Last week, Esmai and Hannah from MacKillop’s Aboriginal Service Development Team travelled to Coonabarabran near the Wurrumbungle Mountain Range in the Central Western New South Wales: Land of the Gamilaraay, Wiradjuri, Wayilwan people.
The visit was a consultation in preparation for MacKillop's second Innovate Reconciliation Action Plan and a chance to reconnect with staff in rural NSW post Covid 19 travel restrictions.
Michelle Brady, Youth Case Worker in Coonabarabran, and longtime MacKillop staff member invited Esmai Manahan, National Leader Aboriginal Service Development and her team, up for the visit. District Manager Brianna Dennis travelled from Dubbo to join them.
Esmai, Hannah, and Brianna joined a whole community school holiday event at the Coonabarabran community Yarning Circle. Local Gamilaraay Elder Maureen Saulter gave a Welcome to Country. The team met many local people including Michelle’s son Codi who sits on the local council and helped organise the event. Codi also helped build the beautiful Yarning Circle by the Castlereagh River. The Yarning Circle was built with funding from the Suicide Prevention Network in the area and it is a place for young people to meet, light a fire, and yarn in a culturally safe way, close to town.
There was a painting station, basket weaving, drumming circle, music, kids dancing and a firepit. Dinner was provided, and the children and young people ended the night cooking marshmallows in the fire.
Many of the young people Michelle works with are Aboriginal, and Michelle has strong connections with Aboriginal families and community members to help support this work. It was clear from the visit, that listening to community voices and building relationships (along with her big heart) is central to Michelle’s success and to her contribution to her community in general.
Esmai, Hannah, Michelle and Brianna were privileged to spend the morning with Maureen Saulter and fellow Elder Margie Robinson at Burra Bee Dee Aboriginal Mission just outside of town.
Maureen told stories about the Mission and its history, and the history of significant people and places in the area. MacKillop staff listened deeply to Maureen, who at 82, holds the memories and lessons of history that impacts our work in community today. Maureen and Margie spoke of the importance of Aboriginal languages and talking about Aboriginal people, places, and culture, and passing that down to younger generations, through family, but also in community, and at school.
The trip filled Esmai and her Team with admiration for the community of Coonabarabran. Special thanks to Michelle for her incredible hospitality, and to the Elders who gave their time to us for truth telling and for sharing stories. The time in Coonabarbran will help shape MacKillop's second Innovate Reconciliation Action Plan.