Growing together at Gangagruwan

The following extract was authored by Selena Hanet-Hutchins and originally published by The Kangaroo Valley Voice, 1st April 2024.

Between Covid-19 lockdowns, fire, flood, landslips, and broken or closed roads, no one would pick Upper Kangaroo River as the place for big things to have grown over the last few years, but at Winderong Farm they have: Dharawal culture is celebrated in Gangagruwan (Kangaroo Valley) in new ways, linking us to our first custodians the Wodi Wodi, and to a beautiful future of unity, reciprocity, and reconciliation.

At a recent dance workshop I attended (excitedly), before corroboree, one wet Saturday, at the invitation of Winderong Farm and Gadhungal Marring, Bob McLeod-Sampson is giving us a warm welcome. He gathers our mixed-ages group into a circle, gently teasing us till we get it, and so we relax. The teenage helpers stand tall, preparing, and the few younger kids squirm. Then we settle and Bob introduces himself, starting with his ancestors and teaching us the word witdhow (pron. ‘witt-ow’: hello) and the meaning of the name Gadhungal Marring. Gadhu is the ocean; gal is a possessive meaning ‘belonging to’; marring is the people. “So we’re the people belonging to the ocean, or saltwater people, and actually pretty much the whole East Coast, and you guys living here.”

I’ve heard this phrase before, at other ceremony events and from another member of the group, Benett Lloyd-Bolt, whom I interviewed over the phone. The translation is very clear, graspable, but it’s the invitation to take on that sense of belonging to country and culture that always strikes me hardest because of its profound generosity. In the last couple of years, it seems to me, Kangaroo Valley has taken up this invitation and run with it, incorporating a local Indigenous presence in events from the Folk Festival and the Kangaroo Valley Show to the Festival of Canoe and Kayak (FoCK), which last year launched a traditional canoe handmade by some of the Gadhungal Marring mob at Winderong. Our Reconciliation Allies (RAKV) group is working with them too, as are bush and landcare groups, and the primary school.

As Benett explained during our call, the Winderong relationship goes back to Covid-19 lockdowns. Richard and JJ, of Winderong Farm, had met Raymond Timbery from Gadhungal Marring at a cultural immersion workshop. When lockdowns hit, and Gadhungal Marring’s cultural education income from school visits and community events disappeared, Winderong Farm offered the members work and purpose. The family-cum-community-cum-business and mentoring entity came to work alongside staff and live-in interns on Winderong’s regenerative farming property, on the crops and in bush care and native-restoration projects. During one of these projects, someone looked around at the creek, the flatter ground cradled at the foot of a eucalypt stand, and said “This would make a good corroboree ground.” So they did make it, scraping and flattening the circle of earth with hand tools. “See how it’s lower than the grass around it?” Bob asks me later, after we’ve danced and been through the smoke there. “We dug it down a bit so it would feel like it’s old.”

I’d been hoping the workshop would be at the corroboree ground but we do our best on floorboards and, with the doors of the hall open to the Sharmans’ paddocks and the creek across the road, nature is present. There is even a moment where my doorway view of a lamb suckling from its mother coincides with Bob talking about the importance of nurturing our mother, the earth, just as she nurtures us.

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