Detainees at Reiby Juvenile Justice Centre were treated to a special visit from NSW Governor Sir David Hurley today.
The Governor and his wife were joined by Campbelltown MP Greg Warren and Melanie Hawyes, executive director of Juvenile Justice.
The visitors met incarcerated girls tending to the centre’s coffee shop and chatted with staff and other detainees before taking part in a traditional Aboriginal smoking ceremony.
The ceremony was held at the centre’s newly-finished Learning Circle, a space created to help Aboriginal detainees reconnect with their indigenous culture.
The ceremony was led by National Parks and Wildlife community liaison officer Dean Kelly, Office of Advocate for Children and Young People representative Rhett Burraston and local Aboriginal elder Uncle Ivan Wellington.
Mr Hurley said it was a privilege to be invited to such an important cultural ceremony.
He said he is frequently involved in similar ceremonies at his home in Redfern.
He spoke of a young Aboriginal man named Josh who informed him of the role such ceremonies play in indigenous communities.
“He told me, ‘our culture is your culture, you just don’t know it yet’,” the Governor said.
“This works on two levels – that he wants to share his culture, and we don’t know that, and also that we don’t know the culture yet.”
Mr Hurley said the symbolism of inviting non-indigenous people to take part in a ceremony so pivotal to Aboriginal identity was an “important part of reconciliation and acknowledgement”.
“This tradition is deeply rooted in your culture,” he said.
“Welcoming non-Aboriginal people into it is a great act of kindness.”
Mr Hurley praised the success of the Learning Circle and its impact on the detainees.
He also presented four of the youngsters with certificates for various achievements at the centre.
Uncle Ivan also spoke highly of the circle.
“This place is special,” he said.
“It is a sacred place, a place of seeing and knowing for our people, before the change, before time.
“It is a circle of respect and a journey for kids when they go into it.”
Uncle Ivan said if just one of the kids who utilise the circle are helped along the way, then that is a “win”.
Ms Hawyes said she believed the Leaning Circle was “significant” and she hoped to similar initiatives rolled out in other juvenile justice facilities.
She said the smoking ceremony was beautiful.
“It is impossible to see something like this and not be moved,” she said.
Mr Kelly said the ceremony and the circle were all about respect.
“It’s holding respect, not giving it away,” he said.
“We’re not welcoming you to country, we’re bringing you in, like the old people did for 80,000 years, since the first sunrise.”
He said many of the detainees arrived with little to no connection to their culture and the learning circle give them a chance to rediscover their identity.
Mr Kelly said great things came with understanding oneself.
“Greatness is only a thought away,” he said.
“What you have to do is hold that thought and act upon it.”
Mr Burraston said providing youths with a chance to connect to culture would help reduce the “over-representation of Aboriginal young people in incarceration”.
He said indigenous communities were vital to rebuilding the “deficit and disadvantage” experienced by their people, but mechanisms – like the Learning Circle – provided by government bodies allowed that to occur.
“When Aboriginal people have a sense of who we are, we are resilient enough to overcome our disadvantage,” he said.