Garma: one year on

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Tess McEvoy is a solicitor at DLA Piper Australia. Last year she represented DLA Piper at the Garma Festival through Reconciliation Australia’s annual women’s program. She reflects on her Garma experience and the action it has inspired her to take in the year following her trip.

Garma provides a unique combination of education, entertainment and cultural interaction, exchange and immersion. The 2013 Garma Festival was particularly significant as it coincided with the 50th anniversary of the Yirrkala Bark Petition.

I attended sessions on a wide range of Indigenous issues presented by elders, academics and politicians. As I principally work in native title and Aboriginal heritage, I found the discussions on native title and the opportunity to hear different perspectives on the benefits, as well as the limitations, of the current native title system particularly insightful.

A central issue throughout Garma was the importance of consultation. Priority was given to communicating with elders and the Aboriginal community in connection with all Indigenous issues, in particular when determining future priorities. I consider consultation is integral to the success of an initiative and I am often surprised at the apparent lack of consultation that takes place. The visit to the Yirrkala School, one of three bilingual schools in Australia teaching in English and Yolgnu Matha, showed me first-hand the benefit of community consultation and involvement.

The focus on criminal justice and community involvement was evidenced by the attendance of a group of inmates from Darwin prison at Garma. It appeared, from the interactions of the inmates with others attending Garma (including taking part in the Bunggul and the Recognise Campaign walk), that these men both saw themselves and were seen as an integral part of the community.

The cultural activities at Garma were centred on teaching Yolgnu culture. I was moved by the willingness of the Yolngu people to teach about, to share and to allow myself, and others, insight into their rich culture and history. Watching the Bunggul each afternoon was significant to my Garma experience. I particularly remember a co-operative dance involving two previously estranged clans. Given the respect in which the Bunggul is held this appeared to be a significant symbol of reconciliation.

Attending the festival as part of the Reconciliation Australia’s Women’s Group enhanced my experience of Garma. Djapirri Mununggirritj, a Yolgnu elder, Board Director at Reconciliation Australia and member of our women’s group, worked extremely hard to ensure that Garma was an extraordinary experience for each woman in the group. Djapirri shared her culture openly and made me feel incredibly welcome on her country.

The women’s group facilitated additional cultural activities including a crying ceremony at sunrise, a traditional Aboriginal healer and numerous fireside discussions. These discussions provided an opportunity to reflect on the sessions and cultural activities, share experiences and learn from each other. These discussions were an integral part of my Garma experience.

One of the central parts of last year’s Garma was the Recognise Campaign. Since attending Garma I have become more active in the Recognise Campaign by attending social events involved with the campaign and organising a presentation on the Recognise Campaign for DLA staff.

Attending Garma has also encouraged me to become more involved in firm-wide Indigenous initiatives, including in DLA Piper’s Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP), taking part in the “All About Me” program as (a component of our RAP) and discussions aimed at increasing understanding of Indigenous issues and support for the advancement of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the Perth office. I have also been pivotal in engaging Koya Aboriginal Corporation as a pro bono client. Koya is dedicated to the provision of direct relief from poverty, sickness, suffering, destitution and helplessness to all Aboriginal people. In collaboration with Koya we are currently organising a cultural awareness day for DLA Piper staff and an event to assist to raise awareness of Koya.

Learn more about Garma, the Recognise Campaign and Koya or download the DLA Piper RAP.

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