FRIENDS OF MYALL CREEK MEMORIALAnnual Report for 2021
In a recent article on issues of justice for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and the need for ‘truth-telling in history’, Stan Grant quotes Martin Luther King Jnr fond of the phrase, “the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends towards justice”. The Friends of Myall Creek Memorial Inc (FMCM) share that hope, though the arc may be long, and is committed to ‘truth telling’ as a means of bringing healing and justice for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
In introducing its 2021 annual report the FMCM remembers those involved in creating the Memorial, especially Uncle Lyall Munro, who passed away last year. The report that follows outlines how the FMCM has sought to live out the vision of those who were inspired to erect the Memorial at Myall Creek.
Development of Myall Creek Memorial Precinct
Due to COVID 19 2020/2021 proved a difficult year worldwide. Despite that, the year also witnessed a great leap forward for the FMCM when, in January 2020 construction commenced on Stage 2 of its staged plan ultimately for an education and cultural centre in the Myall Creek Memorial Precinct. The committee expresses its appreciation to the NSW Government for its grant of a little over $1 million from its Regional Cultural Fund (RCF), administered by Create NSW, to undertake this next stage in development of the Memorial precinct.
The major construction work has been undertaken by NPM Indigenous, a majority owned Indigenous company employing Indigenous people in the project. Gwydir Shire Council (GSC) has been involved with civil engineering work including the performance space (amphitheatre).
The Stage 2 development, with its performance space (amphitheatre) and Indigenous ‘bush garden’ introducing plant species endemic to the region, brings a whole new dimension to the Myall Creek precinct. It has broadened the precinct beyond its current role of ‘truth-telling in history’ to now include a chance to learn about, honour and celebrate the longest surviving culture in the world. Cultural performance of Aboriginal dance and song, both traditional and contemporary, drama and storytelling in the performance space provides opportunity for greater cross-cultural understanding and respect, enabling Aboriginal Australians to nurture a sense of pride in their culture.
The ‘bush garden’ also expands the possible educational outcomes for school groups who visit the memorial, offering scope for not only learning the sad history of dispossession but also providing through the ‘bush garden’ an educational microcosm of pre-colonial Myall Creek habitat and insight into how Aboriginal people live in relationship with the land.
A further benefit from the project has been stronger ties between the FMCM and local Aboriginal elders and community members through consultation in designing the performance space, the ‘bush garden’ and preparation of wording for the ‘interpretive signage’ for the precinct. A place of infamy has become a place reclaimed and owned by the original inhabitants where their culture can be practised and respected.
The close cooperation with Gwydir Shire Council, a critical factor in the successful outcome of the project, has also led to a greater sense of commitment and support for the Memorial from the local community. The joint nature of the project has enabled Council staff and non-Indigenous community members to build better understanding and working relationships with the Aboriginal community.
The project, however, was not without its challenges. There was slippage in timing due to delays in delivery of construction material caused by the COVID 19 pandemic, although the main delay was due to frequent rain events preventing work on the amphitheatre, earthmoving for landscaping and preparation of the ‘bush garden’.
There was also cost slippage primarily due to ensuring adequate water security and the installation of CCTV security cameras not identified as an issue in the original proposal. The remoteness of the location was also a factor difficult to quantify.
Following the tender process and selection of NPM Indigenous as the preferred contractor lengthy consultations were held with NPM I, including rescoping of the Detailed Design, to identify cost savings from the original tender offer without affecting the integrity of the project. The decision was also taken to invite Gwydir Shire Council to quote for the construction of the amphitheatre, originally to be undertaken by the preferred contractor. This resulted in significant savings, as did the decision to opt for an off-grid solar power system rather than a substation and 240 volts supply to the property.
Cost savings from the revised Detailed Design also provided for provision of a dedicated water supply storage and irrigation reticulation system for the ‘bush garden’ not included in the original project design. Originally the FMCM had intended to design and lay out the ‘bush garden’ through volunteers but it became evident that professional expertise was needed to ensure the integrity and accuracy of the created habitat. FMCM was fortunate to engage Armidale based David Carr of Stringybark Ecological to design and plant the Indigenous habitat, guided by advice and consultation with local Elders facilitated through the FMCM. FMCM is also indebted to volunteers from the local Bingara community who worked tirelessly to help the plants become established over the summer months and continue to assist in caring for the habitat.
The FMCM is an entirely voluntary organisation with the committee comprising 50% Aboriginal 50% non-Indigenous as required under its constitution. What drew members to the committee is a shared commitment to reconciliation and acknowledging the troubled history of this nation; not necessarily taking on a major construction process of this kind. However, members found within the committee a range of skills and professional experience that complemented each other and made it possible to achieve this outcome. Many committee members contributed in a variety of ways but FMCM especially wishes to acknowledge the project management skills and hundreds of hours of voluntary time Peter Stewart contributed to the project.
FMCM also wishes to acknowledge how critical the contribution of architect Matthew Young from Shellshear Young was to the success of this project. Shellshear Young has been there from the beginning of the Memorial, designing on a pro bono basis the layout of the precinct with its serpentine pathway leading to the Memorial rock. They have continued to assist the committee pro bono over the years but took this to a new level in the development and execution of Stage 2.
Both major contractors – NPM Indigenous and Gwydir Shire Council (GSC) – were clearly committed to a successful outcome and were extremely helpful in revising the Detailed Design to find cost savings without compromising any aspect of the project. NPM Indigenous is an Indigenous company that welcomed the opportunity to contribute to such an important cultural project for First Peoples. GSC’s civil engineering expertise was also of great assistance and the FMCM wishes to thank the contribution GSC staff contributed to the success of the project.
All these efforts were rewarded when FMCM received the Occupation Certificate and Certificate of Practical Completion for Myall Creek Stage 2 Project on 5 February 2021. This was duly acknowledged when around 50 people, including key stakeholders, gathered in early February at the precinct with Adam Marshall MLC for New England to celebrate the enhanced precinct facilities now open for people to enjoy. FMCM wishes to acknowledge the sustained support Adam has provided as its local member.
The FMCM admit this project took it out of its ‘comfort zone’ and how critical it would be for this project to be successfully completed in terms of FMCM’s overall plans for an educational and cultural centre. It is therefore grateful for the opportunity to have worked alongside Create NSW Infrastructure, GSC, Matthew Young and others mentioned above towards a successful outcome.
2020 ‘Virtual’ Annual Gathering
Sadly, due to COVID 19, the normal annual gathering had to be cancelled. However, the committee improvised with an online video ‘virtual gathering’ based on the normal physical commemoration ceremony, featuring local elders, descendants, children, and committee members. The committee is particularly grateful to the nine school communities and students, including Clontarf Foundation, both local and interstate, who participated in the virtual gathering. The committee received responses from a wide variety of viewers reinforcing the importance of its website and internet presence.
2020 Annual General Meeting
The AGM could not be held at the Myall Creek Memorial Hall as usual in conjunction with the annual memorial ceremony due to COVID-19 virus restrictions. However, after consultation with ACNC, a delayed AGM was held at the Living Classroom in Bingara on 18 July 2020. Only 20 people could attend the venue, due to social distancing restrictions, but other members were able to join the duly advertised meeting via teleconference.
Deductible Gift Recipient (DGR)
As indicated in its previous annual report FMCM, with pro bono assistance from law firm, Baker & McKenzie, has received specific legislative DGR listing under the Income Tax Assessment Act 1997. With its listing as an Australian Charities Not-for-Profit Commission (ACNC) entity, with dedicated gift fund, FMCM is now well placed for fund raising initiatives and in December 2020 launched a ‘crowd funding’ program which raised nearly $13,000 towards its Stage 2 project.
Significant developments, including the RCF grant from the NSW Government, securing DGR status and ACNC listing, has highlighted the importance of sound financial management. BDO Australia, which specialises in understanding the distinct needs of government and public sector organisations operating in an environment where policy, legislative and budgetary requirements are paramount, continues to manage FMCM accounts.
FMCM has also appointed National Audits group to undertake its audit for the 2020/2021 financial year.
The FMCM is sensitive to the need for transparent and intentional management of resources entrusted to it. On 6-7 February 2021, the national committee held a ‘Governance Workshop’ facilitated by Murawin, a national Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander owned and led consultancy, which works across a wide range of policy areas that directly affect Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and communities. An outcomes report has been received from Murawin. The committee will consider implementation of the recommendations as part of an overall review of policy and procedures scheduled for 2021-2022.
Promotion and Publicity
Sadly, due to COVID 19, the annual gathering on the June long-weekend and other face-to-face activities had to be cancelled. However, it prompted the committee to explore how to more effectively use on-line media to promote the Memorial and what it is seeking to achieve. This led to the successful 2020 ‘Virtual’ Annual gathering referred to earlier. However, the committee realized there is much more that could be done if it had the resources needed, rather than relying on time-stretched volunteers and their expertise. On-line media communication provides a means of connecting with people unable to make the journey to Myall Creek owing to its physical remoteness.
Publications produced by FMCM, particularly “Frontier Conflicts, Wars and Massacres in Australia 1770-1940s” compiled by Jane Morrison, continue to inform the wider community and provide a small boost to the committee’s limited income. FMCM Communications and WebsiteFMCM has updated its website to make it more accessible to smartphone access and to provide for on-line donations. FMCM is deeply appreciative of the pro bone contribution made by James Cordiner who set up and maintained its original website and is installing the new site. Committee member Adele Chapman-Burgess manages our Facebook page. Government Support.
From the outset the FMCM has appreciated the bipartisan support received from all three levels of Government, not least the wonderful injection of funds and practical support from the NSW Government through its Regional Cultural Fund grant referred to earlier in this report.
FMCM also continues to receive support from local councils across the region. Gwydir Shire Council (GSC), where the memorial is located, has been especially helpful. GSC has played a key role as one of the contractors associated with the Stage 2 development, including civil engineering work and construction of the performance space (amphitheatre.). GSC is also co-trustee with the FMCM in oversight of the Myall Creek Memorial Reserve Trust, the crown land on which the Memorial is located. The FMCM is currently preparing with GSC a ‘Statement of Cooperation’ to guide this relationship. Neighbouring Inverell Council has also offered practical support and Narrabri Council and Glen Innes Severn Council are regularly represented at its annual gatherings and supportive of FMCM goals.
FMCM Local Support Groups
Sydney Friends and Armidale Friends groups continue to play an important role in promoting the aspirations of FMCM in their local regions/communities. The Sydney Friends of Myall Creek Memorial regularly liaise with members of the NSW Government and NSW Opposition and has especially assisted in maintaining and upgrading the FMCM website.
Armidale Friends have also been proactive in promoting the Memorial and its goals. The Friends group are preparing, in collaboration with the University of New England (UNE), for Professor Henry Reynolds to deliver a lecture on ‘truth telling in history’ in Armidale to coincide with the 2021 Annual Gathering on the Friday of the June long-weekend.
Local SupportThe Myall Creek Memorial is physically located on land under regional oversight of Anaiwan LALC. The FMCM especially thanks its CEO, Greg Livermore, for the LALC’s ongoing support.
The Memorial is also dependent on the ‘grassroots’ support received from local people who have come to own it as part of their own community. In addition to Gwydir Shire Council for local support and encouragement, FMCM also thanks the Myall Creek CWA for their catering year after year, and members of the Myall Creek Hall committee who always ensure the hall and amenities are ready to greet visitors who come from far afield.
FMCM also thanks two of our local committee members – Brian Donnelly and Kelvin Brown – who coordinate the care and maintenance of the memorial, liaising with Gwydir Shire Council, and overseeing work carried out by Community Service teams. Both Brian and Kelvin also serve as guides for groups that pre-book visits to the Memorial.
As earlier mentioned, a new feature added to the Memorial precinct, as part of the Stage 2 development, is a display of plants, shrubs and grasses indigenous to Myall Creek habitat. Maintaining this ‘bush habitat’, given the remote location and variability of ‘drought and flooding rains’, is a challenge for FMCM’s dispersed committee. Members are therefore deeply appreciative of local community volunteers, especially Diana Saunders and committee member Elizabeth Kakoschke, for helping the habitat to take root and grow through trying summer months.
Professional educators on the committee are currently preparing online education resources relating to the Memorial as well as materials on massacres which are consistent with the NSW education curricula.
The interest in Myall Creek of both local and further afield school communities and their students continues to be an essential feature of FMCM, both through attendance at the annual gathering as well as the many school excursions that occur during the year. We thank Jo Miller for her tireless energy in conducting the annual student art, creative writing & song competition, an integral part of FMCM program. The committee also thanks Jo for sharing her graphic design skills in preparation of its publications and educational resources.FMCM also thanks the school teachers who year after year give up their time on a holiday weekend to enable their students to share in the gathering, but also seek to ensure ‘truth telling in history’ in the classroom.
FMCM National Committee
As earlier indicated, the Friends of Myall Creek Memorial were deeply saddened by the passing of uncle Lyall Munro Snr. last year. However, the committee was delighted to appoint his grandson – Keith Munro – to serve as Co-Chairperson following the 2020 AGM. Quite apart from being a descendant of one who survived the massacre at Myall Creek, Keith brings his own skills and integrity to the ongoing work of FMCM.
The 2020 AGM also saw some ‘changing of the guard’ as the committee moved into a new phase in its life with the retirement of long-term non-Indigenous members, Peter Stewart and Adam Blakester, retiring from the committee. Adam had brought a wealth of experience in governance and community development programs to the FMCM. Peter’s background in project management was also of great assistance, chairing the Project Control Group overseeing the Stage 2 project. Peter agreed to continue in that role until completion, though not remaining a member of the National Committee. Both will be sorely missed. However, this opened the way for two new members to be elected. Bingara local Elizabeth Kakoschke’s appointment was timely given her interest and skills in local land care given the installation of the new Indigenous cultural ‘bush garden’ with Stage 2. The other new member, Stuart Pendlebury, has a wealth of experience in museum management, including preparation of education materials for visiting groups. Jo Miller and Ivan Roberts were re-elected for a further term.
Aboriginal committee members Roger Knox and Kelvin Brown were due for retirement but were re-elected for a further term. Although there were no further vacancies available, Jim Blacklock and Jolea Isaacs were invited to become ex-officio on the committee, both serving on the cultural sub-committee. Jim had been a committee member in earlier days and Jolea brings her youthful energy to the FMCM, particularly in cultural dance. This followed on a decision at the 2019 AGM to encourage and mentor younger people in committee processes and invite them to join ex-officio. Jolea also serves on the governance sub-committee.
Looking to the Future – the vision for Myall Creek Memorial
Successful completion of Stage 2, through the generous and encouraging support of the NSW Government, has strengthened the committee’s resolve to move forward with Stage 3 of its long-term goal for establishment of an education and cultural centre in the Myall Creek Memorial precinct.
Looking to the future the FMCM believes it needs to be more proactive in telling its story to foundations, trusts, and the philanthropic sector, not only regarding Stage 3, but also to cover the ongoing expenses related to maintaining the enhanced precinct facilities. In addition to developing a fund-raising strategy it is also important to raise the profile of the Memorial generally. Associated with this it is proposed to undertake re-branding of the FMCM and expand its on-line presence. Fine tuning of governance policy and procedures is also a key objective for the year ahead.
Friends of Myall Creek Memorial CommitteeJune 2021
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