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A Day on Country: The Power of Storytelling

Forty thousand years ago, the creator being Budj Bim erupted, spewing his teeth and blood across the lands of the Gunditjmara people. Western scientists suspect that this story may be the oldest ever told. At Tae Rak (Lake Condah), visitors walk through deep time, becoming part of an intertwining story of landscape and lives.

The power of stories and their constant re-telling was a central theme of the LGSC Day on Country. Both of our guides – proud Gunditjmara men Braydon Saunders, Budj Bim Tour Guide, Gunditj Mirring Traditional Owners Corporation and Troy Lovett, LGSC 2020 Alumni – emphasised the power and the centrality of storytelling to leadership. Through the retelling of the stories of the Gunditjmara people and over forty thousand years of continued occupation of these lands, we place ourselves in that history, and bear the responsibility for understanding it.

Learning the deep history and proud present of the Gunditjmara fighting spirit is critical to understanding our region. As well as the Budj Bim creation story, Braydon told participants of the more recent history of the Gunditjmara people, of the Eumeralla Wars and the violence of colonisation – resisted, always, by First Peoples. The consequences of that history live very much in the present of the Great South Coast. Through the power of their stories, both Braydon and Troy demonstrated how the telling of those stories shapes understanding of the present, and how we might walk forward, together.

Through commemorating the past and present of the Gunditjmara fighting spirit, we might embark on that journey. The Heywood Indigenous War Memorial water tower – a 30-meter-high mural commemorating the participation of First Nations peoples in the First and Second World Wars – is a poignant example of leadership through storytelling, and of the impact of Leadership Great South Coast on our region and its communities. After a long campaign for recognition, the Memorial is testament to the power of patient but determined leadership.

After Budj Bim erupted, as Braydon told participants, the Gunditjmara people waited fifteen thousand years to return to their lands. They waited decades for recognition of their participation in two world wars. With the Gunditjmara fighting spirit, they are still waiting for us. As leaders, it is our responsibility to understand and to tell and retell these stories, and to create more space for the Gunditjmara peoples to tell their stories on their terms.

Thank you to both Braydon Saunders and Troy Lovett for sharing their stories with us – stories that are now part of our lives, too.

Emma Shortis, 2023 Program Participant.

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