Survival Day 2017 celebrations at Cavanbah Park in Byron Day.
Survival Day 2017 celebrations at Cavanbah Park in Byron Day. Mia Armitage

Hearts sing at Byron's survival celebrations

"EVERY year my heart sings because it just gets better,” said the striking young woman, her long black hair danced gently in the Byron Bay breeze.

Delta Kay, spokeswoman for the Arakwal people of Byron Bay, was taking a break from her MC duties at survival celebrations in Cavanbah Park, on the Main Beach foreshore.

Earlier, a crowd of 300 or so onlookers were invited to participate in traditional indigenous dancing led by the Sisters of Reconciliation.

Uncle Pete Jungala, who led the music, said the choreography and accompanying stories had been handed down through generations of indigenous people over thousands of years.

"We're gonna do a happy dance now,” he told the crowd.

While the experienced dance leaders made the steps look simple - an emu scratching, a kangaroo resting - learning to move in time to the beats metred out on traditional percussion instruments was clearly a challenge for some.

Nickola Clarke, grandaughter of Aunty Dulcie Nicholls, sang a traditional song for the first time in public and despite faltering over some of the more difficult words and notes - she giggled nervously each time -her sweet voice soared over the ocean waves opposite and she was thanked with loud applause.

"I've found over the years this wonderful evolving change to Australia Day in the Byron shire,” Ms Kay said.

"Survival Day sits with Australia Day here, our community and our council respects what we do.

"This morning I went to the official ceremony. While I sit there and have uneasy feelings about Australia Day, I also sit with a roomful of people who want to celebrate diversity in the Byron shire.

"We wanted to celebrate something positive on the day that we mourn.”

Byron Bay survival celebrations have co-existed with council Australia Day ceremonies and other community events for 13 years and were initiated by John Lazarus, a member of Cavanbah Reconciliation Group.

"I pitched it to Byron Shire because I felt there was a real need for something up here,” he said.

Mr Lazarus is second generation Russian but says he "made connections with the Redfern mob” living in Sydney after travelling overseas and noticing "a disparity between black and white” people in Australia.

Giving a brief summary of indigenous history in the shire, he says Aboriginal people were shunted from place to place throughout Byron Bay during European settlement until they were eventually exiled to a small island.

Massacre sites are dotted all the way along Main Beach, he said.

But Mr Lazarus thinks changing the date of Australia Day, a hot topic of political and online debate, risks undermining the truth of Australia's history.

"Changing the day doesn't change the way Australia was settled,” he said.

Thousands of visitors flock to Byron Bay each Australia Day and during her speeches, Ms Kay told audience members they will leave having made new friends: the Bunjualung people of the Northern Rivers.

She said the Cape Byron Lighthouse marks land once used by indigenous people to share song and dance and to trade resources.

The crowd members were offered colouring-in sheets for children, were invited to learn traditional weaving and practice pronunciation of key indigenous words for "sun” and "land”.

"We want to be inclusive of all cultures and acknowledge the history of the Arakwal people, we've worked hard to grow that,” Ms Kay said in reflection.

"People take kids to breakfast and then they come here and have their faces painted in indigenous colours, they're doing both.

"I'm really very proud of the community.”

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