NAIDOC Week is a journey and a celebration in Hume

Published on 30 June 2023

NAIDOC Aunty Jo 2.jpg

Hume City local Joanne Russell is on a journey. 

For her personally it began in her forties, but it’s just part of a story that spans generations. A story with a twist that makes it different to the experience many of us will have in our lifetime. 

It’s stories like Joanne’s that make NAIDOC Week in the first week of July so important. 

Beginning as a protest in 1920, National Aborigines and Islanders Day Observance Committee (NAIDOC) Week is now a time to celebrate Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ culture, history and how far they’ve come. 

Joanne, who’s lived in Hume for the last two decades and is known as Aunty Jo, grew up in Sunbury not even knowing her family is indigenous to Australia. 

In what would seem like a harsh experience for a modern person living in our free country, Joanne’s family on both sides chose to hide their Aboriginal heritage from their children when they moved into a mainland city to keep them safe from prejudice. 

“I didn’t find out I was Aboriginal until I was in my early 40s. When my English grandfather on my mum’s side died, my grandmother was allowed to tell her story. 

“She grew up on a mission then moved into Sydney and hid the Aboriginal heritage to keep her kids safe,” Jo says. 

NAIDOC Week gives us an opportunity to learn more about the tragedies that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders have suffered in similar ways to Joanne.. 

“NAIDOC Week means having connection to Aboriginal people in the community here. I started that journey in 2005 when I started studying at the Indigenous Education Centre. That’s put me on the path to learn the culture.” 

The theme of this year’s NAIDOC Week is ‘For Our Elders’, which is a call for us to learn from the people who have deep connections to our land, and makes it extra special for Aunty Jo. 

She has come a long way from not knowing her background to now being a Hume Elder and proud Wiradyuri woman. 

And as a former Enviro champion that’s spent the past 20 years discovering what Country means to her, Aunty Jo is spreading the message this year about what respecting Country should mean to all of us.  

This includes taking locals on an exploration of bush food and fibre plants at the Westmeadows Indigenous Community Gardens to teach the best way to use and live off our native land. 


Images: Aunty Jo at the Westmeadows Indigenous Community Garden tour on Sunday 2 July

“I talk about the importance of the food my people used to live on. 

“It's important to listen to Aboriginal people, listen to their stories and take on board that this is the more sustainable way to live.” 

Aunty Jo hopes that community members take the time to learn the practices not as a historic practice, but as tools for reconciliation and sustainability. 

“I’ve got a lot of non-Aboriginal friends that share my passion, and the more people that take these ideas on board it helps build respect for our culture. 

“And being able to harvest our own food, look after Country, learning how to do proper burns instead of having horrendous bushfires, it’s a better way to live. 

"If we keep going on this path, we’re going to destroy our world, so we need to look at what we’re doing.” 

And with the cost of living rising, Aunty Jo says it has added benefits which even busy suburban families can take on. 

“I don’t see why not, if you’re not a keen gardener, live in a unit or apartment, you can grow plants in pots. You’ve always got a source of food.” 

Aunty Jo invites everyone to find a NAIDOC Week activity to help us all learn, grow and come together in the simplest terms. 

“Just stand up and go 'look, we’re here, we’re not going anywhere, let's celebrate the importance of NAIDOC Week to Aboriginal people'.”  

Learn more about NAIDOC Week in Hume