Memorial garden construction underway on Riverside Drive, Nambucca Heads

For Uncle Roger, this whole episode has been a significant journey of healing
For Uncle Roger, this whole episode has been a significant journey of healing

Uncle Roger Jarrett is from the Dotti bloodline - which can be traced back to first contact, when timber getters first floated logs down the Nambucca River.

A lot of hurt has happened to his mob since then, including in his own lifetime; he still remembers the explicit racism and segregation in Bowraville during his childhood, and being sent off to Kinchela where he was beaten with a cane daily.

He says in Nambucca Heads the Gumbaynggirr people used to live in better parts of the town until they were pushed out and moved up to the mission.

"There's been a lot of anger for a lot of time," he said.

Never during his lifetime could he have imagined black and white folk learning to come together to live harmoniously.

But that is exactly what's starting to happen, according to Uncle Roger.

He is currently overseeing the preparation of the memorial site on Riverside Drive where roughly 700-year-old bones were unearthed nearly two years ago during excavation works.

Site clearing started on Monday and work should be finished by the end of this month.

He smiles as he imagines what the park will look like in a month's time, when the public is invited to come onto the land, share a meal together, and bury the past.

"Having a place like this is important to open up the land for everyone. This used to be a place of meeting and celebration - a happy place," he said.

"We're trying to get it back to being a happy place for white and black."

The garden will feature a two-metre-tall rock slab with an Aboriginal face carved into it at the place where the ancient bones of the teenage man were discovered.

And at the official opening, his remains will be ceremonially reburied.

Uncle Roger is hoping for a small grant to allow everyone to come together afterwards to share in a barbecue, as one family.

"The first meal together is important - you always remember it," he said.

There will be fruit trees planted, eventually, so that people can wander into the garden and have something to eat, no matter what the season.

And Council is currently trying to source a Muurrbay (white fig tree) to plant as a feature.

"That's significant for us. The people here, they planted them everywhere they went. As a kid you'd get a seed and put it in a stump, and have it grow for next season. Birds would benefit, animals would benefit, and you could eat the fruit -it was like your own personal supermarket," he said.

Uncle Roger also points out a young native 'sandpaper fig' tree growing at the site, and explains that its leaves are used to exfoliate, and to sand down wooden objects like spears and boomerangs.

There are plans to eventually build a boardwalk along the shoreline, and install some bench seats for people to sit under the sheoaks.

And two plaques will also be placed at the site - one in Gumbaynggirr, one in English - which explain the story of how the garden came to be, and the significance of the site to the traditional custodians.

A lot has happened since tools were downed that morning in October, 2017.

Though many were impatient to see something made of the deteriorating site, Uncle Roger is satisfied with the final outcome and believes the town and all its people are going to benefit from it.

"Well, I reckon it's fantastic. Everyone - white and black - will be able to come here as one big family and relax. That's what we want...no more fighting," he said.

I think this is the start of black and white living together in peace. And things are going to get better all the time.

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