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A shared hope for reconciliation

May 19, 2022

A detail from Ricky Ah-See's painting on the cauldron. Copyright: Orange News Examiner.

By Peter Holmes


This is the story of two men, and the power of fire.


Neither hail from Orange, but for a combined 100 years they’ve called it their home.


Wiradjuri Elder Uncle Neil Ingram grew up on a mission out Condoblin way.

“Out of mind, out of sight,” he says today. Uncle Neil moved to Orange 40 years ago.




Chris Gryllis grew up on the Greek island of Patmos - where believers say the Apostle John wrote the Book of Revelations - and came to Orange 60 years ago.



A successful real estate agent Gryllis has long wanted to do something to try and bridge the gap between Orange’s large Indigenous population of some 3,000 and its non-Indigenous population.


The idea he’s been working on has been years in the making. He wants to start off small, and then see his vision unfold across the nation. He won’t be the one to do that, and he therefore hopes someone will take on the movement.

In January Gryllis contacted Uncle Neil to discuss his idea and see whether it would have the backing of local First Nations people.


Platypus art on the side of the cauldron. Copyright: Orange News Examiner.

 

WE meet in Gryllis’ office overlooking Robertson Park on Wednesday morning.



Gryllis is joined by Uncle Neil and Wiradjuri artist Ricky Ah-See.


A gold miner’s lamp is on the table.


At 10am on Friday May 27 at the CSU Yarning Circle in Orange, the lamp will be lit as part of a gathering that will include a smoking ceremony conducted by Uncle James Williams, and guest speakers.



The miner’s lamp will then be walked in a relay to Southcourt (Orange Civic Centre precinct) by dozens of locals.


“The significance of this is that the flame will be passed on from a Black person to a White person to various nationalities, so that embraces everyone who lives in Australia now, acknowledging the original race of course,” said Gryllis.

“We call this the flame of hope and reconciliation.”



The real estate agent leads us through his offices and out a back door. There stands a cauldron he has had built, with a design featuring boomerangs, crowned with a metal coolamon, traditionally made from one thick sheet of bark and used for carrying everything from berries to babies.





A story has been painted around the bottom of the cauldron by the quietly-spoken Ricky Ah-See.

Uncle Neil explains the totem of the Wiradjuri nation is the goanna, and the totem of Orange is the platypus.



“The story down the bottom is about how the platypus came about,” says Ricky Ah-See, who is originally from Gilgandra. “There was a duck and a water rat. We needed something that represents Orange.”


The cauldron will be at Southcourt next Friday and will be lit by the miner's lamp at about noon.


“The plan is to have a group of Elders form a guard of honour and I and a woman Elder will ignite the flame of hope, and it will stay there for a full week from May 27 to June 3,”says Uncle Neil.


(L-R): Wiradjuri Elder Uncle Neil Ingram, Wiradjuri artist Ricky Ah-See and Chris Gryllis, with the cauldron. Copyright: Orange News Examiner.

Deputy mayor Gerald Power will MC the event, at which there will be dancers and bush tucker.


All are welcome.



 


UNCLE Neil is thinking about how Orange is different now.


“The weather has changed. It used to snow for two weeks at a time.”

And then: “When I first arrived here, Orange was extremely racist. It was a racist community. It probably still is today, but I’ve seen major changes over my time.”


He says, “change is slow, but it's taking place and we’re starting to achieve good outcomes”.



Gryllis says that Orange was once considered the most conservative place in Australia. He reckons that began to change, albeit slowly, with the arrival of government workers from Sydney and more migrants such as himself.

Uncle Neil is a devout Christian. I suggest that the slow pace of change for First Nations people during his lifetime must have required the patience of Job. He smiles and ruffles his mop.





“I'll tell you that I have grey hair [now], and I'm getting a bit long in the tooth. When I was a young man I was fiery, but that's all gone now.


“As a Christian, forgiveness is what Christ is all about. I think we all need to show respect and acknowledge each other, and go forward.”

Uncle Neil lauds Orange City Council for its efforts to endorse and promote Naidoc Week, Sorry Day and reconciliation.



“And now they’re flying the flag,” he adds, pointing across to the council chambers.


“I never saw that 40 years ago. People are starting to embrace who we are. I think that’s probably because of education. Our people work in all sorts of government departments and so they’re starting to influence others.”


Ricky Ah-See spends part of his week working with young Indigenous students who have lost interest in high school. He drives a bus, helps with homework and teaches a bit of culture.



He says that things are better now than when he was the age of the kids he’s working with.


OCEANS may separate their birthplaces and cultures, but Gryllis draws a parallel.


“From my knowledge about Aboriginals, [they] always used the fire for good things. Is that right? Not only smoking ceremonies, but annual burning to re-grow and so on.



“Well, I’ll tell you something. Flame to me is worldwide. Greeks - when creating a new city, you know what was paramount to take with them? Fire.


"The first thing to establish a new city would be a little room that the fire will be there 24/7 so the citizens can go and get it.


Copyright: Orange News Examiner.


“Nothing different here. It’s wonderful, so we use the flame for something good. Flame is very good, but it can be very bad. We hope this flame is for hope and reconciliation.”


Uncle Neil says people like Chris Gryllis are “doing tremendous work”.

“I believe in God and I think there is hope,” he says. “We just need to have a better understanding of our history and we need to think about change, to correct those past wrongs.”

Uncle Neil may have mellowed, but the Wiradjuri Elder remains resolute.



“When you look at this election there's nothing here about the constitution. We never ceded our sovereignty, and we are not recognised in the constitution, so there are some major changes that need to take place. [Not] until we get a prime minister who will acknowledge us as a people and what happened in the past.

“Unless we correct the pain and suffering nothing will change, so that's what we're trying to do. Aboriginal, non-Aboriginal, all nationalities, all come together. That's our hope.”


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