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Connecting to Country: Fresh Hope Communities’ learning day with the Wonnarua People

13 Dec, 2023

On Wednesday, 29 November 2023, a group of Fresh Hope Communities staff took part in an awareness event in appreciation and respect for the traditional owners of the land, the Wonnarua people, at the new Green Hills Residential Care Service. The event took place to deepen our connection to the land in preparation for the opening of the facility and the ongoing connection we will have to the area. To this end, Muru Mittigar was engaged to help us pass on Indigenous culture and stories to residents and their families on the symbolism at the Green Hills site with the intention of creating conversation. 

Muru Mittigar is a not-for-profit social enterprise which seeks to advance the aboriginal culture to improve the economic and social capacity of Aboriginal people and empower meaningful participation to enhance their role as traditional Custodians of Country. Muru Mittigar was engaged in our ‘Connect with the Country’ planning component of the property development cycle to capture and include local Wonnarua Indigenous design principles.  

Our visit began at Minimbah Teaching Place, where the elders welcomed us to the land and shared local Indigenous history. Here we participated in a traditional smoking ceremony with native leaves, to cleanse our minds and ward off bad spirits.  

We learnt about the significance of water not only being used for drinking, fishing, washing and healing, but that time spent on rivers and billabongs were also places for knowledge, cultural transfer and family time. The elders recited the Tiddalick dreamtime story, where there mischievous and greedy frog drunk all the water from the creeks and several native animals all tried to make Tiddalick laugh to return the water without success. The Kookaburra’s infectious laugh made Tiddalick laugh causing the water to gush out of his mouth, refilling the waterways again.  

We heard that even in tree restoration, the distance they are planted from one another affects sediment and the waterways, learning that Indigenous customs and insight return vitality to an area. 

Baiame Cave is a heritage-listed cave and cultural site of the Wonnarua people at Milbrodale. They believe that in dreamtime, the great spirit Baiame created the Hunter Valley. Everything was sleeping until the spirit awoke and created everything—mountains, plains, rivers and all living creatures.  

Our First Nations people are spiritual people and express this in various ways. The Uncles encouraged us to meditate on more than what we see and consider how we live.  

Taking time to be in nature and connect to country helps us feel grounded and in turn connect to our surroundings and to one another. One of the elders, Uncle Pete shared, “My connection to Country is sacred. I give back by caring for it and connect with country through ceremonies—song, dance and storytelling.”

An example of their invaluable input into the new Green Hills development is the eel/serpent shaped pathways and the yarning circle incorporated into the design. Yarning is a way of sharing knowledge; these unstructured and open conversations strengthen relationships through sharing and listening. Men and women gather separately or together to share stories, culture, and learnings. We were encouraged that through a listening ear, we connect and support each other through hard times. The yarning circle will be a space to sit, listen, hear and remember. 

These spaces to sit and connect with others extends to the café in a communal area designed to encourage residents to gather and socialise, as well as a modern kitchen and dining area where residents can also get together with family and friends to cook favourite meals. 

As we had lunch together, the Muru Mittigar elders shared stories about the stolen generation, hidden generation and the lost generation. Uncle Wayne shared about building trust and the honour of hearing one another’s story. Uncle Les shared that perhaps our future Indigenous residents may go through periods of remembering trauma, and how we can be trusted people in hearing their story and reflecting with them.  
We were reminded of the importance of showing up for each other, through the importance of listening, observing, reflecting and exploring. It takes time and a commitment to each other to do this. As our Indigenous Uncles shared, we all have something to learn from each other, whether it’s Layla’s curry recipe or flora and fauna from our Maintenance Team. It’s knowledge sharing that helps us reconnect to our roots. It’s a journey we are all on together. As we continue to listen and learn from each other, we can better care for and support each other as a team, and in turn, care and support our future residents.