Warangesda Festival | Marathon Health
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Our people Aboriginal health Posted: 29 May 2023

Warangesda Festival

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples should be aware that there may be references, descriptions and events depicted in this story that may be culturally sensitive.

“My Great Grandmother and her sister were told to run and hide when the cars pull up.”

For Karen Ingram, Wiradjuri woman and Marathon Health Indigenous Project Officer, 13 July 1921 was a pivotal moment in her family history. The day that altered their lives forever – the day her Great Grandmother (aged 3) and her sister were taken from the Warangesda Mission at Darlington Point and sent to the Cootamundra Girls Home.

It’s estimated that over 100,000 Aboriginal children were taken, like Karen’s Great Grandmother – stripped of their culture, their history, their family; their past and future stolen.

102 years later Karen is visiting Warangesda with her children and mum, and a churning feeling swells in her stomach.

Karen shared a vivid dream with me before she attended the Warangesda festival. She was at Warangesda (a place she had not recalled visiting before, but her mother assures her that she had when she was small) and someone was grabbing her arm, pulling her in. While she is explaining her dream, she runs her hand down her left arm and chills run down my own.

“Maybe it was my Great Grandmother wanting me to visit – pulling me towards this place. Whatever the dream meant, it made me anxious to visit.

I didn’t know what to expect – I thought I was going to be overwhelmed with sadness,” Karen said.

Warangesda Mission, situated amongst lazy gum trees in the Murrumbidgee council, was once a ten-acre mission settlement where 42 Aboriginal residents called home. It became a township in the lonely bush with a schoolhouse, church, and cottages. Closing in 1924, Warangesda is now on private property and only two of those old dwellings remain.

“Walking amongst these significant landmarks, I could feel her. I was worried we were going to disrupt our ancestors with noise and music, but everyone was respectful, and I had a sense of healing when I visited.

There are unmarked graves there, a lot of Aboriginal people lived and died there – it is a sacred place for us.”

As Karen walked the grounds of Warangesda she pictured them near the old structures that have since been fenced off – dancing and being free before they were taken away.

The festival was held over two days with music, panels, theatre, dance, food, and workshops designed to immerse visitors in the cultural significance of Warangesda mission.

While there were lots of activities there were also moments of complete stillness. 500 attendees both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal walked the grounds slowly, carefully, and respectfully. The days were hot and the slanted tin buildings were the only landmarks left that signified the intense history that lives in the earth.

“No matter how you identify, the Warangesda festival was a cultural journey for everybody. Everyone who visited those sites went silent and really embraced the moment. Anything you felt, you could feel at these places.” She smiles, proud of how many individuals decided to show up, to learn and grow.

The weekend ended and Karen’s children had many questions – and while Karen didn’t have all the answers, she made sure that her children knew the jarring truth about their family history and where they have come from.

“I wanted them to know their Great Grandmother’s story and show them just how far we have come as a country. I wanted them to learn that we now live in a world where it’s hard to believe that our people went through that.”

The Aborigines Protection Act ended in 1969 but the threat of children being stolen went on for decades later. Even in the 1970s, Karen’s mother was receiving threats that her children would be taken. Karen distinctly remembers always having to present perfectly as a child, because if anything was out of place it would reflect badly on her mother, and she could be removed from her family.

“Our people suffered, and I wanted to raise awareness of the experiences of the Stolen Generations survivors and how it has a direct impact on subsequent generations,” Karen explains.

Ending the call with Karen, I was in awe of her strength. Each time she mentioned what her Great Grandmother went through, there were chills that bristled on my arms.

What can we learn from this?

“I just want people to take the time to listen. I want people to be culturally aware and try to learn the history of the land they are walking on. Most importantly – you don’t know when you will come across someone that is experiencing intergenerational trauma so be kind and open.”

102 years is a long time for healing – but unfortunately for Karen, like so many others, she still feels the social, emotional, and spiritual impacts the Stolen Generation has had on her family – decades later. A staggering 33 per cent of adult Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are descendants of Stolen Generations survivors – Karen included.

“I had a positive experience at Warangesda because it was where my Great Grandmother was free, but I will never visit the Cootamundra Girls Home – I’m not ready for that,” Karen said.

Karen has been newly appointed in the Marathon Health Cultural Safety Framework Committee as a First Nations Representative. She will use her voice to help Marathon Health continue to build and strengthen our community relationships, and to improve the health, social and economic outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

Page last updated: 17 November 2023

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