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A Day of Ideas: Beneath the Surface

Updated: Mar 30

A number of Noongar Elders and leaders have contributed to a Perth Festival event called 'A Day of Ideas: Beneath the Surface', which explored different aspects of the Derbarl Yerrigan Swan River.


The day started with a welcome, followed by opening words from Dr Richard Walley OAM, who spoke about the Derbarl Yerrigan and gave a musical performance.


Richard then joined a panel on 'Daa River's Mouth' with Professor Len Collard, Zoe Atkinson and Mike Lefroy, hosted by Sisonke Msimang. Richard called for a full stocktake or inventory of the river and what it contains, and for political leaders to become more 'qualified' to "speak on behalf of issues that affect us as a people. It's not to do with qualifications. Whereas to sit in a circle of Elders is a process of getting your knowledge base so that you can speak about it". He said the whole river needs to be cared for together, and not only in parts which are divided up between local governments, state government departments and others.

Richard also called for an Aboriginal-led approach: "It's a time where the Indigenous knowledge should be put to the fore, and not become a part of the conversation - or invited into the conversation - we should be leading the conversation."


This panel was followed by a second panel on 'Korbal The Guts of the River' with Dr Noel Nannup OAM, Viv Hansen, and Dr Kieryn Kilminster, hosted by Dr Pierre Horwitz. Noel highlighted the need for "cultural corridors" of natural vegetation to be joined together; doing away with fertilisers, pesticides, and other chemicals; inviting back the wading birds; and doing it all through people power and a social investment. He said if we heal country, then we will heal the river and ourselves.

"I'm a person who believes we should have 'whole-of-catchment management plans'. And our people had them. There's no reason why we can't have them in the modern world," Noel said.


The third panel 'Yiranginy Upriver' looked more specifically at impacts upon children, and featured Liz Hayden, Dr Hannah McGlade and Colin Pettit, hosted by Sisonke Msimang. Liz spoke about the need to stop taking Aboriginal children away from their families (56% of children in out-of-home care in Western Australia are Aboriginal, while making up less than 3% of the population); that we need to strengthen the mothers of our land; that we need to work together; that we should take the stories into schools; and never give up on hope - hope goes hand in hand with love.

A final panel on 'Bilya the River' (or umbilical chord) was a conversation amongst intergenerational women led by Roma Winmar, featuring Liz Hayden, Viv Hansen, Hannah McGlade and Kylie Bracknell.

Final photo by Danielle Thurlow


A Day of Ideas took place at the Perth Concert Hall on Saturday February 27, after being rescheduled from February 13.


To learn more about waterways, and listen to interviews with Noel Nannup, Richard Walley and Peter Klinken, click here.


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