Walking on Adnyamathanha Country
with Rev Dr Aunty Denise Champion and Rhanee Lester
Written by Ian Dempster, UAICC National Administration Assistant and SA Congress Resource Officer
Walking on Country is a special experience, enabling participants to catch a glimpse of the world through the eyes of First Peoples.
Walking on Adnyamathanha Country is a rare privilege, and to do so in the year when the NAIDOC theme is “Heal Country” is even more amazing.
This was the experience for nearly 30 participants on the 2021 June long weekend, an event organised by Uniting College for its students, teachers and their families. We had some extra guests beyond college life, including SA Synod General Secretary, Rev Felicity Amery and Brooke Prentis, CEO of Common Grace.
Participants gathered excitedly at Uniting College before midday at Brooklyn Park to prepare for the drive to Port Augusta. The group stayed there for the night after experiencing the hospitality of the Port Augusta Congress congregation. There we met our Walking on Country guides, Rev Dr Aunty Denise Champion and her niece Rhanee Lester.
The trip from Port Augusta to Nepabunna in the northern Flinders would normally take around 4 hours: on this Walking on Country it took us 8 hours. Why? We stopped along the way to hear stories of the land and Adnyamathanha country at Quorn, Willochra, Yourabilla and Copley. In addition, we had a lovely 90-minute lunch break at the café in Hawker and a fuel “top-up” in Leigh Creek.
Sunday began with an early morning sunrise story looking to the mountains in the east. And what a magnificent sunrise it was! After time spent in the Nepabunna church, we travelled a short distance to Iga Warta, which is an Adnyamathanha camping and cultural centre. There we were able to look at displays and make purchases at the shop. In the afternoon we visited a cultural site where we listened to more stories. This was followed by a visit to Ram Paddock Gate, where the Adnyamathanha community lived in the 1920’s until their move to Nepabunna. This was a sobering experience seeing where the early pastoralists expected the people to live on a small rocky paddock. In the late afternoon, we gathered around the campfire sharing stories and reflections, as well as damper and quandong jam.
To Walk on Country with two generations was a blessing. It was great to see Denise working with her niece. Rhanee read some of the Adnyamathanha stories on the site they were first told from. In addition, she read her own yet-to-be-published children’s story. Some people were able to buy copies of Rhanee’s first book, Walking to Corroboree.
Following the Walking on Country experience, Brooke Prentis as guest presenter on ABC Radio National program Soul Search, interviewed Denise Champion about the journey back to her home country. This was especially appropriate as the theme for NAIDOC week in 2021 was “Heal Country.” For Brooke some of the highlights of the trip included the early morning sunrise, placing her bare feet on country in the sandy bed of the creeks, hearing the stories of the dead river red gums on the Willochra Plain and of the old Colebrook home at Quorn and listening to Denise’s experiences growing up in Quorn. Listen to the Interview
You can hear more of Denise’s stories by reading her books, Anaditj and Yarta Wandatha.
You may like to talk to your church, Presbytery, fellowship or group about organising your own Walking on Country in the area where you live. A good place to start is to contact your Synod's Covenanting or UAICC contact. Stay tuned for the Living the Covenant Locally project from the Walking Together as First and Second Peoples Circle.
This story was first published in the August-September editioin of New Times. Photos: Ian Dempster