Camp 'on country' for men and boys

INSPIRING VISIT: Michael Laurie and former NRL player Nathan Hindmarsh with two of the camp participants.
INSPIRING VISIT: Michael Laurie and former NRL player Nathan Hindmarsh with two of the camp participants.

A GROUP of Aboriginal boys and young men recently got the chance to experience their Aboriginal culture "on country” at a camp at Woody Head in the heart of Yaegl country.

The five-day camp featured a combination of cultural learning, sports, fishing, fun, fresh air, and good advice for the future. Male elders (fathers, uncles, grandfathers and other prominent community members) provided cultural guidance to the 12 boys aged between eight and 16 years old. The older men told stories of growing up and of their life experiences.

HAPPY CAMPERS: Enjoying the five-day cultural camp at Woody Head.
HAPPY CAMPERS: Enjoying the five-day cultural camp at Woody Head.

The camp was held by Waanyji Yaegl Aboriginal Men's Corporation, with the assistance of local businesses and community organisations, including CRANES, Social Futures, Bulgar Ngaru Aboriginal Medical Service, Birrigan Gargle Local Aboriginal Land Council, Yaegl Local Aboriginal Land Council, Maclean RSL Club, Maclean Bowling Club, Gurehlgam Corp, and Bi-Rite.

John Skinner, director of Waanyji Yaegl and a Police Aboriginal Community Liaison Officer at Grafton, said the camp taught the boys respect for themselves and for others. There was a focus on making smarter lifestyle choices which would help young people succeed in life. The older participants also learnt responsibility, as they were given the task of looking out for the younger boys.

The young people were introduced to various service providers, including Solid Mob, who run a quit smoking program, Bulgar Ngaru Aboriginal Medical Service, Aboriginal Community Health, Warruwi ,who advocate for responsible gambling, and Police Aboriginal Community Liaison Officers.

A guest appearance by former Parramatta Eels and Australian Kangaroos player Nathan Hindmarsh proved an inspiration. Nathan started by outlining his glory days as a champion rugby league player. He then described his descent into a nightmarish existence as his gambling addiction took control, and how he managed to take charge of his life once again.

This was the first camp that Waanyji Yaegl has held, and both organisers and participants considered it to be a great success. The organisers are keen to hold further camps next year.

The young participants were so energised by the camp that they later indicated they too, wished to set up their own group. This idea is wholeheartedly supported by the older Yaegl males.

Waanyji Yaegl was established in July 2016 to help meet the needs of Aboriginal men in the Lower Clarence area. They meet regularly in Maclean with chairman and Yaegl elder Lester Mercy organising the get-togethers.

Waanyji Yaegl is holding a community barbecue at Hillcrest Hall, Hillcrest Aboriginal Reserve, Maclean on Friday, November 24 from 9.30am-noon. Everyone is welcome to attend. The barbecue will give the public the opportunity to learn more about the great work the men are undertaking and their plans for the future.

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