Lighting of the Wilin for Reconciliation Week 2021

Eucalypt in the Wilin Garden at the University of Melbourne Southbank Campus. Credit: Drew Echberg.
Eucalypt in the Wilin Garden at the University of Melbourne Southbank Campus. Credit: Drew Echberg.

Every year,  the Faculty of Fine Arts and Music comes together to celebrate the beginning of National Reconciliation Week by lighting the Wilin as part of a formal smoking ceremony with Boon Wurrung Elder Parbin-ata Dr Carolyn Briggs AM. This year, in the spirit of social distancing, we held the ceremony both live and online.

The Wilin Centre for Indigenous Arts and Cultural Development was founded in 2002, born out of a student protest in the late 1990s. A group of students banded together and protested that there was no Indigenous representation on campus. They lit a fire on the back lawns of the campus and camped out. The name of the Wilin Centre, the Boon Wurrung word for “fire” or “flame”, takes its name from the wilin the protesters lit that day.

We invite you to watch the virtual lighting of the wilin, with addresses from Boon Wurrung Yallukit Weelum Elder Parbin-ata Dr Carolyn Briggs AM, the Dean of the Faculty of Fine Arts and Music Marie Sierra, and Vice-Chancellor Duncan Maskell.

A transcript of the ceremony is provided below.

Professor Marie Sierra: Wominjeka. Welcome to all of you here in person or watching this online. I am Professor Marie Sierra, the Dean of the Faculty of Fine Arts and Music at the University of Melbourne.

Today, we are on Boonwurrung country in the Eastern Kulin nation, in our Faculty's Wilin Garden on the Southbank campus of the University of Melbourne. Joining me today are very important guests: Boon Wurrung Elder Parbin-ata Carolyn Briggs, Vice-Chancellor Duncan Maskell and Michael Julian from the Wilin Centre for Indigenous Arts and Cultural Development. Wominjeka to you.

Today, the 27th of May, is the anniversary of the successful 1967 referendum to include Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in the census. Today is also the first day of National Reconciliation Week, the theme of which this year is: More than a Word Reconciliation Takes Action. Our Faculty marks this occasion by coming together with a traditional custodian of the land to participate in a Welcome to Country and smoking ceremony.

We are pleased to celebrate the Wilin Centre for Indigenous Arts and Cultural Development and to mark the opening of National Reconciliation Week for the University of Melbourne here in our unique Wilin Garden. We would also like to acknowledge and celebrate our Indigenous colleagues and students in this Faculty and across the University.

The story of the Wilin Centre is one of direct action, the result of continued effort to make this Faculty culturally safe for First Nations peoples. The site of the Wilin Garden was the location of a student and staff-led protest calling for change within the University. Direct action led to the creation of the Wilin Centre which was originally built on this site. The Wilin Centre has, for almost 20 years of growth and connection, provided a rich tapestry of shared knowledge for staff and students and ensured our commitment to remaining a culturally safe place for our First Nations students.

The significant and ongoing work of Tiriki Onus, Head of our Wilin Centre for Indigenous Arts and Cultural Development, and those who founded the centre before him, has given a unique focus to our curriculum expression of Indigenous knowledges and its improvement. Our students support, education, research into an understanding of these Indigenous knowledges. Tiriki is unable to be with us today, but we would like to acknowledge and thank him for his contributions.

It is fitting that we come here today, First Nations people and non-Indigenous people, and acknowledge what has been achieved so far and what more can be achieved when we begin with shared action. The ceremony today renews our community’s commitment to reconciliation with our Indigenous colleagues, students and friends. There is much more to be done in learning about and celebrating Indigenous culture and actively creating a path towards reconciliation.

I am pleased now to introduce Vice-Chancellor of the University of Melbourne, Professor Duncan Maskell.

Vice-Chancellor Duncan Maskell: Thank you very much, Marie. It is a real honour for me to be here on Kulin Country at the Southbank campus, and it's a pleasure to join with colleagues from the Faculty of Fine Arts of Music and with students and other members of our broader community. It's also a great privilege and joy to be wearing the possum cloak today, not just because of the honorific privilege of doing so, but also because it's keeping me warm on what is a relatively cold day, its primary purpose being fulfilled.

I join you, Marie, in welcoming, welcoming Parbin-ata Carolyn Briggs for the official opening of the most important week in Australia's calendar, National Reconciliation Week. Parbin-ata Carolyn Briggs is someone that I personally look up to enormously. I will always remember her warm and wise words of Welcome to me when I began as Vice-Chancellor at University of Melbourne two-and-a-half years ago. She reminded me then of the great importance of education and of community from the perspective of Indigenous people.

These remain central focal points for us as a University. As we launch National Reconciliation Week 2021, the unique contributions of Indigenous knowledge in the arts, environment, languages and many other fields grows more significant.

We feel the power of Indigenous knowledge here at the Wilin Centre. You've said, Maree, that the centre is itself the outcome of direct action by committed people going back decades. And the Wilin Centre, led by Tiriki Onus who sadly can't be here today, continues to do fantastic work day by day in all those areas that you mentioned, including curriculum, education, research, student support and building understanding.

This year's National Reconciliation Week theme is 'More Than a Word: Reconciliation Takes Action'. And as that theme reminds us, reconciliation in Australia still has a journey to travel. That requires more action, not just words.

The University under my watch is totally on board with that important concept. As a university, we are seeking to strengthen the ties of place, grounded as we are on Aboriginal land. We seek to do this through all of our work in education and research, in building community, and as we grow stronger in that sense of place, becoming even more important to the wider global world to which we are inseparably connected. This is action of a definite and worthy kind. We undertake it aware of enormous failings in our own past, including our university.

As we celebrate National Reconciliation Week 2021, we look to the future with a profound sense of respect for all communities, especially those of the traditional custodians of this land. We do face difficult days ahead, amid a continuing pandemic, but let us continue the work of reconciliation undeterred and indeed even more strongly than before.

Thank you.

Parbin-ata Carolyn Briggs: I pay my respects to all of you being part of this whole journey and taking it further with Wominjeka. Which means come with a purpose to our beautiful home, the lands of the two great bays.

It is important to understand that it is more than a word. Come with a purpose. And what is your purpose? So Wominjeka meeram biik biik. Boonwurrung Nairm derp bordrupen uther weelam. Weelam is home and this is the home of Melbourne University. It started here.

I thought it might have started up there at Melbourne Uni in Bouverie Street when we were trying to demonstrate to bring change. And I think it resonated right down to here now where we are. It's had different iterations. It is my great pleasure to be able to welcome you this afternoon. It is also my responsibility to ensure that you do come with a purpose.

Wominjeka. Come. Ask to come and what is your intention? I do so not only on behalf of my ancestors of the Yaluk-ut Weelam. I do so on behalf of all First Nations on the lands we meet today.

First Nations peoples across Australia all share a special connection to the lands and waters of their ancestors that has not been disconnected since millennia, despite the dispossession, the displacement, the discrimination that we all experienced over the last two hundred and thirty years.

These connections date back to our Creation Stories. For the Boon Wurrung, our creation stories tell us of Bundjil, our creator spirit, who travels as an eagle, and how he created these lands and waters around where we meet today.

He also created the Kulin people and he taught them about the circular relationships that they have with these lands and waters in order for us to be taken care of by this land.

We also have to take care through adhering to the wurrungi biiks, the law of the land, our customary laws, much like our laws today. These laws dictated how we interacted with each other. How we interacted with the land and how we conduct ourselves while we're on other people's countries.

The Boonwurrung wurrungi biik speaks of three specific laws. The first law is yulendji, or knowledge. It is the responsibility that we all have knowledge and once knowledge is attained, we have the responsibility to ensure its survival, its continuation. We have the responsibility for our younger generation to maintain that knowledge and pass it down, so it can be used for our future generations.

We also have the law of djeembana. This law speaks of community, the importance of community, the importance of diverse communities. But of a unified community. Boon Wurrung people and the Kulin Nation understood the power of diversity that is within our lands and increases our capabilities. It was always good to share stories and the different experiences, however, they understood to utilise this very powerful tool, they had to identify a common purpose. And what are these things that we all have in common?

Finally, the last law is connection to Parbin-ata or Country. We all might call it honouring sacred ground, paying respects to our past generations. The people who took care of the land before us and the people who lived and died on the land before we were all here. Paying respects to stories, histories on the land on which we live today.

We are very fortunate in this beautiful continent we now know as Australia to have eighty thousand years of human history, and it is most important to pay respects to that history. Not only while we are here at work, or study, but when we go home, just to reflect. Just have a moment. More than a word, take action. And if we can adhere to these three wurrungi biiks, I can say in the words of my ancestors, come with a purpose.

Wominjeka meeram biik biik. Boonwurrung Nairm derp bordrupen uther weelam. Come with a purpose to our beautiful home, the lands of the two great bays: Nairm, Port Phillip Bay, and Marin, Western Port Bay. So, I wish you all this.

The lighting of the Wilin is very important to remind us that we need to ignite, ignite the amazing knowledges that you will be a part of, but it's also about igniting the fire within all of us. So, let's celebrate that and come with a purpose. You are in my presence. I'm in yours. Thank you.

Now, part of this ceremony, which is one of the oldest ceremonies on Earth that we all must adhere to. And I think every country in the world of First Peoples, when you were offered on country, you had to demonstrate your purpose and you were cleansed, what we call cleansing your Murrup.

One of those is placing muryong. This is black wattle, it represents our elders, the knowledge of our elders. The use of this material, this beautiful part of our nature, reminds us of the diversity of our elders across this great continent and the many different nations and each muryong represents the diversity and the strength of each of the areas around. So one is muryong.

The other one is our beautiful eucalypt, which we know as a gum leaf, be-al, and like the wattle it represents the diversity of all our communities around this country. Because there's no one eucalypt. They're all different. There's about 700 different varieties, so this represents the diversity of community and how we unify community.

The last one represents our bubups, our children. It needs hostplants to grow, to grow strong, just like this Wilin community here, or just like our university, Melbourne University. It's about how we don't quite disconnect from our host plants. That gives us the knowledge and strength to move forward. Just like our children don't disconnect from us. So, this is called bar-ee that goes into the fire.

Julian will present and hopefully we can cleanse your Murrup, what we carry and what we want to let go of. Now, we will be do the cleansing.

This visual can go on around across our beautiful university, up to Carlton, down to the Wilin, to VCA. All the amazing knowledges within these schools and throughout these institutions that make these trends and start to move forward to our Yirramboi, our tomorrows.