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Building Bridges In Blackbutt

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Dancer and story teller James Doyle, from Gympie, at Blackbutt’s Reconciliation Week celebrations in Blackbutt Memorial Hall on Saturday

June 3, 2019

Reconciliation Week  is all about sharing stories and experiences, which is exactly what dancer James Doyle did with candour and humour in Blackbutt on Saturday.

James, who travelled from Gympie for the day, mesmerised his audience with his stories.

He explained that when he was younger, he had no interest in formal education. Instead, he had a burning desire to learn as much as possible about his culture, and to understand the key roles that Indigenous peoples have played in the management of the land.

Now in his 40s, James said he wanted to share what he had learned with non-Indigenous people so they could also gain a deeper understanding.

He believed that bridging this gap made both groups stronger and built bridges of understanding.

This year’s Reconciliation Week celebration was organised by Blackbutt Art Gallery, and was officially opened by Elder Aunty Vera Sullivan.

After her Welcome To Country, James asked everyone to follow him outside the Blackbutt Memorial Hall so he could perform a smoking ceremony with his family.

As he did so, James explained the meaning of the ceremony; why teatree leaves were often used; why it was important for participants to waft the smoke over themselves; and the best hand gestures to use for this.

Afterwards, the smoke-cleansed guests filed back into the hall to hear short speeches of welcome from South Burnett Mayor Keith Campbell and Cr Gavin Jones, and then a country music break from Val and Noel McGrath.

Many guests used this time as an opportunity to have morning tea, while others browsed the stalls.

After morning tea, James took centre stage again, explaining the meanings behind various dances, then performing them with his family.

Val McGrath told southburnett.com.au she had received very encouraging feedback from Saturday’s event, and James’ appearance had generated very positive comments.

“People loved him and the relaxed way he went about it, and we’re very glad he came,” Val said.

Val, who is a member of the South Burnett Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Corporation (SBASTIC), said she hoped the corporation would invite James and his family back for the South Burnett’s NAIDOC Week celebrations in Kingaroy in July.

She said she was happy with Blackbutt’s second annual Reconciliation Week function, and was already starting to plan next year’s event.

The day began with a Welcome To Country delivered by Aunty Vera Sullivan  …

… and this was followed by a smoking ceremony outside the Blackbutt Memorial Hall

South Burnett Mayor Keith Campbell welcomed the audience and said he was proud of the growing recognition Reconciliation Week had

The Mayor was followed by Division 2 Cr Gavin Jones, who congratulated the Blackbutt Art Gallery for organising the day

After the official part of the day’s proceeding, guests including William Button, Aunty Vera Sullivan, Mayor Keith Campbell, Aunty Lillian Gray, Cr Gavin Jones, Luella Watson and Carol Olsen-Bull gathered to watch the entertainment

Musical entertainment was provided by Val and Noel McGrath, from the Blackbutt Art Gallery … the couple are popular country music entertainers who perform outside the South Burnett

Guests could also browse the many stalls set up in the hall, such as this one put together by Jonathon and Elizabeth Slottje

Jeff Connor, from the Blackbutt Medical Centre, and old friend Trevor Kidd admired each other’s Reconciliation Week hats

James Doyle explained the symbolism behind his dancing, then demonstrated different dances with his family


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