Narrm a reason to be Merri

May 30, 2022

Marcus Stewart in the Herald Sun

I’m a passionate Collingwood supporter, but I have to admit the Melbourne Demons have earned a special place in my heart with their decision to rebrand to “Narrm Football Club” for the AFL’s Indigenous Round.

I really love seeing the culture and language of First Peoples being embraced and celebrated.

Our culture is the oldest living culture in the world, but in recent years – as in the last 230 or so – we’ve had to withstand the horrors of deliberate and targeted efforts to eradicate us and our culture.

So every time I hear our languages spoken out loud, it rings in my ears like the music of resilience. It fills me with hope that, although our history stretches back countless generations, we’re going to thrive for countless more to come.

Always was, always will be.

It’s not just the rejuvenation of language that excites me. I believe the languages of Traditional Owners in Victoria can bring everyone closer together.

You see, language is the key to understanding and with understanding comes respect and connection.

I can’t imagine anyone who lives in Melbourne – or Narrm as the Wurundjeri Woi Wurrung people have referred to this area for tens of thousands of years – not wanting to deepen their knowledge of this wonderful place. Language can play a massive part in that.

I’m so pleased to see more and more people, institutions and communities coming to that realisation. For example, I see that Moreland Council in Melbourne’s inner north is soon to discard its name – which was puzzlingly named in reference to a colonial landowner’s slave plantation in the Caribbean – and vote on also adopting a name from the Woi Wurrung language.

Perhaps, like the neighbouring councils of Yarra and Darebin and Maribyrnong, it will take a name referencing its bordering waterway – the Merri Merri?

Whatever the final decision, it will be a lovely invitation for residents to step inside millennia-long history of culture and language and deepen their connection with the place they call home. What a gift the Traditional Owners have given by sparking this initiative!

It would be great to see language embraced and renewed in this way right across the state. Imagine if traditional place names, or dual naming, become the norm in Victoria? You might be camping at Wilson’s Prom Yiruk Wamoon this weekend or hiking in the Gariwerd Grampians or barracking for the Dees at the Narrm Cricket Ground.

It’s these types of conversations that I’ve really enjoyed as part of my role as Co-Chair of the First Peoples’ Assembly of Victoria. The Assembly is the democratic voice for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people on the shared journey towards Treaty here in Victoria.

We’ve been tasked with laying the foundations and ground-rules that will allow Traditional Owners of Country to negotiate Treaties with the Victorian Government.

Treaty must deliver meaningful structural change to improve the lives of our people – and that’s my core focus, but I’m excited that the journey will also present all Victorians with many opportunities to learn more about, share in and celebrate our rich and wonderful culture.

I think an understanding of this – that Treaty is this generation’s chance to right past wrongs so we can create a better future together – that has seen all sides of politics get behind the process and agree that it’s time to get Treaty done here in Victoria.

It’s not often that you have the Liberal Party, the Greens, the Labor Party and others all sharing a consensus view on such a big piece of reform. Perhaps it has something to do with the leadership being shown by various communities, institutions and sporting clubs across the state to step up and be part of that positive collective embrace and celebration of our culture.

And for that, I will say “ngun godjin” which in my language means thank you. Thank you for walking with us on the journey to Treaty here in Victoria.

I look forward to the many opportunities this journey will present for First Peoples to share our culture, wisdom and our knowledge about how to care for Country in this great place we all call home.

— Marcus Stewart, proud Nira illim bulluk man of the Taungurung nation and First Peoples’ Assembly of Victoria Co-Chair

This piece was first published in the Herald Sun on Saturday, 28 May 2022.