For Gooreng Gooreng Elder Douglas Graham, feeling the sand between his toes as he returned to his traditional Country was a special moment.
Uncle Douglas is just one of the Woorabinda Elders invited to the Milbi Festival by Bundaberg Regional Council.
The Woorabinda VIP Elders represent the family bloodlines of people forcibly removed from the tribal homelands of Bundaberg under the Aboriginal Protection Act (1897).
“My connection extends not just from the seas and the islands but all the way back to the Gooreng Gooreng range out west,” Uncle Douglas said.
“That was really deadly to feel the sand again and taste the salt.
“We come from dry country, not much water out there in the creeks, working and living in Woorabinda.
“Getting back to Country is always great and renews you and reinvigorates you.”
The Milbi Festival commemorates the launch of the region’s turtle season by celebrating the beauty of Aboriginal culture.
Local Elders Uncle Raymond ‘Willy’ Broome (Taribelang Bunda), Uncle Chris Thiesfield (Gooreng Gooreng) and Uncle Lester ‘Micky’ Hill (Gurang) provided the Welcome Acknowledgements to Country.
Bundaberg Regional Council Cultural Development Officer Selina Hill said there are four traditional owner groups recognised within the region and it was important that our First Nations Peoples were recognised in a respectful and meaningful way.
“So we invited our VIP Elders to celebrate the opening of the festival with us,” Selina said.
“The Milbi and our mob might be oceans apart, but the weekend meant we all shared in a journey called coming home.”
A message stick, crafted by Wakka Wakka Elder Maurice Mickelo, also found its way to the festival after being guided along the song-lines of the region’s First Nations People by the Bunya Mountain Murri Rangers before being presented to the local Gidarjil Land and Sea Rangers at the event.
Bundaberg Region Mayor Jack Dempsey said this cultural exchange was a mark of respect from one Ranger group to another.
He said it highlighted the importance of First Nations people continuing the cultural legacies to look after Country.
“For countless generations, our turtles have been coming home,” Mayor Dempsey said.
“Their DNA is closely linked with this beautiful coastline where they were born.
“We celebrate this coming home for what it represents – an incredible and sacred environmental event, which is iconic to our region.
“Today, we have a special symbolic celebration. As a mark of respect, we invited Elders from Woorabinda to join us for the Sunset Launch.”
Local First Nations leader Dr Kerry Blackman understands the importance of recognising both the turtles returning year after year, and also the coming home of the First Nations Elders.
“The significance of the Elders coming home, the concept is you-beaut just as the terms of the coming home of the turtles,” Dr Blackman said.
“The word Milbi is the Aboriginal word for turtle and just as the turtles navigate the oceans for 20-30 [years] before returning home, we have the connection to Country and the connections to community, and it’s a great idea to bring the Elders back now to recognise this.
“Our ancestors were moved off country when colonisation happened.
“My great-grandmother Rosie was taken to Fraser Island, and she went through the cold, and through starvation in hard conditions.”
Dr Blackman’s great-grandmother and her four sons were forcibly removed from their home on Warro Station under the Act and were incarcerated in Batjala country at Bogimah Mission on K’gari.
“Unfortunately, my great-grandmother died off country, sad and lonely. Her children were taken from her,” he said.
Dr Blackman commended Bundaberg Regional Council and the community for recognising the past and helping to move forward together.
“Now this is part of the healing process of our generation.
“It sends a powerful message and is symbolic.”
The significance of the Elders coming home was also recognised by Gail Mabo, daughter of land rights activist Eddie ‘Koiki’ Mabo.
Gail was in the region to host a special event in line with her Bundaberg Regional Art Galleries exhibition Legacy: Reflection on Mabo.
“It’s like serendipity actually, for the turtles to come back and the Elders to come back now also,” Gail said.
“With the Milbi Festival, what you are doing in breaking down the barrier between people, to just come together as people.
“As people sitting together, we learn together and then you grow together.
“Including a whole lot of things where kids are involved and acknowledging all these things, that’s a change for the future, and for the positive – so you’re moving in the right direction.”
The celebration of First Nations culture and heritage throughout the 10-day Milbi Festival was made possible with the support of Port Curtis Coral Coast (PCCC) staff, the River Nations Cultural Dance Group, Gidarjil Development Corporation and Taribelang Aboriginal Corporation.
Bundaberg Regional Council acknowledges the traditional Country of the Taribelang Bunda, Gooreng Gooreng, Gurang and Bailai Peoples and recognise that this Country has always been and continues to be of cultural, spiritual, social and economic significance.