Diane Kerr, 2013.
Image: James Henry
Source: Museum Victoria
I am a Wurundjeri Elder and I identify with the Ganun Willam Balak clan. I was born in Carlton. 12 months out of my life I lived in Canberra. But the rest of my life I’ve lived on Country. Growing up, I always associated with Maroondah Dam. My family and I visit there a lot. I still remember what it was like before now and how the water was flowing, the creeks were flowing, beautiful countryside you could walk though. That’s still my favourite place in my heart and I love going there.
Working on Country makes me feel connected to my mother and grandmother. My welcome is always done in their honour. That’s why I wear my possum skin, because that’s my mother’s name - Walert, possum.
Last time I was with the Jindi Worabak dancers, they did a dance after I did the welcome and I stayed on stage with them. It was an emotional day and I was really teary. When we went downstairs to the dressing room I said, can you all gather around, I need to speak to you. I said how proud I was of them. I said, do you realise, when you’re dancing, what you’re doing on this Country is what our family was doing thousands of years ago. I’m always talking to kids or grandkids when I’m driving or going on Country, I’ll say there’s your river, or did you realise this about Uncle William Cooper and Great Uncle William Barak.
I’m just glad to be who I am. I’m a mum, I’m a stepmum, I’m a foster mum, I’m an aunty, I’m a grandmother. It feels a bit old being a great-great-aunty but I am. Being the head person in your family is very privileged. I have three of my own. A foster son and a cultural daughter makes five. Whoever needs to come stay with me, comes to stay with me, it just depends, because I’m an Elder in the Wurundjeri community as well as the Dandenong community. I’m the matriarch of the family so my responsibility has broadened.
At certain times in life you wonder why you are here and what it’s all about. I think with me, I have a special gift in healing so that’s my journey, because our community as a whole, not just Wurundjeri, are hurting. That’s what brings me close to my Country.
When I first was asked as a member of the Wurundjeri community to be on Yulendj, I really thought I didn’t have the knowledge. But I thought, yeah, I’ll come on and learn. It brings back memories that you haven’t remembered for a long time and I get very emotional being here, extremely emotional when I go home to family and tell them what I’ve seen and what we’ve been doing. I’m very excited and I feel very proud to be amongst some of the members of the committee who are very knowledgeable. They give the gift of their stories and I think it’s beautiful to hear all of that. I think it’s great to be acknowledged as a Traditional Owner of Melbourne by the group. Our smoking ceremonies are very special here. I look forward to coming. It brings me hope, brings me peace.
I’m hoping that people realise that yes, first peoples are still around and we still practise our laws and customs. Hoping that it will bring us some peace as well because we’ve been scattered around and had children stolen and a lot of horrible things through our history. I think having someplace where people can go to see a snippet of that history – and ourselves, even bring in our children and grandchildren – will help us heal.
Since we’ve been on this group, I’ve noticed that the attendance from the Koorie community has increased. You never went to the museum unless you wanted something – to look in the historical record or you needed some advice – we didn’t come in here, a lot of us, to just look. I think when the Koorie community come in and see how represented they are, and every mob’s being represented, it’s going to be awesome.