Bendigo man emerges from years of struggle to be rewarded for breaking barriers

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Bendigo began its NAIDOC Week celebrations with a flag raising, smoking ceremony, and recognition of the outstanding personal accomplishments of the Bendigo and District Indigenous Co-operative (BDAC) in the land of Dja Dja Wurrung.

Through July 11, NAIDOC Week celebrates the history, culture and achievements of the Aborigines and Torres Strait Island.

BDAC Executive Director Raylene Harradine said it was important to come together and celebrate the successes of the Indigenous community.

Barkandji man Zac Gittins, 22, received an Indigenous Employment Award for breaking through barriers to finding employment and becoming a mental health advocate.

Mr Gittins said his life changed at just 13 when he felt pressured by his peers to smoke what he thought was marijuana at a house party.

“My mom always warned me not to touch drugs and I was adamant I wouldn’t,” he said.

But like many children of this age, Mr Gittins smoked the drug, which was found to contain fentanyl and led to psychotic depression.

“I struggled with psychosis for years afterward,” he said.

“I had depression, anxiety… you name it.

“My whole life has stopped to fight against these mental illnesses. I had to drop out of school and survive with these illnesses.

“It was a great struggle for many years.”

Mr Gittins got help working with Headspace, his GP, and started taking medication.

“I healed, I grew up and I started to work.

“Before, I couldn’t go to school anymore, I couldn’t work, I couldn’t do anything.

“Now I have two, three jobs. I speak in the community about mental health and awareness.

“I’m just saying it’s okay, you can struggle and you can get away with it.”

NAIDOC Story of the Week

Representing the National Aboriginal and Islander Day Committee and now considered a week of celebration, NAIDOC has its roots in the indigenous protest movements of the 1920s.

Flag raised at BDAC for NAIDOC week
Bendigo’s celebrations began with a flag raising, a smoking ceremony and a recognition of outstanding personal achievement.(

ABC Central Victoria: Cassandra Power

)

The 1920s saw the Aborigines boycott Australia Day and the emergence of several indigenous-led advocacy organizations.

In 1932, William Cooper, a man from Yorta Yorta, founded the Australian Aboriginal League and led an unsuccessful campaign for representation in Parliament.

In 1938, the Australia Day protests were known as the Day of Mourning, which was held annually on the Sunday before Australia Day in the 1940s and 1950s.

In 1955, the Day of Mourning became known as National Aboriginal Day, moved to the first Sunday in July, and changed from outright protest to celebration of Aboriginal culture.

The committee for the celebration was formed in 1956, with the event extended to a week in 1974.

This year’s theme is “Healing the Country”

A woman standing on a podium giving a speech
Raylene Harradine said they are still thinking about the healing of the country and what it means.(

ABC Central Victoria: Cassandra Power

)

Ms Harradine said being part of the environment was important to BDAC.

“Where we are is important, it allows us to be part of the environment,” she said.

“We have nurtured the particular herbs that are important to our people and it is really about healing our environment and healing our people.

“We invite people to the smoking ceremony as a way to eliminate the negative and to emit positive energy. It also allows them to experience what it is like to our people of yesterday and today and how we practice our culture.

“This is a very good legacy for our children – what does it mean for the healing of our country? It’s not just about the here and now, it’s about our future generations.

“Not just on Aboriginal people, but also on the community at large. “

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NAIDOC Week 2021


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