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Paying our respects

A reflection on the bushfires and their impact.

Yuin Country, at Jerrawangala Lookout which overlooks the local Aboriginal Women’s Dreaming. Photo supplied.

My name is Jenny Brown, Wandi Wandian woman with strong connections across Yuin Country, NSW South Coast. 

I live now on the lands of the Awabakal and Worimi peoples, and I pay my respects to their Elders, past, present and future. 

I also pay my respects to the Traditional Owners of all the countries that burned during the bushfires, including my own, and recognise ongoing cultural connections and stewardship. 

Traditional custodians have occupied and cared for this land for over 60,000 years and have so much to contribute to fire and disaster management. 

But during the bushfires, in many cases, we were shut out and our traditional cultural practice ignored. Many of my people did not feel safe to go to evacuation centres. We were not supported in the same way others were. But what emerged was strength and resilience as our communities supported each other. 

I witnessed firsthand the damage caused to lives and property. It was devastating and incomprehensible. I listened to my people talk of how ferocious and scary the fires were. But it’s not just what people said that was frightening. It’s what we didn’t hear; not a sound from nature. No birds, no wildlife. 

I couldn’t begin to understand the impact on our sacred sites, songlines, our totems, artefacts, bush foods and medicines. Our totems protect us, and we must protect them; when they or sacred sites are destroyed, it tears our soul and severs our spirit. 

I wondered about the harm to my totem the black cockatoo. On that day I travelled to the area, a black cockatoo landed on a tree nearby and looked directly at us. To me, it was a sign of hope, spiritual connection and strength. 

Our traditional relationship and interaction to the land are integral to our health, wellbeing and culture, and it will be a long road to recovery and healing for my people.

I welcome the efforts of Australian Red Cross, my employer, to engage respectfully with First Nations communities, and to listen and learn about how to make emergency preparedness, response and recovery more inclusive and culturally safe, not just now but in future. 

Jenny Brown
Head of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Strategy
Australian Red Cross

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