• Thomas Cameron, from the Littlewell Working Group. (NITV)Source: NITV
The Littlewell Working Group are a powerful group of people dedicated to preserving the country where their history, language and heritage is profoundly embedded.
Emily Nicol, Julie Nimmo

9 Jul 2019 - 6:42 PM  UPDATED 9 Jul 2019 - 6:43 PM

Many families have lived, laughed and cried at the Littlewell Aboriginal Reserve, on the outskirts of Mingenew, 400km north of Perth. For those who have connections to this country, it is alive with ancestors, spirits and meaning.

Established in 1898, the reserve ceased operating in 1972; the families moved away, but always remained tied to the country they knew as home. So when word travelled in 2010 that there was serious interest in an industrial development of the former reserve, a staunch group of Elders kicked into gear, saving and restoring this special place for generations to come. 

Spokesperson for the group, Wattandee Elder Thomas Cameron says, "I worked as a gravedigger, in cement works, and in shearing, but I never forgot my spirit, to preserve our culture into the future for our young people. That's what this place is all about."

Today it is a place of history, language, heritage and belonging, all due to the tireless work of 30 elders and former residents who invested their own money, resources and time to fight the development and preserve the site. 

"We need people to sing the songline. If we don't preserve Country, our language [will] get lost, our heritage, our tribe, our place of belonging. It brings sadness to come back, but it also bring happiness to come back, to look at the hills and know our people are watching over us," Mr Cameron said.

On 15 March this year, the site was officially opened as a cultural reserve and heritage precinct featuring an audio tour documenting the history of the site, it's geological features and local language, curated for the benefit of future generations, tourists and locals. 

For those associated with the institution, the place gives its former residents a strong sense of connection to Country, ancestral lineage and lore.

Named after the only 'little well' where the community drew their water, Littlewell Reserve was established to house —in very poor conditions— the many Aboriginal men that were working on local farms along with their families. It was a hard existence as residents recall, with houses built from scrap iron, wire and bush posts, they had one tap.

Despite the challenges a strong community bonded together according to Mr Cameron.

"We lived through hardship, the stolen generation. We lived through the black and white bars in the pubs, we lived through not being [allowed] in town after dark, we lived through cadging or bartering for tea, sugar and flour from our neighbours, and we were a close knit family," 

With the site title officially held by the Mingenew Shire, developing and maintaining strong working relationships with the council was crucial to the vision that the group held. As well as the oral history, a heritage trail walk commemorates the 'lives and stories of Littlewell mob, past and present'.

"These stories are everything," says Kathy Jacobs from the Working Group. "They are important for our grannies; for us to be able to say this is where we came from; this is who we are."

The group knew it was important to sustain the land as a place of healing as many former residents had been removed forcibly under the “Welfare Act” as children and placed in New Norcia, Moore River Mission and Tardun Mission.

When asked by NITV, what the motivation behind all the work is, Mr Cameron explained what drives him.

"Recently my younger sister passed away and to hear her children, my nieces and nephew, say to me, 'Gungoo (Uncle), can you tell and show us where we belong?' To hear such strong powerful words is what my fight is about. This is what Littlewell is about."


Watch the acceptance speech by Thomas Cameron, on behalf of the Littlewell Working Group: 


The SBS network is celebrating Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture and recognising the achievements of our First Peoples throughout National NAIDOC Week (7-14 July).

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