this sacred campfire rises into the sky like Biraban, the Eagle-Hawk, may it drive away all the evil spirits and bring us together as one to enter into this service of Dedication.

Acknowledgment of the Ancestors of the Awabakal

Ray Kelly, Chief Executive Officer of the Awabakal Cooperative. Ray spoke of invitation for the presence of the ancestral spirits.

The Prologue from Novocastrian Tales

Words by Paul F Walsh, narrated by Graham Wilson, produced by Professor Robert Constable. A beautiful piece, complimented with the intrusion of a mobile phone, performed by an impromptu embarrassed anonymous owner.

More Than Ever

A piece of music composed for the dedication ceremony by Keith Potger, Trevor Spencer and Boyd Wilson. It was performed by Keith Potger. I wondered who this fellow was, he looked familiar…”was he from Redgum?”. I learn he is from the legendary Australian group The Seekers. Sorry Keith.

Uncle Bob Smith and Ray Kelly

Both these men spoke from the heart concerning the past difficulties encountered in accommodating the Aboriginal families of loved ones in hospital.Uncle Bob spoke of how he once asked the Government for a “house and a bus”, they refused. For 15 or so years he carried the dream alive for a special place, and was tearfully joyous at now seeing it become a reality.

Vice-Chancellor Roger Holmes Addresses the gathering

Professor Roger Holmes

The Vice-Chancellor of the University of Newcastle spoke of the history and the University’s gift to Yallarwah Place.

The Dedication

The Hon Andrew Refshauge MP

After being introduced by John Mills MP, The Honourable Dr Andrew Refshauge MP, Deputy Premier of NSW officially opened Yallarwah Place and dedicates the Yallarwah site as a Bicentenary Memorial for the people of the Hunter Region.

Opening Prayer

Jean Hands, Upper Hunter Aboriginal Liaison Officer, Hunter Health

A reading from the Gospel of St Luke

Read in Awabakal by Ray Kelly. This translation into Awabakal was made between 1827 and 1831 by the Reverend Lancelot Threlkeld and the famed Awabakal man, Biraban, in the Newcastle/Lake Macquarie Area. Following Ray Kelly’s reading, the Gospel was read in English by Pastor Rex Morgan, Susan Harvey and Jane Gray.

Prayers of Blessing

Most Reverend Michael Malone, Catholic Bishop of Maitland and Newcastle blessed the container of waters drawn from the sources of the Northern Rivers by tribal Elders. Respected Aboriginal Elder Uncle Bill Smith, dusts the waters with smoke. The Right Reverend Roger Herft, Anglican Bishop of Newcastle, blessed a container of soils drawn from the lands of the North by tribal Elders. Respected Aboriginal Elder Uncle Bill Smith dusted the soils with smoke. Ray Kelly, lead Aboriginal Elder Uncle Bill Smith and the two Bishops, to smoke and bless the building. This was followed by the Rainbow Spirit Prayer.

Yallarwah Place

The facility utilised Aboriginal design elements in its construction. It is shaped in the form of an Eagle-Hawk astride a flying boomerang. At this point in the Ceremony the guests form a symbolic Rainbow Serpent/Hunter River. The Bishops, Uncle Bob Smith and Uncle Bill Smith are guided to the River where they enter the symbolic canoe.

Rowing Down the River

Dancers en route to the Circle of Reflection

The Dancers create a symbolic canoe and row down the River with the crowd following behind. They chant the Bellingen Boat Song (composed by Lennie de Silva). The Yallarwah Bicentenary Walk was blessed and smoked.

Warriors around the Circle

The canoe is challenged by two didgeridoo players who guard the Rainbow Serpent’s Head / Newcastle Harbour. The canoe stops and the Bishops, Uncle Bill Smith and Uncle Bob Smith enter the Yallarwah Circle of Reflection. Uncle Bill Smith smokes the bronze book and the Circle while the Bishops distribute the blessed water. Uncle Bob Smith distributes the tribal soils within the circle as a symbol that all peoples are welcome at this place of healing. The guests were then allowed into the Circle.

The Bronze Book

Within the clearing there  is a circle of six large stones, reminiscent of the Awabakal’s stone circle arrangements observed by the Reverend Lancelot Threlkeld in 1825-1826. In the centre of the stones there is a seventh stone with a bronze book. The right-hand page reads: ‘Yallarwah Circle of Reflection. In memory of the Aboriginal people, European settlers and convicts who lived and died in our shared Hunter History 1797-1997’. The left-hand page reads: “‘On enquiry of my black tutor, M’Gill, he informed me that the tradition was, that the Eagle-Hawks brought these stones and placed them together…’ Reverend Lancelot Threlkeld 1825-1826. Novocastrian Tales”.

Framed portraits of Biraban and ThrelkeldThe framed portraits of Biraban (or M’Gill) and The Rev. Lancelot Threlkeld

The Kookaburra Mosaic

The Coming of the Tribes

The coming together of the tribes.

Carol Abela and Phillip Towney

Carol Abela, Chairperson of Hunter Area Health, and Phillip Towney, Aboriginal Liaison Officer, John Hunter Hospital and Manager of Yallarwah Place spoke of the design of the building and its connective attributes to the four elements.

Howard Frith and Paul F Walsh

Howard Firth, Managing Director of the Newcastle Permanent Building Society, talked of his first meeting with Paul, and how it resembled a wonderful plot to a great tale. He spoke of how his head was saying “No! No! No!” while his heart was saying “Yes! Yes! Yes!” Paul spoke of his inspirational relationship with his wife and paid tribute to his wife’s mother and former business partner. He thanked everyone involved with the project, named and unnamed.

The Epilogue from Novocastrian Tales

Words by Paul F Walsh
Narrated by Paul F Walsh and Ray Kelly

Two hundred years
Fifty thousand years!
Two hundred years
Fifty thousand tears
Our river flows
Our river knows
Heart of our nation

At this point I beheld the spirits of both Threlkeld and Biraban.

Gionni Di Gravio 20th February, 1999


Programme – Yallarwah Place 1797-1997, by Paul F Harvey and Susan Harvey, Newcastle, Elephant Press, 1999.

An Australian Language as spoken by the Awabakal The People of Awaba or Lake Macquarie (Near Newcastle, New South Wales) being an Account of Their Language, Traditions, and Customs: by L.E. Threlkeld. Rearranged, condensed, and edited, with an Appendix, by John Fraser, B.A., LL.D., Sydney, 1892.

Australian Reminiscences & Papers of L.E.Threlkeld, Missionary to the Aborigines, 1824-1859. 2 vols, ed. Niel Gunson, Canberra, 1974.

2 thoughts on “Reconciliation and NAIDOC Weeks 2011

  1. Pingback: Archives Outside » NAIDOC Week 2011

  2. Pingback: Novocastrian Tales Yallowah Place - Hunter Living Histories

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