Rob Hyatt is the Cultural Education Manager for the Koorie Heritage Trust in Melbourne. The Aboriginal-run organisation works to preserve and protect traditional Victorian Aboriginal culture, while enabling the ongoing practice of contemporary Aboriginal culture today.
He's got a passion for Victoria's unique culture, and the importance of Aboriginal voice, identity, self-determination and cultural expression.
'The Heritage Trust provides an opportunity for that voice. We're here for all Aboriginal Victoria, giving that voice of a continuous living culture.'
In Melbourne we are visitors on the traditional lands of the Wurundjeri people, one of five major Aboriginal nations in central Victoria (which include the Woi Wurrung-speaking people, the Boon Wurrung, Wadawurrung, Dja Dja Wurrung and the Taungurung people).
As an Aboriginal man, Rob has a deep appreciation of the importance of the welcome to country by Wurundjeri elders such as Aunty Joy Murphy Wandin.
'Having gone through ceremony, to be welcomed by Wurundjeri elders on to their lands, has given me the opportunity – not just to pay respect to their country and their story – but to be able to tell my story.'
Rob shares some top Aboriginal cultural experiences found in the heart of Melbourne.
1. Koorie Heritage Trust collections and walking tours
Art captures Aboriginal history, and is an important form of storytelling. As well as the Trust's incredible collection of art and artefacts, walking tours through Melbourne's significant Aboriginal sites are an important way to communicate culture with visitors. Rob describes the power of one-on-one storytelling, or 'truth-telling'.
'We can show our visitors our artefacts, they can touch and feel those artefacts and we can talk about the traditional culture but a lot of people really connect with the personal story that every one of our guides – and myself – carries as Aboriginal people.'
Sharing story provides Rob with an important expression of Aboriginality, identity and culture, but also brings connection, healing and understanding.
2. Aboriginal bush foods tour
The Aboriginal Bush Foods Tour at the Royal Botanic Gardens is a unique experience where visitors engage with Aboriginal guides and 'story', in a natural setting. Touching, smelling and tasting traditional plants is part of the tour.
'That tactile experience, that sensory experience, can be had so close to the city. And it's a complete educational experience as well. We're not just talking about culture, in terms of traditional culture, but how culture was embraced and how culture was a part of lifestyle even in the sustaining of life through bush foods and medicines.'
3. William Barak Bridge and mural
One of the most significant Aboriginal people in the history of Melbourne is William Barak (1824–1903).
'William Barak was present as the first Europeans arrived in this area as a young boy. Later he became 'head man', known as ngurungaeta, of the Wurundjeri people and one of Australia's first Aboriginal activists who fought for the rights of his people and had a significant presence in Melbourne.'
His image and story is captured in iconic features of the city. The William Barak Bridge, built for the 2006 Commonwealth Games, symbolises the coming together of Melbourne and leads sports fans from Birrarung Marr to the MCG.
His face also graces the side of a building at the top end of Swanston Street, a huge portrait best viewed from the Shrine of Remembrance on St Kilda Road. The image 'pays respect to the Aboriginal history of our city, and the traditional history of the landscape itself'.
4. Birrarung Marr
At the heart of the city is the Yarra River and Birrarung Marr. 'The name really captures the culture,' Rob says. 'Birrarung is the traditional name of the Yarra River, and Birrarung Marr translates to River Walk, or "Beside the River of Mists".'
The traditional meeting place of Birrarung Marr is an iconic and powerful space to explore in Melbourne. A modern-day connection and walkway along the river to Melbourne's sports and entertainment precinct, its traditional name and resident public artworks along Birrarung Wilam (River Camp) highlight the confluence of contemporary and traditional culture.