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Chairperson of Metropolitan Local Aboriginal Land Council
Yvonne Weldon

As a Proud Wiradjuri woman, Yvonne Weldon upholds strong ties to her homelands; Cowra and the Riverina areas in NSW. The current elected chairperson of the Metropolitan Local Aboriginal Land Council, a board member of DVNSW, deputy chairperson of the NSW Australia Day Council and a board member of Redfern Jarjum College, Yvonne has been a changemaker for over 30 years, improving the lives all through health, social justice, Aboriginal advancement, children’s rights, education, child protection, research and evaluation.

 

Since 2019, Yvonne has played an instrumental role at Aje as a friend and consultant of the brand, through our first ‘Welcome to Country’ with Yvonne at the opening 2019 Mercedes Benz Fashion Week Australia show, to hosting an intimate smoking ceremony at the start of 2021, at Aje’s headquarters in Sydney.

 

Ever humble, wise and highly venerated – Aje is honoured to introduce you to Yvonne Weldon.

What are you most proud of, as a Wiradjuri woman?

 

I am proud of keeping my Elders and family member’s lived knowledge and truths alive. So much in our worlds change, people can make up the past to bring it in their future – by changing it to suit themselves. I honour the Elders in my life to ensure that my descendants have their Elders still guiding them through the remembrance of their truth telling and their greatness.

 

I am most proud of being a Wiradjuri woman full stop!! There is often a running joke or banter amongst neighbouring or other Nations/ Tribes on who is the biggest and the best. So I’m just putting it out there I reckon we Wiradjuri are (laughs). Being immersed and around my Wiradjuri people, culture, practices, land and waterways makes me extremely proud. The pride we are still here despite martial law declared on my people because of the resistance led by Windradyne. I am proud of our continuation, what I have been born into, and what I have been born from. From the devastation, murder and destruction of the past that is now hidden in other forms of present times. For me, to be amongst the systems to bring about change, a change to things that shouldn’t be accepted - ever.

Who of Elders past or present, have served as your greatest teachers and why?

 

This question could be answered for a long, long time. I have been very blessed by the best. My parents Ann and George have provided strong examples of lessons that will continue for many generations beyond me. Many beloved and departed family members, grandmothers Frances & Val, my grandfather’s Joe, Daniel and Lindsay, my great great Aunt Mum Shirl (Shirley Smith), my aunties Mary, Isobel, Betsie, Veronica (Vick), Dorothy and Lorraine. Uncles Danny, Kenny, Peter, Les, Cecil, Harry (Buck), Dennis, Richard and Ted. Great Aunts Biddy (Pauline Coe), Agnes, Aileen & Flo, Great Uncles Les, Thomas, Col and Archie. My Great Grandfathers Paul Coe (senior) and Tommy Lyons. I am fortunate to still have Uncles Paul & Colin, Aunties Fay, Jennifer, Pauline, Dot and Linda.

 

There are so many listed because they all have had a profound influence on my life. Everyone one of them. They have walked roads in life that would and could break hearts for what they endured and yet they imparted their knowledge and their belief in me which has kept me on the path I am on today. They gave generously not with a bitterness of the harshness of the racism, atrocities and treatment. They gave with a kindness of heart, the purest of love that can be physically seen and always felt through the memories of their generosity of spirit that remains always around me and within.

 

I believe there are people that come into your life for a reason, and I have lots of reasons to believe, because they believed in me and I will always honour them.

Has there been one particular defining moment in your activism?

 

I think the journey I have been on has defined me in ways specific at moments and points in time, but it has been a continual link and a type of loop, where I go full circle then, I start out on the loop again.

 

Last year I wrote an article for Vogue Australia on Aboriginal deaths in custody. Recently on April 15, 2021 it has been 30 years since the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody Report, with its 339 recommendations and yet in the last month there has been another 5 Aboriginal Deaths in Custody.

 

In that article there was an image of me at a protest during the 1970s, where my uncle Paul Coe was speaking at. Uncle Paul presented and represented cases at the Royal Commission, and I stood loud and proud with him on the steps outside the Sydney Town Hall. A few weeks ago I stood a few meters from where that 70s protest took place and I spoke at a rally for ‘March 4 Justice’, calling for gender equality, justice for victims of sexual assault and the ‘acceptance of rape culture’. These issues and passages of time continue and so does these appalling behaviours, treatment and racist actions where brutality continues.

 

Aboriginal deaths in custody and the rates of the death of Aboriginal women at the hands of men with very poor clearance/ conviction/ arrest rates continues. These issues shouldn’t just be noise ‘in the background’ but it should be in everyone’s view. If people avoid what’s happening to my people, if it is just an issue for us and not everyone, when will it stop?

 

Are we truly going to answer the questions, that no one wants to ask? Do we need more Royal Commissions, or do we need to make people accountable for what they condone because they have power in the silence? Activism needs to be loud because zero sound/ volume on these issues can NEVER be acceptable.

What have been your greatest challenges?

 

My greatest challenges are being constantly subjected to harshness when there’s no need for it or not being seen by my abilities because of what others “believe” or think they know about you. I have always been told there is always someone else worse off than you and I constantly try to share something, anything. To impart a bit to help someone else but people don’t always receive what you offer, they see what they believe. I have always stood up for those who cannot stand up for themselves and yet I don’t always stand up for me! I need to stop listening to the inner (negative) voice about me because of all those criticisers have made that voice louder than it should be and I should allow the compassion for others to be for me too.

What legacy do you hope to impart to your children, grandchildren and family?

 

I have always been raised by my Wiradjuri Elders belief to “leave legacies not empires”. It has never been about self, it has always been about a collective, a community, a family. Somewhere in this giving outward there has been a loss of taking time out or even recognising you/me/I. The sacrifices cannot be at your own expense because your legacy will then become irrelevant as you make yourself obsolete from the picture. In honouring others you always must honour and celebrate who you are – this is not something I have really known because I have always given and not taken. I want my grandson Tailan to be the generation to change the dialogue of what we accept and don’t accept in his world. Our people’s ancient practices cannot include practices that were not of our original traditions.

 

There are words we normalise such as control, isolation, power and drama. When you enter words like that into our psyche, we forever change our balance. To be pressured into someone else’s view, is pulling those levers on you, rather than you just being – you. Why can’t we use the words such as honour, kindness, acceptance, giving, boundaries, calm and freedom? Isn’t that the way my people have always lived? In harmony with our surroundings instead of expecting our mother earth to owe us – what we think we are entitled to take, just as people can do to each other too.

 

You reap what you sow and yet so many sow nothing and reap from everyone at the expense of you.

 

I would like my children to push the boundaries and challenge the status quo, so that my grandson Tailan can start from a reset - back to the centring of what my and his ancestors sacrificed for us, and endured for you, for all of us.

 

I was told a few years back that I had a hold in my heart, and I tell Tailan that he grew from that missing part of my heart, to bring all his sweetness to life because he is my greatest love.

 

A legacy of kindness, truth telling, strengthening positive cycles and eliminating negative ones – through love.

What do the experiences of communicating to new audiences, delivering Welcomes or speaking at prominent engagements, bring?

 

The engagement with new audiences and people brings an increased understanding of my people, our practices and our way of being. I too gain an increased understanding of the diversity of people, work, circumstances and beliefs through the vast array of people I connect with. The transfer of cross person, cultural and community connections is soul enriching because I get to understand more of what I don’t know. I am always humbled by the opportunity to connect with anyone, particularly those who are interested in bringing about positive change for my people, walking with us, not just for us. It doesn’t matter the event or the profile of the main speaker, for me that isn’t the greatest drawcard because none of us are more important than the next. It’s our willingness to be open and to be prepared to be listen, to try to understand, and not justify those things that should never be accepted.

 

What ancient ceremonies, rituals or traditions, are most scared or dear to you?

 

My ceremonies and practices are varied. The greatest connection of strength with my ancestors is on Wiradjuri country and in my rivers of the Kalare (Galari) aka as the Lachlan and the Murrumbidgee rivers. Sitting and listening to country and my ancestors is my re-centring. I have grown up in Sydney my whole life, but Sydney isn’t living, it is just surviving. I go home to my motherlands to let my soul live, to heal, to breath and connect as my people have done for thousands of years. When I’m at home in Sydney I burn leaves from a spiritual tree of my people, and I cleanse my space. The burning of the leaves is a cleansing for me and the space I live with my daughter, but it is a strengthening renewal that reconnects with a part of my land through the smoke created by the leaves that came from a tree from my country.

 

I also attend sessions with wonderful Mel, who is a spiritual healer for me. These practices seal me to assist and eliminate the toxins and toxic people I encounter.

What makes you feel most hopeful or positive?

 

I told my children last year “the life I lived before I turn 50 and the life after 50 will be different worlds, so get ready for lots of change”. None of us know what’s around the corner for us, some of us can live a long life and others have life taken too soon or suddenly. I am hopeful for a happy fulfilling life immersed in culture, peace, happiness and with love. I am hopeful this country can draw from my people’s ancient practices instead of dismissing or denigrating the world’s oldest living culture but rather embracing it and stamping out racism to create an inclusive shared future through an honest truth telling of history.

 

What have you enjoyed over the years, in your collaboration with Aje?

 

Well of course… the clothes and the accessories of Aje comes to mind but my greatest reward has been connecting with everyone involved with Aje – the team or rather the Aje family are generous and genuinely wonderful people. It’s not just about the gloss and polish of fashion but there is a true connect of people wanting, willing and committed to making a difference in their worlds to be shared with others in a caring, inclusive way. There is a consciousness to social and personal issues that can be positively changed if we honourable in our commitment and that is what I always feel and received when I connect with Edwina, Adrian, Sophia, Kate and the Aje team. There are lots of people out there that can talk about what they are committed to but then there are others like Aje that ARE what they are committed to. Engaging with the Aje team renews my faith in humankind, because they are kind humans, caring, open and willing not just because their prints are on the fabrics alone, but their prints are through every part of their networks of family, friends, communities and world.

The Gracious Smock Dress (Arriving May) and Conception Drop Earrings

Aje Insider: Yvonne Weldon

Photographer: Drew Wheeler

Photography Assistant: Shannon Mason

Artistic Lead: Rhys Ripper

Hair and Makeup: Tracy Terashima
Stylist: Ashton Eramya

Styling Assistant: Chloe Moore

 

Captured at Studio FF

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