CHERBOURG ON SHOW: The Wakka Wakka dancers show off their culture.
CHERBOURG ON SHOW: The Wakka Wakka dancers show off their culture. Rhiannon Tuffield

Wakka Wakka past has deeper meaning

A CULTURE that was suppressed forcibly in a tiny community less than one century ago is now able to flourish and, as a maiden festival at Cherbourg has proven, some fires never go out.

The town came alive with its first Yhurri Gurri arts and cultural festival on Saturday, where indigenous culture, history and storytelling was celebrated, as part of South Burnett and Cherbourg on Show.

Introduced to the region four years ago, the festival has been a way to show individuals,what the region has to offer.

While Cherbourg has always been a pivotal focus of the festival, this year's display reached new heights.

Supported by Cherbourg's own radio station, USMOB, the Yhurri Gurri festival recognised the many tribes that were moved forcibly to the area in 1904.

The government controlled many aspects of the residents' lives, including their language what they ate and wore and even who they could marry.

Tribes came from all over Queensland and NSW and mixing the cultures together resulted in an almost total loss of cultural heritage, although a new culture was born within the community.

Cherbourg elder and festival organiser Jeanette Brown said the Yhurri Gurri festival was a sign of how far indigenous culture acceptance had come.

"Most of the dancing is connected here to Cherbourg, even though we're a place of many tribes, we've still learnt the Wakka Wakka dance and language.

"It's a place of many tribes and it turned out it created that community."

As a little girl, Aunty Jeanette was still not considered a citizen and needed a pass to leave the reserve.

She said the people from Cherbourg were discouraged from practising their traditional culture and forbidden from using public restrooms in some towns.

"I was a child and I didn't quite comprehend or understand, I didn't know what racism was," she said.

"When we finally became Australian citizens in 1967 and, from that referendum time, the movement started better relations between the different cultures."

"What happened to the Australian Indigenous people has happened all around the world. American Indians, Maories, all Indigenous cultures throughout the world have experienced similar things."

Yhurri Gurri event manager Zona Hussey-Smith said there had been a slow improvement over the years when it came to cultural acceptance, and festivals were a way to connect people.

"Aboriginal culture is such an important heritage and it shapes who are are today, whether we're black or white, it shapes us all," Mr Hussey-Smith said.

"I think it's beneficial to know and understand how much Indigenous culture influences and shapes our lives, and I think people are starting to understand that.

"I think it's a great initiative of Cherbourg to reach out its hands of friendship to say welcome to our community, and the same for NAIDOC Week and the fun run.

"These are three important activities throughout the year and by extending that hand of friendship it enables those who don't come through the community to have that access to community and people and to develop those good, strong relationships."

Aunty Jeanette said things had improved vastly from when she was a young girl, but there was still a degree of alienation when it came to white Australians understanding indigenous culture.

"I think white Australians are still learning today: A lot of them don't know important aspects of our culture and there's still a lot of unfinished business," she said.

"But through things like the Ration Shed, the reconciliation run and festivals like this, that's where knowledge and education comes from."

South Burnett

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