Survival Day a display to complement the nation’s pride

SATURDAY’S indigenous Survival Day celebration at Crossley was the first such event for Portland’s Sandra Aitken — but it won’t be the last.

Ms Aitken, an indigenous woman, said the existence of an Aboriginal alternative to traditional Australia Day celebrations was a sign that Australia was maturing as a nation.

She said Survival Day activities at St Brigid’s church hall were not intended to oppose traditional Australia Day celebrations but add to them.

In her opinion, indigenous and mainstream Australia Day celebrations should come together, she said.

Survival Day was a good name to describe how indigenous people in Australia had survived the many attacks on them by white society, Ms Aitken said.

Warrnambool City Council’s Australia Day celebrations acknowledged the nation’s indigenous culture with a Welcome to Country ceremony given by Adeline MacDonald from the Gunditjmara Karryween.

Both Australian and Aboriginal flags were raised at the council ceremony.

Ms Aitken was kept busy at the Crossley celebrations teaching the craft of weaving plant fibres, as practised by the local Gunditjmara people to make traditional artefacts including eel traps and baskets, as well as contemporary decorations such as dream catchers.

She said she was taught the craft by her aunt, Connie Hart, a Gunditjmara woman from Lake Condah, and regularly demonstrated it at south-west primary schools and kindergartens as well as teaching it at the South West Institute of TAFE.

She maintains the Gunditjmara tradition of keeping weaving as “women’s business” — sharing details of the skill only to women. Men can watch and learn, but she will not teach them.

Ms Aitken said she liked craft because it was “calming”. 

“You can weave and weave and the time goes by. When I teach it at TAFE at Warrnambool, they do not want to go to morning tea.”

Ms Aitken, who is assisted by her daughter Melissa in her classes, said her work “helped keep the old ways alive”.

“It shows different cultures the way things were done.”

Saturday’s celebrations at Crossley were among a number of Survival Day events held throughout Australia. 

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