Cherbourg Memory by Jennifer Rix

In recognition of National Reconciliation Week 2020 the Student Guild show and share our respect to all First Nation people, past, present and upcoming.

In 2014, as part of a professional development day, I visited the Cherbourg Ration Shed with a group of school teachers.  To say that it had a profound effect on me would be a massive understatement.

We arrived in Cherbourg, were introduced to local elders, and together toured the Ration Shed Museum.  For the first time ever, I was learning about the local indigenous community from the local indigenous community!  Previously, as a ‘born and bred’ local, I believed I had a fairly extensive knowledge of our local community.  Additionally, I believed that I had achieved relative success in my studies, as the first of my family to graduate Year 12 and then to complete tertiary education and post graduate qualifications.  However, on this day, my views were significantly and forever changed and instead I learned to question established norms.

The Ration Shed Museum has a magnificent array of artefacts displayed in a timeline story format.  It depicts the transition of the Cherbourg community from pre-colonisation, to settlement, to segregation, to assimilation, to self-determination and reconciliation.  It’s a story of hardship, sadness, survival and, also of, hope.

I was most surprised to learn that whilst I was still in secondary school, less than 100kms down the road, the people of this community were essentially ruled by a government administrator, that the wages they earned were not theirs to spend, that a written permit was required to leave the town limits and that families had been split and separated.  I asked myself, “How could I not have known this was happening just down the road from me?  How could it be that whilst I was learning about and abhorring apartheid in South Africa, that this was happening in my very own backyard????”.  I was shocked, horrified and so, so sorry.

That day I made many life-long friends and developed a thirst to learn more about our First Australians’ history.  My light bulb moment was discovering that my knowledge, to that point, was only a function of what ‘the system’ had taught me.  That day I learned to ask questions and to seek understanding from different perspectives – on Indigenous issues, yes, but also on everything else!

I highly recommend a visit to the Cherbourg Ration Shed Museum.  You can preliminarily explore the story via the link below.  It is the place of the Wakka Wakka people, and where I learned to actually learn!