NAIDOC Week 2020

Castlemaine Health’s Aboriginal Liaison Officer Melinda Harper interviews Aunty Kerri Douglas for NAIDOC Week 2020

Artwork by Kerri Douglas

Artwork image by Kerri Douglas

Aunty Kerri Douglas is an Aboriginal woman, Elder, and a Traditional Owner identifying as Dja Dja Wurrung and Bangerang descent. Aunty Kerri has been a teacher and currently works for the Education Department, as a KESO worker (Koorie Engagement Support Officer). She is on the board of the Dja Dja Wurrung, a member of the Local Aboriginal and Education Consultative Group (LAECG) and Central Goldfields NAIDOC Committee.  Aunty Kerri is also an artist exploring weaving and painting, interwinding cultural motifs with personal stories and regularly exhibits her work in Bendigo and Castlemaine.

Always Was, Always Will be, is the theme for NAIDOC Week this year. The theme recognises the First Nations people have occupied and cared for this country for over 65,000 years. It invites all Australians to embrace and acknowledge the true history of this country a history which dates back thousands of years.

MH – What does the theme for NAIDOC mean to you personally?

KD – The theme being Always Was, Always Will Be shows that whilst past Governments have put many policies in place to remove Aboriginal people from Country, to try to remove Aboriginal history from Australia, to try to wipe out our people, that we are still here – thriving and striving.  Our connection to this country is strong and no matter where you are in Australia this country has always belonged and will always belong to Aboriginal people.

MH – Can you describe the importance of country to Aboriginal people?

KD – It is more than where we live.  It is about a synergistic relationship. We care for the land and the land cares for us.  It is a spirituality and connection that is hard to explain.  It surpasses our physical presence.  It’s our Past, Present and Future.

MH – I often hear the term Upside Down Country to describe this area. I am interested in asking you where this term comes from and what does it mean?

KD – Upside Down country means that everything that was beautiful about our country was turned upside down in the pursuit of gold.  Gold had no value to Aboriginal people due to it being a soft metal.  Much of the Country that we had cared for, was overturned to get the gold under the surface.  Also, with the import of certain animals the hooves compacted the earth.  When we walk in the bush, we see the effects that this has had – mullock heaps, loss of murnong growing, many of our plants for food, medicine and fibre no longer available or growing freely.  Some of our plant species are still under the ground but have not had the cultural care to germinate.  Studies have shown that since colonization about 150 species of plants are no longer around.

MH –  I do want to ask you about your role as a KESO worker, as many people don’t know about these important positions that are throughout schools in Victoria. What is the role? And do you see improvements in outcomes for Aboriginal families and young people?

KD – Koorie Engagement Support Officer or KESO for short are Aboriginal people employed through the Department of Education and Training to support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island children to achieve better outcomes and for schools and Early Years services to embed Aboriginal perspectives in the curriculum. There have been some great achievements over the years since KESO’s have been employed.  Some of these are:

  • more than double the number of Aboriginal children completing Year 12 and continuing onto University.
  • more children enrolled in Kindergarten to start their education journey.
  • better results in NAPLAN testing.

MH – I noticed the new history board in Campbells Creek park, which you advised on with the Campbells Creek History and Heritage Group. It is beautifully illustrated also with your art work. The inclusion of Aboriginal history, photographs and information in public places are visual signs that are extremely important to our towns and cities.  They are not only an acknowledgement of the presence of Aboriginal people and culture but importantly that Aboriginal culture is a living culture. What was it like for you personally growing up in this area? And now being asked to work on these projects, that are significant to changing the community’s perceptions of history ? 

KD – As a child growing up the racism I faced was horrible.  I still cop it at times, but with growing up comes ways of dealing with it.  It still hurts but you learn to cope.  I didn’t grow up in Mount Alexander but not far away.  We moved to the area around 25 years ago.  When we moved to the area there was a sense of coming home. It is hard to explain but it was like I belonged!

I was extremely honoured when I was asked to share some of my and my family’s connections to Campbells Creek for the history board.  I am so happy to see the outcome.  My family used to have a market garden in the area taking the produce to Bendigo for selling. Whilst I wasn’t born here I have raised my family here and it is Home!

History is interesting as it is usually written from a dominant point of view, normally an English perspective.  So to be able to share some of my history was a great chance to show that there are still Aboriginal people in the area and that they are still connected to Country, even if I don’t fit the stereotype of what people think Aboriginal people should be.  It’s about recognising the past, admitting the wrongs, and to move forward together in Reconciliation.

MH – Where is your favorite place to walk on this country that you are willing to share with us?

KD – I live in Campbells Creek right on the edge of the bush.  At times I just wander, following Kangaroo tracks and not a specific path.  I don’t literally get lost but feels like I do.  I just stop and listen, sometimes speaking to the ancestors, especially at tough times.  It is amazing what I find up there!  I do go and visit the mountains in the area sometimes but tend to stick to my own backyard.  I have Bunjil (Wedge-Tail Eagle, Creator) who flies over my house regularly.  I usually see him or her when I have questions to be answered, to guide me in the right direction or to settle me when I am scattered in thoughts or emotions.  I don’t know if I’d be the same if anywhere else.

Learn more about NAIDOC Week.