Oct 5, 2023

The Victorian Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (VACCHO) are incredibly grateful to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Elders for their strength, resilience, leadership, and support of a truly special Victorian Aboriginal Elders Summit which wrapped up on Bunurong/Boon Wurrung Country this week. 

The event began with an incredible dance performance courtesy of the Koorie Youth Will Shake Spear’s dancers. VACCHO CEO Jill Gallagher AO delivered a moving keynote which honoured all the Aboriginal Elders in attendance, which was followed by Aunty Pat Anderson AO who convened an insightful conversation about the Uluṟu Statement From The Heart (pictured above).

Aunty Fay Carter OAM, Aunty Ros Pevitt and Aunty Gina Bundle OAM discussed the changes they have witnessed embedding Aboriginal culture in aged care, hospital services, and education, while Uncle Lance James shared his decades-long experience supporting our Stolen Generations to find their way home and to heal.

Aunty Fay encouraged young people to embrace their Elders, and to “adopt” an Elder if you don’t have one!

We were also deeply privileged to hear from Uncle Jim Berg who spoke about his experience as an Elder connecting to young people in the Koori Courts, his involvement in the establishment of many of our ACCHOs, and in 1984 when he took legal action to return over 800 ancestral remains to their Communities to be reburied on Country.

Uncle Paul Chapman, Aunty Janice Lovett, Dr Esme Bamblett, Uncle Rodney Carter, and Uncle Alan Thorpe gave powerful messages about leadership, self-determination, healing, and the enduring role of Elders as the heart and soul of Communities.

Dr Esme Bamblett with Uncle Rodney Carter

After an incredible line-up on Day 1, the second day of the Victorian Aboriginal Elders Summit opened with beautiful musical performances from the deadly Uncle Herb Patten on the Gum Leaf, who blew us all away with his stories, songs, and skills.

Uncle Robbie Bundle also moved us all deeply with his songs, and Uncle Jim Berg warmed our hearts with readings of a selection of poems.

Uncle Robbie Bundle

Aunty Vicki Couzens addressed the summit in language, and shared how the Victorian Aboriginal Corporation for Languages has been working tirelessly to celebrate and replenish our knowledge of language.

Then, in a panel discussion with Rosales Martinez, Aunty Gina Bundle, and Aunty Cheryl Drayton, a call to action was made to increase our collective advocacy for the revitalisation of language.

The final afternoon was spent in deep discussions about shared aspirations for the future of Aboriginal Community Controlled Aged Care. Aunty Felicia Dean showcased the incredible aged care services provided by Rumbalara Aboriginal Cooperative, and Lisa Ogolo introduced the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Ageing and Aged Care Council (NATSIAACC).

A clear call was made for an urgent expansion of funding for ACCHOs to provide greater access to non-profit community-controlled aged care services – including assessments, in-home and residential services.

VACCHO CEO Jill Gallagher described the event as an incredible opportunity to commemorate and celebrate the vital role that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Elders carry out as the heart and soul of Communities.

“Elders have been my main source of inspiration throughout my life. Their generosity, courage, wisdom, and the knowledge they pass on to Communities is vital.”

“As keepers of one of the oldest living cultures on the planet, Elders impart and sustain a rich cultural heritage from generation to generation, including translating culture into contemporary ways.”

“To be able to yarn and connect with the 100 Aboriginal Elders in attendance was amazing and enriched all of our hearts and minds. Uncle Herb’s rendition of “What a Wonderful World” on the Gum leaf and listening to Aunty Fay were deeply emotional experiences.”

VACCHO sincerely thanks the Australian Department of Health and Aged Care for their generous support of the event.

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VACCHO is the peak body for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health and wellbeing in Victoria – the only one of its kind – with 33 Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations as Members. VACCHO Members support over 65,000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in Victoria, and combined are the largest employers of Aboriginal people in the state.