This day was sent by Gumbaynggirr ancestors a long time ago - speaking through spirit to us all.- Bernard Edwards
Today was a significant day for the Gumbaynggirr community who re-laid to rest their ancestor in a moving ceremony at the bend in the river which gives Nambucca (Ngambaa Baga Baga - crooked knee) its name.
'We have finally reinterred our ancestor into the place where he lay for 750-800 years. And that makes our hearts glad," Uncle Terence (Terry) Donovan said.
In fluent language Gawa (Uncle) Micklo Jarrett welcomed to country a diverse group of community members and dignitaries.
Dennis Milgate led a troupe of Gumbaynggirr dancers from Bowraville who had learned some dances specifically for this occasion.
"It was really special for us to be a part of this today - to give our old ancestor a proper send-off again," he said.
Gawa Micklo then sang a song traditionally heard after initiation - in honour of his ancestor, who would have been a first or second-stage initiate when he died.
"I've never sung with more passion than I did today. I imagine it was confusing for him to have been woken in this time, when everyone is speaking strangely. I hope he heard the music and language and felt more at peace," he said.
Elders were then invited to come forward and place handfuls of earth into the grave and enact other cultural rituals before everyone - black and white - moved as one to Bellwood Park to share a meal together.
This fella wouldn't have dreamed that 750 years later he was going to unite people at this particular time, at this particular place.- Uncle Colin Jarrett
The site along Riverside Drive where the repatriation took place was the exact spot where the young man's remains were unceremoniously excavated during a house relocation in October, 2017.
"Whilst accidental and with no ill-intent, it was still the desecration of a grave," Mayor Rhonda Hoban said.
"This was a situation which had all the hallmarks of being a very divisive and upsetting issue within our community. But ultimately it wasn't, and there are very good reasons for that."
Mayor Hoban said the exemplary leadership and generosity of spirit of the Southern Gumbaynggirr Men's Group was pivotal in ensuring today's peaceful outcome.
She said she felt the irony in the invitation by these elders to be a part of the preservation of the land - an invitation that had not been a part of past practises from white settlers.
"I was humbled and moved by their trust. That, to me, is why this day is a time for healing and hope," she said.
For Uncle Roger Jarrett, who has been overseeing the construction of the garden, today was about starting a new chapter.
"This is the day that we'll all become one. Those days of mistrust between Goori (black) and Gub (white) are gone," he said.
"We are standing on this land now - we all eat from this land. And you are all welcome here."
He made a special acknowledgement to Terry Walker and his wife, Joanna Lockwood, who had purchased the property back in 2017 with the intention of building their retirement home beside the Nambucca River.
"They could have built on this land, but they didn't. They are beautiful people, and part of our family now," he said.
Watch the full ceremony here:
For Uncle Terry, too, this day was more than just a repatriation. It was a significant step along the path to reconciliation.
"This is one of the greatest moments in the Nambucca Valley, for me. To be asked what we wanted to be done with this land - our land - is incredibly important," he said.
"But we must not leave this where it is today - we need to think about collaboration, about reconciliation.
"We must reconcile our differences so we're not looked at as something different in this land...so we're not standing at a shop counter and not being served...these little things become big things once implanted in your mind. These little things we all suffer today.
"But we can change all of that, each and every one of us here today."
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