Created by All The Queens Men (Tristan Meecham and Bec Reid) and presented by Wyndham City, CONGRESS connected eight diverse local citizens with eight professional wordsmiths.
Together they collaborated to create a series of ‘first speeches’ written just for this place and shared once, just for this time on 7 September 2019.
Read more First Speeches from CONGRESS
Speaker: Aimee McCartney
Wordsmith: Paola Balla
Dancer: Brent Watkins
I would like to acknowledge the Woiwurrung, Boonwurrung and Wathaurong peoples of the Kulin Nations who are the traditional owners here of the lands on which we meet. I acknowledge all Victorian First Nations people and their ongoing strength and resilience in practising and maintaining the world’s oldest living culture. I pay my respects to all Elders past, present and emerging.
In my culture, the meaning of Country extends past ownership and is much more than just a place on the map. It is a deep connection to the land. When referring to our ancestral homelands, we use the word to outline the values, places, resources, stories and cultural obligations associated with that area. First Nations people are deeply connected to the Country of our ancestors. We are custodians and caretakers.
My name is Aimee McCartney. I am a proud Taungurung and Wotjobaluk woman from Victoria. I honour and respect my culture by always acknowledging the Country I am on.
Take Wyndham, where we gather tonight. Many of us have great personal connection to this place. There is pride in our diverse cultures and expanding community, celebrated through arts and culture and profound natural resources.This place is alive and growing.
But what was here before me, you, the trains, the buildings and the growth? How and where do the spirits of my ancestors lie in Wyndham’s footprint?
Sadly, as I flick through the Werribee Official Visitor Guide, I don’t see reference to what came before. I don’t see an acknowledgement of the traditional owners and this omission happens often throughout Australia. We should be proud to acknowledge and celebrate the oldest living culture in the world.
Histories in Australia are often told from one perspective. I would like to share my own personal history. A history that is not often shared but should be honoured.
For First Nations people, the concept of protecting Country did not stop with the arrival of European settlement. However it shifted due to complex issues of colonisation. Our people have a long tradition of service and many First Nations people have chosen a career in the Australian Defence Force, which recognises that we have much to offer. But it is a history often omitted. Tonight, I would like to speak to that.
Did you know that First Nations people have served in every conflict and commitment involving the Australian Defence Force?
As a proud Aboriginal woman, I now serve and protect my country as a commissioned officer in the Royal Australian Air Force. But I am not the only person in my family to have served.
My great, great, great grandfather, Private Alfred Jackson Coombs, known as Jack, served in WW1 at the age of 29. His brother Willie Coombs, aged 18, signed up two weeks later.
In 1917, Jack fought on the Western Front. During this time Jack was gassed. He did not return to the field, instead returned to Australia. He married Mary Kirby. They had three boys and a girl. Little more is known about the rest of Jack’s life and the long-term effects of his war service. He died at 61.
Jack’s younger brother Willie was wounded in action in 1917, with gunshot wounds to his face and hands. After returning from the Western Front, Willie applied for a pension that was 20% of the full pension, a small fee for the sacrifice he made. He became reclusive, as did many suffering from post-traumatic stress. He married Bridgett Johnson. In 1953, Willie died aged 55.
Other family members who served include:
- Walter Franklin, aged 25
- Albert Franklin, aged 18
- Leslie Franklin, aged 18
In the Second World War my family continued to serve. My great aunt, Jean Williamson, enlisted in the Women’s Australian Auxiliary Air Force. My great uncle, Norman Franklin, served in Papua New Guinea. And my mother Terrie and my Uncle Kenny served in the Australian Army and my cousin Melissa in the Royal Australian Navy.
For many, this service failed to translate into full citizenship and recognition. Remember that First Nations people’s right to vote in federal elections was not secured until 1962, and only by 1967 were Indigenous people legally considered citizens.
You might be asking why do I serve in the military? And my answer is this… In the military you are judged by your merits, your behaviour and how you represent your organisation.
Not your background. I wish that many in Australia would consider and apply this. I am tired of the lack of respect and discrimination that many of my people face on a day to day basis. l hope thatwe consider military ethics – that we are all equal, we should all look after each other, we all share and we never leave anyone behind.
For all the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who did, and still do, defend this country, including those no longer with us. We remember them.
Aimee McCartney is a proud Taungurung and Wotjobaluk woman from north west Victoria and is the eldest girl of nine children. Aimee currently lives in Melbourne and is passionate about being a strong role model for her community and in particular for young Indigenous people.
Paola Balla is a Wemba-Wemba and Gunditjmara artist, curator, writer and lecturer. She is a Lisa Bellear Indigenous PhD Research Scholar at Moondani Balluk Indigenous Academic Centre, Victoria University.
Brent Watkins is a Gunai Kurni man from south eastern Victoria, with Noongar Yamatji ancestry from Western Australia. As a dancer (traditional/hip hop), didgeridoo player and visual artist, Brent created Culture Evolves, an Indigenous group based in Narm. Drawing from his ancestral epistemology, combining it with contemporary narratives, Brent conveys the struggles that First Nations people are experiencing in Australia today.