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Menindee Mission reunion

Monday, 2nd September, 2019

Ngiyampaa Elder Aunty Beryl Carmichael with an old photo from when she was living on the Menindee Mission. PICTURE: Callum Marshall Ngiyampaa Elder Aunty Beryl Carmichael with an old photo from when she was living on the Menindee Mission. PICTURE: Callum Marshall

By Callum Marshall

A reunion for those who lived on the Old Menindee Mission is set for the middle of September, exactly 70 years after it closed. 

Organised by Ngiyampaa Elder Aunty Beryl Carmichael, the four-day gathering is not just for the Ngiyampaa, Barkindji and Wiradjuri peoples who were forced to live on the mission, but also their descendants and others interested in attending.

 

The reunion will take place at the site of the old mission, just below Lake Pamamaroo, and will begin on Thursday, September 19. 

The reunion would be about bringing people together to learn about the history of the mission and what it was like to live on it, said Aunty Beryl.

“The ones who were born on the mission want to come back but most of our old people are gone,” she said.

“There’s one lady like me who walked in the footsteps of the elders. She’s in Wagga and wants to come back.

“But we’re hoping we’ll get the young people to come as well who were born on the mission. They’d be in their sixties and early seventies probably.

“It’d be great if they could come back as well and learn about the history of the mission days and how our people were rounded up and forced onto restricted areas and so on.”

While the history of forced removal, from Cowra Tank to Menindee and then, years later, Menindee to Lake Cargelligo was a traumatic one, Aunty Beryl said the time she spent on the Menindee Mission had been positive. 

“It was the best times of our lives because everyone sort of supported one another, you weren’t alone,” she said. “That was the beauty of it.

“When there was arguments or a fight dispute we had counsellors on the mission, and they’d go up and sit down with the people who were disagreeing and they’d resolve it there and then. They’d be peacful again.

“We’d have a great sit-down talking, and games.

“We used boondies (stone) for bats in tennis and cricket.  We’d make the boys go out and cut them, make them and use them on the mission.

“Young people used to go out and carve wood and take it to the elders on the mission, so everyone was supportive of each other and that’s what I’m missing here in the communities.

“It was really good on the mission after everyone settled down and got used to things. 

“It closed down on September 19, 1949. I was 14 then and I’m 84 now.

“But I’m sitting a lot on my own now.

“I’ve had a heart operation and everything, but no one comes and says, ‘hello Beryl, do you need anything from town?’, because I can’t walk too far anymore.”

On top of describing the history of the mission and important cultural information, Aunty Beryl said the event would involve a lot of activities. 

“We’ll have traditional cooking as well as contemporary,” she said,

“There’ll be contemporary dances, and the last traditional dance on the mission, around the fire.

“There’ll be lots of activities going on, and it’s open to anyone who wants to come and be a part of this.”

She was also keen to celebrate the contribution of the missionaries at the Menindee Mission.

“(On the) Sunday I want...to have a service on behalf of the missionaries who gave up their time and life to live on the mission and brought new skills,” said Aunty Beryl.

“The government only issued one or two blankets a family and if you had ten, well how far would two blankets go?

“But when the missionaries came out, they taught the women how to sew from little squares, sew covers and that to put over them.

“The women already used to open up hessian bags, wheat bags and chaff bags and sew them together. 

“But when they found pretty material, they just got right into it. Lots of pretty quilts on the mission.

“So I want people to bring some material out as well, some squares when they come to give thanks to the missionaries. A celebration of their lives with us on the missions.”

With Aunty Beryl still looking to find funding that’ll accommodate elder vistors in Menindee, she also said she wanted to document the reunion and have more to pass on to the next generations.

“Hopefully we’ll have someone out there to document it all,” she said. “It’s got to be recorded.

“And I’ve got to send an email to Ken Wyatt (Indigenous Affairs Minister) and ask him to come out and speak at the gathering.”

She said there was already interest from elders and other individuals across the country “far and near”.

“I’ve got elders coming from down in Victoria, there’s some coming from Queensland, and Sydney.

“We’ll get a few but they’re all scattered at the moment.

“But to see them again after all these years will be beautiful.”

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