Condo SkyFest: Aboriginality, resilience and cultural continuity

By Tennille Dunn,
Founder and coordinator of Condo SkyFest.
Talk presented at the first Inland Astro-Trail Symposium in Parkes, NSW, 6 February 2019.

Tennille Dunn speaking at the IAT Symposium, Parkes, 2019. Photo credits: Big Skies Collaboration.

Good Afternoon everyone.

I’d just like to do an Acknowledgement to Country before I start. I have been given permission of a young Wiradjuri Woman from Gilgandra named Buddy Knight to share her beautiful Acknowledgement to Country with you.

Can we “touch the ground” in acknowledgement of those who have come and walked before us, those who are the traditional custodians of this land, the Wiradjuri people.

Can we “reach to the sky” in acknowledgement of those future elders and leaders who will carry the dreams of our ancestors into the future.

Can we “touch our hearts” in acknowledgement of the Elders who have passed, everyone here today, and in the coming together to celebrate and share our culture and knowledge.

Yiradhu Marang, Yuwin-dhu Dennille Dunn, baladhu dyiramal Wiradjuri yinna from Condobolindhi

Good Day, my name is Tennille Dunn, I am a proud Wiradjuri woman from Condobolin.

I’m just going to start by telling you a bit about me. I was born, completed all my schooling, lived most of my life and am related to nearly every single Aboriginal person in Condobolin. I am the eldest of 4 children. I am a very proud mother to a beautiful little girl who is 4.5 going on 14.  I was extremely lucky to grow up with a warrior spirited nan, Lois Goolagong. She came from humble beginnings. She lived in a tin humpy on the Murie with her mother, her 2 sisters and her 3 brothers. They lived there with no electricity or running water and compacted dirt as their floor.

In Condobolin there were two Aboriginal settlements. One was the Murie. The Murie was home to many generations of Aboriginal families from 1900s to 1960s. They were allowed to move freely rather than being bound by the rules of the NSW Aborigines Welfare Board. But in 1968 they were forcibly removed.  No reason given, although the new lake bordering the Murie was being used for ski boats and attracting a crowd.

“The council had alleged that the camp was polluting the town water supply; the Murie families thought the decision had something to do with the water skiing then gaining popularity. In 1981 nothing remained of the Murie only gravel heaps and a few wild roses.” (Peter Read, Belonging: Australians, Place and Aboriginal Ownership.)

When the families were housed in town, they were still on the outskirts and the majority in government housing with Aboriginal tenants today.

Then we have the Willow Bend Mission. This is an Aboriginal mission established in 1901. It was managed by the NSW Welfare Board and the Australian Inland Mission (AIM) which meant there were rules and religion they needed to abide by, unlike their neighbouring families and friends at the Murie.

According to the 2016 census, Condo has a population of 3,500. Some 770 these people identify as Aboriginal. That’s only 22.1%. I don’t believe this to be a true representation of Condo. Our Aboriginal population is greater than what these statistics tell us. I think these statistics tell another story: that Aboriginal people are still afraid of our Government and their policies. Scared to give them any personal information because of the intergenerational trauma passed down through the generations.

I am currently employed by Wiradjuri Condobolin Corporation as Administration Officer at their Study Centre and have been working in close partnership with the deadly Merrill Findlay and Big Skies Collaboration to create SkyFest.

Working on this project, I have found myself struggling a bit, as most Aboriginal sky stories were not passed down to me by my elders, and I felt at a loss as to where to I even start! I went and spoke to other elders in Condo, they didn’t have any Aboriginal sky stories to share as these stories were not passed down to them either. This is due to colonisation and laws such as the NSW Aborigines Protection Act, the NSW Aborigines Welfare Board and the Assimilation Policy. Their aim all being the same for Aboriginal people, culture, traditions and skin colour to disappear or ‘white’ them out. These policies outlawed Aboriginal speaking their language. People who did faced being severely punished.

In 1910 the government legalised the removal of Aboriginal children (better known as the Stolen Generations). They were placed in institutions or white families to be trained as domestics or labourers, forcing them to assimilate into white society and ripping them away from their families and their Aboriginality. In 1970, not so very long ago (49 years), the government officially repealed this legislation. Unfortunately, removal of Aboriginal children from families is eight times higher today than in the days of the Stolen Generation. The devastating impacts of the assimilation policies on families and culture continue to affect Aboriginal communities.

Culture is our way of life. It is embedded in our core. Culture takes root in our values, our beliefs, our customs, our languages, songlines, our traditions. Culture is echoed in our history and our heritage and commands how we live in the present-day and in the future. Our culture influences the way we communicate and live, our health and mental wellbeing, our place in society or our community. Sharing the same culture allows a connection and understanding that other cultures may not grasp. Culture is our identity, is how we see ourselves and how we want to be seen.

We are now learning that culture and reconnecting with our culture offers wellness, healing and social development.

Condo Sky Fest 2018_final_Lo Res_SMLAboriginal events or festivals like Condo SkyFest play an important role in our communities. It provides everyone with the opportunity to share, educate, and learn about Australia’s First Nations Peoples. It’s a time to celebrate the oldest culture and encourages communities to come together and acknowledge their Aboriginality and Australia’s Aboriginal history. Aboriginal festivals or events capture the true meaning of being Aboriginal. It’s real and raw and is fuelled by our connection to culture, land, sky, traditions and healing.

Our core aim for our first ever SkyFest was to encourage our local community to explore and express Aboriginal culture through sky and star stories. We wanted to build resilience into our Aboriginal youth by restoring Aboriginal culture in all its glory, through dreaming stories starting with the Wiradjuri constellations. We provided a cultural experience and celebration, inviting the wider community and encouraging them to gain a better understanding of Aboriginal culture. We had a Wiradjuri Language workshop, traditional dancing, traditional sky stories told by two Wiradjuri boys from Dubbo who have embarked on their own journey with their culture, traditional food, exhibitions by the talented ‘Sauce’ Towney from Peak Hill with his images of Wiradjuri constellations and Bev Coe from Condo with her Seven Sistas Weavings, a weaving workshop, arts and craft for the kids, and star gazing.

The Seven Sisters of the Pleiades by weaver Bev Coe and the Sistas of the Condo SistaShed, part of the Seven Sistas Dreaming exhibition at Condo SkyFest 2018. Credits: Big Skies Collaboration.
Peak Hill artist Scott ‘Sauce’ Towney presenting his floor-talk at the opening of his Wiradjuri Skyworld exhibition at Condo SkyFest. Credits: Big Skies Collaboration.

Our future vision for SkyFest … we are hoping that it will become an annual event that grows bigger and better each year. We would like to attract people from all over Australia to come to Condo to hear the Wiradjuri stories and gaze at the Wiradjuri constellations. To share, learn, educate and celebrate the oldest living culture. To use our culture for healing, health and wellbeing, education and respect just to name a few.

“For Aboriginal people, the stars don’t just light the sky. They reflect our customs, our values and our beliefs. They tell the stories of our Ancestors, our traditions, our culture and our history. They guide us home.”

Tennille Dunn
Condo SkyFest
Wiradjuri Study Centre
Wiradjuri Condobolin Corporation
February 2019


The Wiradjuri Study Centre and Big Skies Collaboration gratefully acknowledge the financial support that made SkyFest possible from the Copyright Agency’s Cultural Fund and Regional Arts NSW, and in-kind support from a range of organisations, including Arts OutWest and Lachlan Shire Council


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Page created 19 February 2019. Revised 20/21 February at Tennille’s request.


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