A piece of history - GEGAC's 35th anniversary
Guest reporter Jemima Balhas visted the Gippsland East Aboriginal Co-operative for its 35th anniversary celebrations.
On Wednesday 26 and Thursday 27 May 2010, Gippsland and East Gippsland Aboriginal Co-Operative (GEGAC) celebrated its 35th anniversary. It was a time to celebrate the past, the present and the future.
A piece of history
GEGAC was originally established in 1975 to support and develop the aboriginal medical service and also as an aboriginal culture centre.
GEGAC was established when the local Indigenous men and women decided that the East Gippsland region needed services specific to the Aboriginal people to fill the void and address the lack of understanding about Indigenous issues.
A group of 20 women came together, led by Aunty Nessy Skuta, to form a committee that gradually began to change into an aboriginal service provider.
They marched from Lake Tyers to Bairnsdale to protest conditions and treatment of the local Aboriginal people. From those small and humble beginnings, GEGAC has now become the biggest provider of Aboriginal Services east of Melbourne.
As a tribute, the names of those brave women who marched were honoured by placing their names on a special honour board. They were given individual plaques as well.
Like all service providers, GEGAC has had its dark times, but despite those dark times it has made the community grow together and has brought strength to the members of the community so that they can stand as one in the face of adversity and show what they believe in.
Some of the founding members are still with us today, and what a pleasure it must be for them to see their goals put into action.
The first service to be provided was an Aboriginal Health Service, which was established in 1972 and soon given its current name: Gippsland and East Gippsland Aboriginal Co-Operative.
GEGAC now offers several different services including:
- A medical and dental centre
- Aged care services
- Alcohol and drug service
- Night patrol
- Cultural services
- Family group home (supported accommodation for children in welfare)
- Mentoring services (supporting our community through their court appointed services
- Koori youth justice
- Women’s shelter
On Wednesday 27 May, the weather threatened to make things hard for the daytime events. It was raining, windy and cold, but the community found warmth inside the Marquee once they met up with friends and family. They all had a yarn with each other while the speeches were being organised and while people came down from all over the region to celebrate the 35 years GEGAC has been around.
There was a Welcome to Country and a little snippet of history delivered by Uncle Albert Mullett, and then speeches from Jason King (GEGAC CEO), Willow Carter (Chair of the Board of Directors) and Jeff Browning (Practice Manager of the Medical Centre).
With the speeches over, it was time for a BBQ lunch that was cooked by the Lions Club. After lunch the community had the chance to have a look around the different departments and services on offer.
A DVD about the history of GEGAC was played in the Elders Lounge so that people could learn about what has happened at GEGAC over the years.
A point that a lot of the children got a thrill out of was having a look through the Keeping Place, the GEGAC museum, which holds Aboriginal artefacts such as spear heads made out of stone, woven baskets, weapons and also artwork.
On Thursday 28 May the weather came good and it turned out to be a lovely sunny day, which was a relief for some of the GEGAC staff members because it was the family fun day.
The children all got a showbag that contained coloring in pages, a drink bottle, coloring in pencils, a hat and a ball. There were also T-shirts and hats for the community that had the GEGAC logo on them. Both young and elderly people wore them with pride.
As the day was coming to an end, it was time for the raffle. The raffle was split into two different categories, one for the children (boys' prizes and girls' prizes) and one for the adults.
The prizes for the children included a couple of fishing rods, arts and crafts, pencils and textas. The prizes for the adults included meat packs, fruit and veg packs, a surround-sound system and the prize that everyone wanted: a flatscreen television.
It was a day full of laughter and enjoyment for all of the community. It was good to see the community laughing and talking, remembering the days when GEGAC first started out as a group of Aboriginal women who wanted to improve things for future generations.
We say thank you to those 20 women who stood up for what they believed in and what they wanted.
You never know what you can do when you are passionate about making a change for yourself or for your community. At times it may feel too hard, but when I feel like that I remember what I have learned about those 20 Aboriginal Women who fought for their right to a better life.
Thinking about them, I feel inspired that I too can make changes, and I am sure anyone can make a change if they put their mind to it.
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