Listen: Laura chats to Sydney Olympic Park’s indigenous education officer, Shannon Foster.
Above: Singer Leah Flanagan is among the NAIDOC Week entertainment at Olympic Park.
Celebrations being held at Sydney Olympic Park for NAIDOC Week this week, are likely to have a big boost in numbers as more than 20,000 visitors descend on the park for Hillsong Conference.
It’s a sweet collision of events that has helped draw attention to the importance of Australia’s indigenous heritage and the unique Aboriginal history of the Homebush area.
Sydney Olympic Park Authority’s indigenous education officer, Shannon Foster, chatted to Hope 103.2 about the events, which will include guided walks, live entertainment, craft activities and free food samples.
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NAIDOC Week (National Aboriginal and Islanders Day Observance Committee) – holds deep personal significance for Shannon, as she is a descendant of some of the earliest Aboriginal activists.
“My great grandparents Tom and Eliza Foster were a very important part of the 1938 Day of Mourning March,” she said. “It was one of the world’s very first protest marches, asking for human rights for Aboriginal people…so that kids could go to school, so they could get health care, so they could get pensions when they needed it, so that the conditions on the missions were improved.
“My great grandparents were a part of that.”
Positive Change for Indigenous Rights
In her own lifetime Shannon’s seen so much positive change around Aboriginal justice, and awareness of indigenous history.
“When I was at school where we did not learn anything [about] Aboriginal people, [we were taught] that Australia begun in 1788 and that was the whole story. But today I am… honoured to be invited to amazing places to teach students [about] indigenous people, cultures, arts, knowledge and stories.”
The theme of this year’s NAIDOC Week is “Because of Her, We Can”, highlighting the role of indigenous women in Aboriginal communities.
“The women in our communities are everything to us,” Shannon said. “Our ‘Aunties’ are the most important people. They keep us in line. They share our stories, they share our knowledge.
“It’s been the grannies, the aunties, the women, who have made sure that our communities have stayed together, that our cultures continue on, that the kids are looked after… to ensure our communities are strong and survive into the future.”
Activities at Olympic Park this week will include guided walks exploring natural bushlands once occupied by the Wangal people, and discovering how they survived in a mangrove wetland environment, before being edged out by white settlement.
“The Wangal people lived in the area from Goat Island going out to Parramatta along the Parramatta River,” said Shannon. “They were fishing people… very much matriarchal and centred around the fisherwomen of Sydney. They got around in canoes and supplied the families and communities with fish, which was a most important source of food.
“Wangal life in Homebush on the mudflats would’ve been a beautiful, abundant lifestyle.”
One of the most famous Wangal people who walked upon what is now Sydney Olympic Park, was Bennelong, the Aboriginal leader who travelled to England with Arthur Phillip.
“People think of Sydney Olympic Park and they think of the Easter Show, the sports stadiums and concerts…[but] two thirds of Sydney Olympic Park is natural surrounds – wetlands, parklands and bush. We’ve got amazing history,” said Shannon.
Other activities will include performances by acclaimed indigenous singer-songwriter Leah Flanagan, as well as cultural activities like weaving, story-telling and free samples of an indigenous barbeque, expected to include traditional foods like kangaroo, barramundi and bream.
All ages are welcome, all activities are free and bookings are not required.
The NSW Hall of Champions sports museum at Quaycentre in the park, will also highlight indigenous athletes such as tennis player Evonne Goolagong Cawley, football stars Arthur Beetson and Laurie Daley, and netballer Nicole Cusack.