On the banks of the Derbarl Yerrigan

23 Jul 2020

Photo: Sitting by the river gives Wadjak community leader Dena Gower a place to remember her people’s past.

Wadjak community leader, Dena Gower, walks down to the banks of the Derbarl Yerrigan in Western Australia. Now commonly known as the Swan River, this is the land where her ancestors lived.

“I always go down there,” Dena says. “I just go and sit at the river, I just go down there, and sort of close my eyes, and think ‘I wonder what it was like when my mob was here’. Their spirits were happy and free. It would have just been noise of the language and the people.”

When the first fleet arrived in Australia 232 years ago, it marked the beginning of English colonialism in the country. Dena says, “The first time they came to the Aboriginal country, they came with firearms, and they started firing within 15 minutes. That’s a criminal act. The second time they come they took possession, and it’s all in history.” Dena says, “It wasn’t being respectful to the Aboriginal people. They came here by force and took this land. It’s something that’s affected the Aboriginal people for a long time.”

It’s important to acknowledge this past, and to acknowledge that Aboriginal people are the traditional owners of the land we live on. Dena says, “The Aboriginal people are the humblest people, I feel, in the world, who are trying to reconcile for their country.” It is important for non-Indigenous people to stand with and support our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander brothers and sisters.

“When you do welcome to country, that’s very special to us,” Dena says. Because it makes you think, “Yeah, this is our land, it does belong to us.” In Noongar Country, it makes me proud that my brothers and sisters in Christ are respecting that, “Yeah this is their home, and they want to welcome us here.” And whether you don’t understand it or what, it doesn’t matter, you must respect our Father, we have one Father, who give this land to the Aboriginal man.”

Dena walks along the banks of the Derbarl Yerrigan, into the bush that grows alongside it. She crouches down and picks up a shell midden, to show us. This artefact, made of discarded waste, gives us insight to the lives that were lived here, so many years ago.

“I think what Australia needs to learn, is that the land does so much. It feeds us, it shelters us, it gives us finances, it takes care of our children. The land gives so much back to us.” Dena explains how God gave this land to the Aboriginal people to look after, “It’s like when you come with us (saying) ‘Wow! That river’s beautiful, how did you look after it?’ Well then, we’ll tell you! ‘How did you grow those trees like that?’ Well ask us, and we’ll tell you! We’ve got our Elders out there that can tell you.”

Healing will come from realising how skilled the Indigenous people are, “Until our Aboriginal men can put their hands back into their own land…and the Aboriginal women to do their part that God gave them to…there can be no healing.” Like a family separation requires support to rebuild, Dena says, “Back to the way it should be, in this country, that’s what’s needed.” Dena has one more thing to ask of us, as brothers and sisters in Australia. “Allow our Aboriginal kids, all over Australia, to be able to grow up feeling proud of who they are, who God has made them – God has made us Aboriginal people.”

Indigenous Ministries Australia (IMA) encourages all Australians to commit to listen to, and amplify the voices of, Indigenous Australians and Aboriginal Christians. Please, continue to pray without ceasing for racial justice and healing; only possible through acts of truth-telling, listening, confession, hospitality and solidarity.

You can read the full interview with Dena on the GMP website gmp.org.au/news/Dena-Gower or watch the video https://youtu.be/TuvtgUVx9hE

Dena and Garry Gower run Perth-based Ngaama Ministries. Ngaama seeks to provide training and discipleship to raise up a new generation of young Indigenous leaders. For more information go to Ngaama’s Facebook page.

NAIDOC Week 8-15 November

In the interests of, and safety for, local communities, the National NAIDOC Committee has postponed celebrations for NAIDOC Week until 8-15 November 2020. NAIDOC Week is a great opportunity to participate in a range of activities and to support your local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. More information can be found online at www.naidoc.org.au/about/naidoc-week

Read another story of Fresh Hope HERE.