Dungala Kaiela Oration’s plea to hear and understand Aboriginal stories

By John Lewis

Mainstream Australia must hear and absorb the stories of Aboriginal people to truly understand and respect the culture of our first nations people, Dr Lois Peeler told this year's Dungala Kaiela Oration.

A Yorta Yorta woman, activist and educator, Dr Peeler's oration, titled ‘The River is Us - Carrying the Spirit and Strength of Dungala' was an eloquent plea for Aboriginal culture to become an integral part of Australia's future.

She spoke of the need to listen carefully to and to learn from Aboriginal stories and to not be content with just recording them.

Dr Peeler began by explaining the importance of the river systems to Aboriginal people of northern Victoria. She recounted the earliest memories of her grandmother Yarmak who spoke of hiding from "white man coming to take us away".

She then asked the question: "Is our story respected and valued?”

She said respect is much more than recording history.

“Respect is so much more than creating a quiet space for the words and lives of others. Respect comes from a deep corporate and individual understanding of another's value. Therefore respect and value are integrated to such an extent as to be homogenous. One is dependent on the other. Without valuing there is no respect.

“The real importance of the collected river stories and history is not just about sharing knowledge or facts.

“The real value is in accepting that the common experience of all humanity is vital for a whole people to survive and thrive.

“Until Aboriginal narrative, understanding, knowledge, and spirituality are more than curious or benevolent additions to Eurocentric compilations then there will be no real value in them to non-Aboriginal participants, beyond a salve for colonial cringe and the satisfaction of justice appearing to be done.

“Our stories must be transmitted, admitted adopted and held as sacred by all if they are to empower our shared futures,” Dr Peeler said.

She said Aboriginal knowledge has importance for the survival, emotional health and the general wellbeing of all humanity.

“The gap in the uptake of health, lore relational knowledge, and education is still cavernous. Mainstream Australia has not availed itself of the library of information on seasons, preservation, flora and fauna and the caring for country on land and waters that the world's longest living culture embodies,” she said.

Traditionally the Dungala Kaiela Oration has been co-hosted at the Rumbalara Football Netball Club in Shepparton on Yorta Yorta country, by the Kaiela Institute and the University of Melbourne.

However, due to coronavirus restrictions, for the first time this year's oration was broadcast online as a virtual event in documentary style on Wednesday, September 9.

Following Dr Peeler's speech a panel discussion was held with Professor Deborah Cheetham and Dr Lou Bennett. The Dhungala Children’s Choir performed at the opening and conclusion of the event.

For the full oration, go to