Time to celebrate in Shepparton as Big Treaty Day Out draws a crowd

Thousands of First Nations people converged on Shepparton on Saturday for a music festival headed by some of Australia’s most prominent Indigenous performers.

The Treaty Day Out was headlined by Gunditjmara-Bundjalung artist Archie Roach, Shepparton’s hometown hero Briggs, north-east Arnhem Land’s Yothu Yindi and popular electronic dance duo Electric Fields. Aboriginal reggae-rock group No Fixed Address also performed earlier in the day.

The music festival provided an opportunity for eligible voters to register with the Assembly and cast their ballot for candidates standing to represent the NOrth East region in the Treaty process.Credit:Assembly

The event was held at the Rumbalara Football Netball Club and was an initiative of the First People’s Assembly of Victoria to promote Treaty, and encourage greater voter enrolment, offering free admission to community members already enrolled with the assembly.

Marcus Stewart, the assembly co-chair and a Nira illim bulluk man of the Taungurung nation, said that after such a tough couple of years in Victoria it was time to celebrate.

Mr Stewart told The Age another 500 tickets had presold on the eve of the event and that he expected between 3000 and 5000 people to turn out to see the headlining performers, providing a healthy boost to the local economy.

“We said we would go big, we said we’d go Blak and we said we’d go live. Who said Treaty doesn’t make economic sense? We’ve just sold out Shepparton,” he said.

Festivalgoers were urged to grab a selfie with the Treaty sign and post to social mediaCredit:Assembly

The day also coincided with the opening of voting in the assembly’s north-east region byelection, which sees four Traditional Owners contest the seat vacated when Natarsha Bamblett, a Yorta Yorta, Kurnai, Walpiri and Wiradjeri woman, stepped down from the assembly late last year.

The four candidates vying to represent the north-east region in the state’s Treaty process include Lisa Rose Thorpe, Travis Morgan, Madison Connors, Nicole Atkinson. The region covers Echuca, Mansfield, Rushworth, Shepparton, Tallangatta, Wangaratta and Wodonga. Voters are able to cast their ballot until March 26.

Assembly co-chair and Bangerang and Wiradjuri elder Aunty Geraldine Atkinson, herself a member in the north-east, said in statement that the participation of the region’s Aboriginal community in electing its representatives was an important step on the journey towards Treaty.

“It’s great to see our community having the conversations about Treaty and getting organised because that’s what self-determination is all about — having Aboriginal people in the driver’s seat,” said Ms Atkinson.

“Now we have the candidates, so we need mob in the north-east to do their bit. We need them to enrol and get out and vote. Don’t forget — our electoral roll belongs to us and is completely separate from the government’s voting system.”

The event also included a COVID-19 vaccination booster clinic at the venue which was run by the Indigenous peak body, the Victorian Aboriginal Community-Controlled Health Organisation.

In August last year, Shepparton experienced a coronavirus outbreak that for weeks saw it become the state’s fastest growing COVID-19 cluster.

More than 20,000 people were in isolation, including many of the region’s medical staff, a situation that threatened many Aboriginal people. The regional city is home to Victoria’s largest Indigenous population outside of Melbourne.

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