UP TO 100 people celebrated the return of Antwerp’s Ebenezer Mission site to the traditional owners on Thursday.
The National Trust of Victoria transferred its freehold interest in the site to native title holders Barengi Gadjin Land Council Aboriginal Corporation in a ceremony at the site.
The Wimmera’s Aboriginal families joined National Trust members, politicians and Barengi Gadjin guests for the event.
Elders Brendan Marks, Joanne Harrison, Gloria Clarke, Jennifer Beer and Kevin Coombs welcomed people to the handover, sharing their stories and connection with the land.
Mr Marks talked about the caretaker role of the land by Aborigines.
“It’s a job that’s got to be done, not by one person, but by all our young people,’’ he said.
Minister for Aboriginal Affairs Jeanette Powell thanked the elders for sharing their stories and welcomed the ceremony guests.
She reflected on the importance of the handover.
“It’s one of those issues that shows the National Trust is doing the right thing as part of its reconciliation plan,’’ she said.
“The land that we’re on has a very strong history and importance to the traditional owners, and it’s going back throughout the years.
“It’s fitting that this place is returned to them.’’
National Trust of Victoria chairman Graeme Blackman spoke about the trust’s involvement with Ebenezer during the past 45 years.
He said the handover was part of the trust’s reconciliation action plan.
“We wanted to do something quite tangible and material,’’ he said.
“It’s a wonderful opportunity for heritage to be celebrated.
“Our vision for reconciliation is to facilitate the involvement of Aboriginal peoples in the custody and interpretation of their heritage and in National Trust programs.
“We have enjoyed working with the Barengi Gadjin Land Council on heritage advocacy, as well as developing programs to celebrate local heritage and support reconciliation within the community.’’
Barengi Gadjin chairwoman Janine Coombs said Thursday was the eighth anniversary since the land council became native title holders.
She said the Ebenezer Mission site handover highlighted the strong link the traditional owners felt with their ancestors.
“This is huge for them,’’ she said.
“It’s about linkages and being respectful, and it’s for future generations.’’
Ms Coombs said future uses for the mission could include a tourist destination.
She said it would also remain part of the region’s cultural link.
“I’m really stoked about it,’’ she said.
The National Trust donated an apple tree to Barengi Gadjin in recognition of a past orchard on the site.
The event also included tours of the site, a smoking ceremony and dance performances.
Ebenezer Mission was gazetted in 1861 as the Lake Hindmarsh Aboriginal Reserve and closed in 1904.
The National Trust managed the site from 1968 to 1991, assuming committee of management status for the Crown land reserve and freehold ownership of the balance of the site.
In 1991 the Crown land reservation was revoked and Goolum Goolum Aboriginal Co-operative bought the allotment as freehold land.
Barengi Gadjin has managed the site on behalf of Goolum Goolum and the National Trust for the past few years.
The land council has a commitment from Goolum Goolum to receive its part of the mission site.