This work is conducted in memory and respectfully honours the First Australian People, the Aboriginal People of this land.
The Yallarwah Bicentenary Memorial is believed to be among the first united Aboriginal/non-Aboriginal memorials in Australia. Yallarwah Place: An Act of Reconciliation was originally published on the University of Newcastle Archives Website as a record of the Opening of Yallarwah Place, an Aboriginal Accommodation Centre at John Hunter Hospital in Newcastle on the 19th February 1999. Novocastrian Tales, created, published, co-written and edited by Paul F. Walsh was a national bestseller. The Novocastrian Tales project raised over $600 000 to build Yallarwah Place. This post has been republished in preparation of a “Return to Yallarwah” Hunter Living Histories Showcase for October 9 2023. Yallarwah Place celebrates its 25th Anniversary in 2024.
A Magnificent Day
This was truly a magnificent day. On Friday 19th February 1999 Yallarwah Place was officially opened and born to the Community of the Hunter Region. Yallarwah Place is an accommodation centre for the families of Aboriginal people from the communities of the Hunter and Northern NSW who are receiving medical care at the John Hunter Hospital. It will also serve non-indigenous families as the need arises and is believed to be the first such facility in Australia. It also stands as the first physical act of reconciliation between the black and white cultures in this country. In the words of Aboriginal Elder, Uncle Bob Smith, and Ray Kelly, Chief Executive Officer of the Awabakal Co-operative, it represents black and white people coming together, working together to achieve one goal. If this is what dreams can do, then let’s have more dreaming!
The Meaning of Yallarwah
Yallarwah is an Awabakal word meaning ‘resting place’. It is a place of healing and rest for people and also for the land which we share. Yallarwah was made possible through the vision and dreams of author Paul F. Walsh who created and directed the Novocastrian Tales project for the Newcastle-Hunter Bicentenary 1797-1997. The funds raised from the sale of the book, along with a generous contribution from the State Government of NSW and many corporate and community benefactors helped make the dream into reality.
The University of Newcastle’s Contribution
The Archives, Rare Books and Special Collections Unit of the Auchmuty Library is honored to have played a part in this very important event through the preparation of the portraits of Biraban and The Reverend Lancelot Threlkeld whose relationship spawned the inspiration behind the memorial. These framed works along with the bronze book and plaques, created by Vlase Nikoleski, Head of the School of Fine Art, formed the University of Newcastle’s gift to the project.
Order of Ceremonies
The Opening Ceremony for Yallarwah Place was created by Paul F. Walsh and Susan Harvey
Aboriginal Smoking Ceremony
Upon arrival the guests were invited to pass through the smoke of the Yallarwah campfire as a ritual of purification and unity. The Smoking Ceremony was performed by the respected Aboriginal Elder Uncle Bill Smith, with assistance from Mimaga Wajar (Mother Earth) Traditional Custodians, Michael Moran, William Smith and Malcolm Smith.
A Prayer of the Smoke Uncle Bill Smith, Aboriginal Elder
For thousands of years the campfire of our ancestors marked their places of rest and celebration in this Hunter Valley. May the glowing of this fire remind us of the Father’s love for us and our love for one another. As the smoke from this sacred campfire rises into the sky like Biraban, the Eagle-Hawk, may it drive away all the evil spirits and bring us together as one to enter into this service of Dedication.
Acknowledgment of the Ancestors of the Awabakal
Ray Kelly, Chief Executive Officer of the Awabakal Cooperative. Ray spoke of invitation for the presence of the ancestral spirits.
The Prologue from Novocastrian Tales
Words by Paul F. Walsh, narrated by Graham Wilson, produced by Professor Robert Constable. A beautiful piece, complimented with the intrusion of a mobile phone, performed by an impromptu embarrassed anonymous owner.
More Than Ever
A piece of music composed for the dedication ceremony by Keith Potger, Trevor Spencer and Boyd Wilson. It was performed by Keith Potger. I wondered who this fellow was, he looked familiar…”was he from Redgum?”. I learn he is from the legendary Australian group The Seekers. Sorry, Keith.
Uncle Bob Smith and Ray Kelly
Both these men spoke from the heart concerning the past difficulties encountered in accommodating the Aboriginal families of loved ones in hospital. Uncle Bob spoke of how he once asked the Government for a “house and a bus”, they refused. For 15 or so years he carried the dream alive for a special place, and was tearfully joyous at now seeing it become a reality.
Professor Roger Holmes
The Vice-Chancellor of the University of Newcastle spoke of the history and the University’s gift to Yallarwah Place.
After being introduced by John Mills MP, The Honourable Dr Andrew Refshauge MP, Deputy Premier of NSW officially opened Yallarwah Place and dedicates the Yallarwah site as a Bicentenary Memorial for the people of the Hunter Region.
Jean Hands, Upper Hunter Aboriginal Liaison Officer, Hunter Health
A Reading from the Gospel of St Luke
Read in Awabakal by Ray Kelly. This translation into Awabakal was made between 1827 and 1831 by the Reverend Lancelot Threlkeld and the famed Awabakal man, Biraban, in the Newcastle/Lake Macquarie Area. Following Ray Kelly’s reading, the Gospel was read in English by Pastor Rex Morgan, Susan Harvey and Jane Gray.
Prayers of Blessing
Most Reverend Michael Malone, Catholic Bishop of Maitland and Newcastle blessed the container of waters drawn from the sources of the Northern Rivers by tribal Elders. Respected Aboriginal Elder Uncle Bill Smith, dusted the waters with smoke. The Right Reverend Roger Herft, Anglican Bishop of Newcastle, blessed a container of soils drawn from the lands of the North by tribal Elders. Respected Aboriginal Elder Uncle Bill Smith dusted the soils with smoke. Ray Kelly, led Aboriginal Elder Uncle Bill Smith and the two Bishops, to smoke and bless the building. This was followed by the Rainbow Spirit Prayer.
The facility utilised Aboriginal design elements in its construction. It is shaped in the form of an Eagle-Hawk astride a flying boomerang. At this point in the Ceremony the guests form a symbolic Rainbow Serpent/Hunter River. The Bishops, Uncle Bob Smith and Uncle Bill Smith are guided to the River where they enter the symbolic canoe.
Rowing Down the River
The Dancers create a symbolic canoe and row down the River with the crowd following behind. They chant the Bellingen Boat Song (composed by Uncle Lennie de Silva). The Yallarwah Bicentenary Walk was blessed and smoked.
The canoe is challenged by two didgeridoo players who guard the Rainbow Serpent’s Head / Newcastle Harbour. The canoe stops and the Bishops, Uncle Bill Smith and Uncle Bob Smith enter the Yallarwah Circle of Reflection. Uncle Bill Smith smokes the bronze book and the Circle while the Bishops distribute the blessed water.
Uncle Bob Smith distributes the tribal soils within the circle as a symbol that all peoples are welcome at this place of healing. The guests were then allowed into the Circle.
Within the clearing there is a circle of six large stones, reminiscent of the Awabakal’s stone circle arrangements observed by the Reverend Lancelot Threlkeld in 1825-1826. In the centre of the stones there is a seventh stone with a bronze book.
The right-hand page reads:
‘Yallarwah Circle of Reflection. In memory of the Aboriginal people, European settlers and convicts who lived and died in our shared Hunter History 1797-1997’.
The left-hand page reads:
“‘On enquiry of my black tutor, M’Gill, he informed me that the tradition was, that the Eagle-Hawks brought these stones and placed them together…’ Reverend Lancelot Threlkeld 1825-1826. Novocastrian Tales”.
Carol Abela and Phillip Towney
Carol Abela, Chairperson of Hunter Area Health, and Phillip Towney, Aboriginal Liaison Officer, John Hunter Hospital and Manager of Yallarwah Place spoke of the design of the building and its connective attributes to the four elements.
Howard Frith and Paul F. Walsh
Howard Frith, Managing Director of the Newcastle Permanent Building Society, talked of his first meeting with Paul, and how it resembled a wonderful plot to a great tale. He spoke of how his head was saying “No! No! No!” while his heart was saying “Yes! Yes! Yes!” Paul spoke of his inspirational relationship with his wife and paid tribute to his wife’s mother and former business partner. He thanked everyone involved with the project, named and unnamed.
The Epilogue from Novocastrian Tales
Words by Paul F Walsh
Narrated by Paul F Walsh and Ray Kelly
Two hundred years
Fifty thousand years!
Two hundred years
Fifty thousand tears
Our river flows
Our river knows
Heart of our nation
At this point I beheld the spirits of both Threlkeld and Biraban.
Gionni Di Gravio 20th February, 1999
Programme – Yallarwah Place 1797-1997, by Paul F. Walsh and Susan Harvey, Newcastle, Elephant Press, 1999.
An Australian Language as spoken by the Awabakal The People of Awaba or Lake Macquarie (Near Newcastle, New South Wales) being an Account of Their Language, Traditions, and Customs: by L.E. Threlkeld. Rearranged, condensed, and edited, with an Appendix, by John Fraser, B.A., LL.D., Sydney, 1892.
Australian Reminiscences & Papers of L.E.Threlkeld, Missionary to the Aborigines, 1824-1859. 2 vols, ed. Niel Gunson, Canberra, 1974.
Novocastrian Tales (1998)
Novocastrian Tales, created, published, co-written and edited by Paul F Walsh was a national bestseller. The Novocastrian Tales project raised over $600 000 to build Yallarwah Place, the Aboriginal Accommodation Centre at John Hunter Hospital in Newcastle. Yallarwah Place serves the Aboriginal communities of Northern NSW.
Legislative Assembly Hansard – 17th September 1997
Novocastrian Tales – The Hon. John Mills Member for Wallsend