First Yoorrook report details Elders pain

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Yoorrook Commission: Sue-Anne Hunter, Dr Wayne Atkinson and professors Eleanor Bourke (chair), Maggie Walter and Kevin Bell.

In its first interim report of the Yoorrook Justice Commission, Elders have highlighted the urgency of truth telling to prevent injustices being repeated across further generations.

Nearly 200 Elders across Victoria took part in the truth-telling process, mostly through yarning circles held on Country, including on the Mooroopna Flats and the site of the Cummeragunga Mission.

The interim report is brutal in its detail of the abuse, dispossession and disadvantage that is part of the Elders painful history.

Aunty Fay Carter told the Commission of Uncle Doug Nicholls riding his white horse through the mission shouting “barramandain coming”, Yorta Yorta for police or welfare.

“When this happened, the kids would be hidden, or they would swim across the river. But unfortunately, some of the kids still got taken by the welfare,” she was quoted in the report as saying.

The report, the first from an Australian truth-telling commission, details Elders’ ongoing pain and harm to Victorian First Peoples at the individual, family, community and state level.

“We have recorded their truth and their stories. This first interim report relates how important it is to act on the issues they have raised,” Yoorrook Justice Commission chair Professor Eleanor Bourke said.

“Our Elders deserve to see change in their lifetimes.”

Each of the 200 Elders pointed to the ongoing effects of discriminatory policies and racist beliefs, including those that led to the Stolen Generation; policies and beliefs that have not only affected them but continue to affect their children and grandchildren.

“Yoorrook Commissioners have seen a deep heaviness of heart and heard despair at the continuation of injustice,” Prof Bourke said.

“This is why the Yoorrook Justice Commission must offer a very different forum for truth-telling and include new ways to bring about change in a contemporary environment, primarily through treaty.”

In addition to the issues of concern raised by Elders, the first interim report, outlines the foundational work of the Yoorrook Justice Commission in establishing culturally appropriate and trauma-informed processes to ensure participant safety and wellbeing.

The interim report has identified significant issues warranting urgent and ongoing attention and a second report will make recommendations for consideration in the process of negotiating Treaty with the state.

The commission has sought a change to its power to enable another report to be delivered as part of the next phase of its work.