Strong women honoured in Balit Bagurrk book launch

A black and white photograph of a First Nations woman sitting on a wooden chair.

A powerful book that shares the stories, poems and artwork of First Nations women in Yarra Ranges has been launched, thanks to a community partnership with Council and Oonah Health and Community Services Aboriginal Corporation.

Balit Bagurrk: Strong Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Women of the Yarra Ranges features historical information, deeply moving personal accounts and photographs to tell the stories of strong Indigenous women whose actions shaped the Yarra Ranges and many who live here.

The book, created by Council and Oonah Health and Community Services Aboriginal Corporation (formerly HICSA), and funded by VicHealth’s Gender Equity for the Arts Program, was launched on Tuesday, 9 March, 2020 at The Memo Healesville.

Yarra Ranges Mayor, Fiona McAllister said the women in Balit Bagurrk, have been and continue to be, a source of strength and inspiration to the Yarra Ranges community.

“These stories have been brought together by the community, who wish to share the experiences of the many strong Indigenous women – Aunties, Sisters, Mothers, Grandmothers, Daughters, Elders, leaders and activists – who came before us, who live amongst us and are yet to come,” Cr McAllister said.

“The women honoured in this book have been and continue to be guardians of knowledge, culture, language and country; carers of family and community; creators and storytellers.

“There are many kinds of strength and this is reflected in the diverse nature of the stories woven through this book.”

Mayor Fiona McAllister speaking at the Balit Bagurrk launch at The Memo in Healesville.

Mayor Fiona McAllister at the Balit Bagurrk launch at The Memo in Healesville.

The project was inspired by the history of Aboriginal Community organisations in the Yarra Ranges from the 1970s by women from the community, including the Healesville Aboriginal Cooperative, Swinburne’s Oona, and Healesville Indigenous Community Services Association.

Using this history as the starting point, First Nations community members contributed stories, poems or visual artwork to the publication that honour Aboriginal women who have been important to them.

“Balit Bagurrk will build knowledge of these women within and outside their communities, shift the historical narrative to include their stories and provide more inspiration for emerging female leaders,” Cr McAllister said.

One of the cultural leaders, Wurundjeri woman Brooke Wandin, who is featured in the book, wrote:

“I’m carrying the story of my mob and my Culture. It’s good for me and it’s good for my Ancestors. I belong to the oldest continuous living culture on the planet and one that will never finish.”

An example of Brooke Wandin's weaving. This photo is the front cover of the Balit Bagurrk book.

The cover image for Balit Bagurrk – an example of Brooke Wandin’s weaving.

The book was created on the lands of the Wurundjeri People, and Council pays its respect to Elders past, present and emerging, who have been – and always will be – an integral part of the history of the region.

The book is available to buy for $20 at the Yarra Ranges Council Community Links, Memo in Healesville, Yarra Ranges Regional Museum, TarraWarra Museum of Art, Burrinja Cultural Centre and some independent book stores.

The Balit Bagurrk project is a partnership between Yarra Ranges Council and Oonah Health and Community Services Aboriginal Corporation (formerly HICSA). This project was funded by the VicHealth Gender Equality through the Arts Program.

A black and white photograph of a First Nations woman sitting on a wooden chair.

Annie Boorat, sister of William Barak, photographed in 1866 at age 30. Annie is featured in Balit Bagurrk.

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