• Gubbi Gubbi Traditional Owners welcomed the babies to country with traditional face painting and gifts. (Katie Bennett, Embellysh Photography)Source: Katie Bennett, Embellysh Photography
For the first time in more than 80 years, 25 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander babies have been welcomed onto Gubbi Gubbi country at a ceremony in Deception Bay, north of Brisbane.
Ella Archibald-Binge

The Point
31 Jul 2018 - 3:14 PM  UPDATED 31 Jul 2018 - 3:14 PM

The babies, all born on Gubbi Gubbi country, were welcomed by Traditional Owner Christine Stuart, who painted their faces with traditional ochre. 

The newborns received gifts such as kangaroo skins and painted headbands.

Ms Stuart says the ceremony reflects the kinship system that has always existed amongst First Nations people across Australia.

"In Aboriginal terms, a child grows by partaking in the life of the extended family and community where he or she learns the importance of family (kin) and their environment," she says.

"Traditionally identity was cast within the deep cultural knowledge and extended kinship ties that lies at the heart of most Aboriginal Australians.

"Among the Aboriginal communities, overlapping circles of their extended families cared for children. From childhood, native Australian children connected with their culture through a network of family relationships learning through their kin where they come from, who belonged to them and how they should behave."

Debra Cleary, whose grandchild took part in the ceremony, says it gave her goosebumps.

"For a baby to grow up without culture is just unthinkable," she says. 

"But for these children today getting welcomed to country, it’s a building block for their future, it’s a really strong hold into culture for them."

Designed to give children a strong cultural grounding, the ceremony has been revived as part of national child health initiative First 1000 Days Australia.

It's based on the internationally acclaimed 1000 Days movement, which aims to improve child health by focussing on the critical period from pre-conception through to the child's second birthday.

In Australia, the initiative is Indigenous-led, with a strong focus on culture and identity.

For many families in Queensland's Moreton Bay region, their cultural ties have been broken through government practices such as the Stolen Generations and forced removal from country. 

First 1000 Days Regional Implementation Manager Jackie Bennett says the Welcome Baby to Country Ceremony has helped bring local Indigenous families together. 

"I think the biggest thing for our families is that they’re all looking for that cultural connection," she says. 

Local mum Candice Raymond says the ceremony provided her daughter with the perfect introduction to culture.

"Unfortunately with my family, I’ve got a lot of family members who come from the Stolen Generation," she says.

"We’re lucky enough that we know a lot about our family history, but a lot of that cultural identity has been lost in the process because of colonisation and stuff.

"So it was just beautiful to go back to our roots and be able to welcome our children traditionally into the land that they’re born on."

After struggling to learn about her culture as a child, Ms Raymond says she and her husband are now determined to give their kids a strong cultural foundation.

"Now we focus a lot more on our cultural ways of bringing up our children, and teaching them language and teaching them things that we’re learning," she says. 

"Because we’ve had so much that we’ve missed out on ourselves, when we’re learning things we’re teaching it to our children straight away so they know it as well.

"So they have a bit more of an upper hand than we had when we were growing up."

It's hoped that strong families, and strong culture, will deliver major improvements to the health and wellbeing of First Nations kids.

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