• Wiradjuri man Joe Williams dancing at #YarriJackyJackyCorroboree22 (Darkeye Photography)Source: Darkeye Photography
Anyone who was in attendance would agree, that the spirit of the Wiradjuri heroes, and our many ancestors, were with us, writes Joe Williams.
Joe Williams

6 Jul 2022 - 5:22 PM  UPDATED 6 Jul 2022 - 5:22 PM

A Wiradjuri man came up to me after the ceremony.

"Brother I’ve never seen, experienced or danced in anything like this in my entire life," he said.

"I’m a 51-year-old man, and have never been able to practice what has always been a part of who we are for thousands of years."

This was a man who felt incredibly proud to dance, to feel the immense healing aspects of connectedness and belonging with community for the first time in his life.

It was a special story that followed a very special moment.

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The road to Gundagai

On June 24, I was traveling to Gundagai and listening to the award-winning book Bila Yarrudhanggalangdhuray, written by a relative of mine, cousin Anita Heiss.

Anita and my family, come from the same tiny community of Brungle, at the base of the snowy mountains. 

The book opens by describing the true events of the 1852 Gundagai floods.

I felt like I was there.

It was eerie. On this same date, 170 years ago, I was at the location the first few droplets of rain began to fall - marking what we know now as an incredible moment in time.

A time that saw two courageous men, Yarri and Jacky Jacky - spend three days paddling around the community in bark canoes saving people's lives, one by one. 

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As I was driving and listening, it was surreal to think that the town was on the verge of one of the most devastating floods Australia had seen, and it would’ve been a lot worse had these legendary men not been around to do what they did - saving some three-quarters of the town's population.

Now, as a few drops of rain hit my windscreen; we weren’t preparing to salvage all we have from the floods.

Instead, many of us were travelling to the town to dance and stomp Mother Earth, in respect and in thanks for their amazing heroics.

The beginnings of a gathering

Elders from the Gundagai Aboriginal Community had reached out to me a few months prior to ask if it were possible to hold a Corroboree.

A Corroboree is a gathering of people from across nations and clans coming together to share dance and stories. 

I thought we could bring something like what we did in Wagga Wagga in 2019 to the town. 

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On that evening, three years earlier, Elders witnessed the incredible strength and healing of coming together, 'the old ways' and what it could do for the community.

Sharing through dance and culture is something that is so special, but is often an experience that many communities miss out on due to the ongoing impacts of colonisation.  

Many Elders have never had the opportunity to learn, practice or participate in these types of gatherings due to the generational challenges that followed the invasion.

Culture on Country

On Saturday night the 25th on Wiradjuri Country, we held something powerful.

The Yarri Jacky Jacky Corroboree 2022 gave me the opportunity to not only dance with my three boys, but for my younger boys to dance with their big brother - who is based in the city.

We danced together, back on Country - in an area where the ancestors of the Williams family originated from.

It was one of the proudest moments in all of my life.

There were many local Elders who came up to me after the evening, some crying with immense pride.

Not only because it was the first time they witnessed such an evening, but they got to watch their nephews, nieces, and grandkids partake in the cultural activities that they were forbidden to do.

On-Ground Healing

We often say culture is healing but don't understand what part of it is healing.

It’s coming together, showing love and unity. It's physical activity and movement of dance, the sense of belonging and purpose.

The practice of dance, language and song, which was all stolen from us, are about stories of creation, stories of how things came to be. Stories that have deeply embedded values that impact our behaviours, such as respect, care and looking after each other.

This was, for the generations before us, ripped from their grasp. Whilst those Old People weren’t allowed to practice culture, that isn't the case anymore.

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It’s up to us, the generations that are the living survivors of genocide; to restore what was once a fractured link in the chain. Not only as a responsibility to our younger generations but as an obligation, to those Old People who fought before us.

Our aim on this night was to honour and show respect and appreciation to those special old men.

Anyone who was in attendance on would agree, that the spirit of the Wiradjuri heroes, Yarri and Jacky Jacky, and our many ancestors, were with us.

170 years since they helped heal Gundagai in its time of need.

Joe Williams is a Wiradjuri man, a former professional Rugby League player and boxer, and now delivers workshops focusing on suicide prevention and wellbeing education called The Enemy Within.

Do you know what Aboriginal land you're on today?
Australia is built on Aboriginal land and this continent is made up of many First Nations groups.