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The Kurnai people are the traditional inhabitants of the Gippsland region. Unlike most Aboriginal tribes the Kurnai were a Matriarchal society: meaning that the women were the administrators or organisers, the men were the custodians of the land, being advised by the women. The shield pictured above, painted by Biggibilla, depicts this aspect of our culture.
There were five clans of the Kurnai. The central corroboree point was at Swan Reach and the furthest tribe was approximately 4 days walk west (Drouin area). Direct descendants of the Kurnai presently number approximately 400. Over the past 80 years and more the Kurnai have married into a number of large families that were relocated to the region. The extended family/community now numbers approximately 2,000 currently residing throughout Gippsland and East Gippsland.
Four years ago a group of Kurnai elders, women and friends discussed the idea of setting up a sewing/art group to relieve the boredom and loneliness faced by most of the women in the community. A steering committee was formed, this group conducted research, surveys and formulated aims and priorities to establish the Djeetgun Kurnai Women's Aboriginal Corporation.
The name Djeetgun was chosen. The Djeetgun is the Fairy Wren. One of the flight birds of the Kurnai. The Djeetgun was also an important bird in marriage ceremonies of the Kurnai.
The Corporation conducted two extremely successful pilot business projects.
Funded by Adult Community and Further Education and auspiced by Bairnsdale Adult Community Education the first pilot received unprecedented support from the Aboriginal Community. 60 women attended the workshops which included pottery, basket weaving and jewellery. This pilot was conducted for the first 8 weeks without many necessary resources viz. Furniture, food and transport. Despite these adverse conditions the numbers of women continued to increase each week.
· A survey of the 44 women attending on a regular basis underscores the enormous problems faced by the women who attended. Only one had a car, two had telephones, seven had no fixed address, five were in special accommodation housing. All were long term unemployed - very few had ever worked. ALL LIVED IN POVERTY (with a total of 70 dependent children)
The second pilot (Also funded by Adult Community and Further Education and auspiced by Bairnsdale Adult Community Education) saw 24 women complete their beginners Aboriginal Porcelain Doll. The outcome was tremendous. The women felt enormous pride in their achievement and the grounding for a potential, world first, export business was laid.
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