A life at Cummeragunja Aboriginal Reserve

By Ashlea Witoslawski

Colin Walker entered the world at Cummeragunja Aboriginal Reserve 84 years ago, delivered by the ‘‘beautiful, soft, black hands’’ of his grandmother at the football ground.

Uncle Col was four years old when the walk-off happened.

He said the stories were an important part of history for all families.

‘‘The walk-off for us is like telling a story of the bunyip or the serpent,’’ he said.

‘‘We tell our young ones about the great men and women and how they fought for justice for us and better living conditions.’’

Mr Walker has spent no more than three to four months away from country, only moving away to work as a shearer or to pick fruit and tomatoes in Shepparton.

‘‘I’ve never left here because I’m a traditional hunter and gatherer, I get my own food out of the forest and from the rivers here,’’ he said.

‘‘We know when the cod season is on, when we’re not to touch them, when the fish are spawning and that all comes from here, not from a university.

‘‘Our elders passed it all down to us and that’s what we do for our young ones when we go fishing.

‘‘Our river is our provider and it was also our protector.

‘‘When we’d be running home from school we’d follow it, and if the welfare came to grab you, you’d just jump into the river and swim over into Victoria.’’

When heading into nearby towns to find work, he said you could always depend on those who had left Cummeragunja and settled at Daish’s Paddock or The Flats in Mooroopna.

‘‘They were more or less our power point,’’ he said.

‘‘When we’d be leaving here our elders would say, ‘when you get over there go to Uncle and Aunty’.

‘‘They would know us as the boys from Cummera and they would help us look for some work.’’

Mr Walker’s family stayed on country, and from the age of seven he lived with his grandparents Herbert and Florence Walker after his mother died.

‘‘I remember pushing my billy cart up to the manager’s quarters for rations with my brothers,’’ he said.

He also remembers welfare coming by the house and being quickly moved on by his grandmother.

‘‘My grandmother put the hose on them and chased them out of the yard,’’ he said.

‘‘They were strong people, our elders.’’

When Mr Walker was expelled from school, he said the elders kept him on the straight and narrow.

‘‘They were my teachers and our law men,’’ he said.

It is through them he developed a respect and interest in the justice system that inspired his involvement with the Koorie Court.

He said one of highlights of this work was connecting young people with their history and culture.

‘‘The first thing I’d ask was, ‘what’s your name’ and ask ‘what is your mother’s maiden name?’’’ he said.

‘‘It gives them a bit of spirit.’’

Mr Walker said his experience with in the court had been ‘‘an eye-opener’’ and further emphasised his belief in the importance of connection.

He said seeing young people succeed was an honour for him.

‘‘Whenever I see our young women driving a car, I’m so proud because they are sitting up proud,’’ he said.

‘‘I go home and I’m so proud because they earned that.’’

With no intentions of leaving Cummeragunja, Mr Walker lives on country with his wife of almost 63 years, Faye, and is proud to have four generations of family beyond him.

Mr Walker said although many did not return to country after the walk-off, they made their way back at the end of their lives.

‘‘They never forgot where they came from. Never,’’ he said.

‘‘A lot of them are buried back here on their country, their land.

‘‘And I’ve always said that the seven-by-six — they can not take that away from them, they own that land. No dispute.’’