The faces of history greet you at the front door of the renovated Wagga Wagga LALC building. A wall of photos shows mob at meetings, in groups, at events, holding guitars, accordions, and fists in the air.
Outside, children from the local Holy Trinity School are dancing up a story of how the Murrumbidgee River was created for a crowd of representatives from the 20 Local Aboriginal Land Councils in the Wiradjuri region.
Above the building entrance is a recreation of the same mural that was first painted when 16 land councils contributed to the building as a regional office almost 30 years ago.
“When we wanted to move back in, to renovate, we were advised to demolish the building, it was completely derelict and we stopped counting at 121 roof leaks,” says Wagga Wagga LALC CEO, Wiradjuri woman Lorraine Lyons.
“But it was the history that’s important at this location – we want to keep the old stories going so that our youth can see the importance of Land Rights, culture and heritage.”
Wagga Wagga LALC knows the importance of supporting their youth so much they’ve bet their future on it.
Out the back of the building, Youth Co-ordinator Clive Lyons admires the boxing ring that’s just been moved in. It’s part of the Warragirri Boxing and Youth Centre which also includes a gym full of circuit training machines and rooms for young people to meet and talk.
“What we’ve created as part of our Land Council is a youth hub a place where young people can come and feel safe, have good people around them watching out for them, talk to them when they’re low,” says Clive, a Wiradjuri man originally from Narrandera.
“There is a high level of suicide in the region, there’s drugs and alcohol - our main aim is spiritual healing of our youth, to get them in here and we talk about nutrition lifestyle culture and community awareness with respect to other people and our own community.
“Originally we thought this would just be for our Aboriginal kids but then I saw that many of our Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal kids are friends so we said, ‘bring your mates doesn’t matter what colour’.
“I’ve suffered racism, like a lot of Aboriginal people, but we need to try and weed that out of our society here in Wagga Wagga.”
The LALC has been working with Wagga Wagga City Council and other groups to try and work against racism and for reconciliation in the town but Lorraine Lyons says that’s an ongoing project.
“We’re trying to make that change within our own organisation by getting everyone together and teaching people our culture and heritage.”
They also manages a small social housing program which they hope will help people move towards home ownership. They are also looking to lease out their previous office, and across the area they have other land and assets across the area that they are looking to leverage.
While this economic focus is essential for them to survive, their real focus is building youth and community strength
“We’re getting our youth involved with decision making, ensuring they know about governance and about what it took for us to get where we are. You know, how the fight began and about keeping the Land Rights story going.”