“More than a word. Reconciliation takes action” is this year’s theme for National Reconciliation Week (27 May – 3 June) and at Bellarine Peninsula Salvos, on Wathaurong Country, reconciliation is at the heart of the vision for the local community.
A friendship between Australian Olympian Nova Peris; Mutti Mutti Elder and founder of Narana Aboriginal Cultural Centre Uncle Vince Ross; and Salvation Army officers (ministers) Peter and Diane Hobbs, first led to the vision for a future Indigenous learning and healing centre to be established on the Bellarine Peninsula (VIC).
Based on four hectares of Wathaurong Country in Clifton Springs, Bellarine Peninsula Salvos – known as The Ranch – was set up as “a safe and creative retreat for people to find themselves and explore their destiny and purpose”, explains Peter Hobbs.
The property serves the wider community through church gatherings, youth groups, child trauma and family therapy, a homelessness outreach van, art therapy, student mentoring, 12-step groups and more.
With yarning circles at the property already offering a safe space to share and reflect, last year seven students connected to Bellarine Peninsula Salvos engaged in a partnership with Nova, Uncle Vince and Clifton Springs Primary School, to help create a more inclusive and educational space around local Indigenous culture and history.
Peter and Diane hope to soon expand use of The Ranch as an Indigenous healing and educational space where locals can engage in truth-telling, reconciliation and sharing of life experiences – where healing and learning can then flow back into the community.
They are currently talking with locals about ways to do this – wanting the initiative to be community driven, with guidance and support from Nova, Uncle Vince, Narara Aboriginal Cultural Centre and others.
Passion and prayer
National Reconciliation Week (NRW) started as the Week of Prayer for Reconciliation in 1993 (the International Year of the World’s Indigenous Peoples) and was supported by Australia’s major faith communities.
In 1996, the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation launched Australia’s first NRW, which today is celebrated by businesses, schools and early learning services, organisations and individuals Australia-wide. With this year’s theme calling out the need for actions and not just words, grassroots initiatives that seek to connect communities are helping to make positive gains in reconciliation.
Although neither had any previous connection with the Bellarine Peninsula before serving there as Salvation Army officers, Peter and Dianne have discovered ancestors from the area. This led them to look more closely into their own heritage, the history of the Bellarine Peninsula and the impact of historical injustices on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. From that, Peter says an amazing team has come together with a heart for healing and reconciliation, in what he firmly sees as God’s leading.
After meeting Nova earlier last year Peter and Dianne instantly felt a deep connection between her work and their vision for the area.
Nova, who was the first Aboriginal Australian to win an Olympic gold medal, a Commonwealth Games multiple gold medalist and a former-federal politician, is experienced in addressing disadvantage and injustice. Establishing the Nova Peris Girls Academy in Darwin (NT), she is helping to mentor Aboriginal girls and keep them engaged with their education.
Completing the team is Uncle Vince who joined the Salvos as a 12-year-old and has served his community his whole life. As founder of not-for-profit organisation Narara Aboriginal Cultural Centre in the Geelong area (VIC), Uncle Vince is committed to teaching Australians and international visitors about Indigenous culture.
Safety and healing
As the team come together to establish a positive space for healing and discussion, Peter says they are building from a familiar foundation. The idea of ‘yarning circles’ is already basically our community model as it stands. We listen to each other, care for each other and just work out life and faith together.
“We want kids learning about their culture and using The Ranch as a safe place for Indigenous people. God is doing the hard work – we are just keeping up with him.”
For the Hobbs’, reconciliation in action means “really listening to God, really listening to others and taking the next right step”.