10 reasons why Daylesford is not the place to be
I feel a great need to reveal the intense racism and oppression that is currently thriving within the Hepburn Shire. It is simply unacceptable and I acknowledge that there are hundreds of country towns across this country that are breeding grounds for racism – like Daylesford.
I am always taken, when Daylesford is advertised as this incredibly accepting, open-minded, progressive country town two hours from Melbourne. It jars my heart and it creates waves of emotions at the idea of people actually retreating to Daylesford for ‘a break’.
Before delving into my perspective of the reality of this town, I need to acknowledge that this town called Daylesford sits itself on stolen land, Dja Dja Wurrung land and I pay my deepest respects to all clan groups, their elders past, present, future and to the land, the waterways, the animals that all in fact create one the most beautiful places in this country.
In 1999 we moved to Daylesford, I was four years old at the time. We moved into a house in Hepburn Springs, on Range Road. Our mum tells us that she needed to move us out of the city because myself, my sister and my brother were too wild and needed to be in the country.
It’s really hard to know where to start, I want to make this piece short so people actually read it, but I also just have so much to say after living in the town for 20 years.
Anyway I will give it my best shot
There is something incredible special about being a child, so innocent and care-free. I believed the world was a special place. As a child I loved growing up in the country, I loved my friends and my time at Daylesford Primary School and Hepburn Kinder Garden. I never questioned why my sister, brother and I would always be travelling outside the Hepburn Shire for black events and I never questioned why there were only two Koorie families (that we knew) living in Daylesford. I was always such a proud Koorie child, my dad would come and play the Didgeridoo to my class at primary school and I loved being surrounded by my Koorie family and I loved being in primary school with my Koorie cousin, who was the only other Koorie kid aside from my siblings.
My innocence and my Koorie pride was never attacked until 2004. I was beginning to understand in my own little way what was happening around me. This brings me to my first insight into the racist town I was being raised in.
Please keep in mind the 8 White Identities when reading my experiences of Daylesford. These identities provided a basis to the types of people I will be talking about.
- ‘Going Home Camp’ – Franklinford 26th May 2004
In May 2004, I would have been around 10 years old. Aunty Su, a Dja Dja Wurrung Elder, peacefully re-occupied crown land in Franklinford, just 10 minutes outside of the Daylesford town centre. This camp begun on National Sorry Day and was titled ‘Going Home Camp’.
When learning of Aunty Sue’s presence in the Hepburn Shire, as black fullas do, we naturally gravitated to her camp site. The photo below is of us kids with Aunty Sue at the camp.
Front Row – William Austin bottom left, Juno middle bottom, Marlin McDonald bottom right. Top left – Sissy Austin, Middle – Aunty Sue, Left – J-Mara McDonald, Back-left (behind J-Mara) Alkira Austin.
I remember feeling a sense of freedom and pride the first few days. Us kids would make up dances, we would go exploring for hours on end through paddocks and creeks and we would make all sorts of interesting food on the fire. Then the locals made themselves known. I like to call them the under-cover racists, of which I have come to learn many reside in and around the Hepburn Shire. They come out of hiding when something questions their identity or when something forces them into an uncomfortable feeling.
On a daily basis, Daylesford locals would drive passed the campsite hurling abuse and racist comments out of the car window, they would scream out disgusting words us kids had never really been subjected to before. I couldn’t believe it. My attitude towards the town begun to slowly change. I would now start to understand that my ‘perfect world’ was totally make-believe and there was more to just camping out with Aunty Sue and playing round with all the Koorie kids in Franklinford, we were actually a part of something larger than just that.
“On a daily basis, Daylesford locals would drive passed the campsite hurling abuse and racist comments out of the car window, they would scream out disgusting words us kids had never really been subjected to before. I couldn’t believe it. My attitude towards the town begun to slowly change”
A few weeks into this camp, we were all peacefully re-occupying the land, when the local police came and arrested Aunty Sue and took her away in the police van. I can remember this so clearly.
It was traumatizing and disheartening. I didn’t lose my pride as a Koorie girl, a fire in my belly begun to ignite from this moment onwards.
2. Daylesford Secondary College 2007-2009
Daylesford Secondary College (DSC) is the only high school in the Hepburn Shire region. You either send your young person here, or you make the decision to send them to a school in Ballarat – approx. 1 hour away from Daylesford.
For many reasons, most people send their young people to the infamously shit Daylesford Secondary College, I was one of these young people.
In 2007 I started year 7, I can’t recall being too nervous, I had lots of friends from primary school and my best friend, so I felt okay about beginning my high school journey.
My first year at DSC was okay, I feel as though I survived my first year at high school although was beginning to understand the dynamics of the place. The non-Indigenous kids whose families had lived in Daylesford for generations (probably stemming back to invasion) were favoured of course, they were favoured because the teachers at the school were so old that they had literally taught their parents and their grand-parents. I worked out that the high school wasn’t a place for my proud Koorie identity, so I survived temporarily by shamefully leaving it at the school gates.
2008 and 2009 were different, I begun to find my voice and started questioning this institution that I was spending 5 days a week at. I started speaking up in class, asking questions and putting enough of myself out there for staff and students at DSC to form an idea of who I was and where I was coming from.
When I was in year 8 we undertook some testing and from what I understood then if you done crap in the testing you were eligible for a certain number of tutoring sessions. I wasn’t the smartest kid and failed most of the testing. I was sitting in class and had my hand up to ask a question. My English teacher at the time told me to put my hand down and said word for word in front of the whole class “Sissy you can ask your question to your tutor, not everyone in this class is an Aborigine and gets free tutoring”. You can imagine how I felt, this triggered a new attitude towards DSC for me.
I was consistently targeted and treated disrespectfully by Daylesford Secondary Staff and if I was being bullied by other students, the staff were never on my side. On reflection, I can see why I grew out of my shyness. I grew out of my shyness to protect and defend myself from staff of DSC.
I have too much to get through in this piece, to go into in-depth detail about my traumatizing experience at Daylesford Secondary College, but I can confidently say that they were three of the worst years of my young life and my successes since this time are definitely not because of Daylesford Secondary College, they are in spite of Daylesford Secondary College.
In the end, the acting principle at the time called a meeting. The meetings for me had to be held at the neighbourhood centre, as my family weren’t allowed on the school grounds. At this meeting, Daylesford Secondary staff had exit forms ready and printed, they stated that they could no longer accommodate me at DSC and that my parents were to sign the exit forms.
I was shattered, I had just been ‘expelled’ for no clear reason, from the only school in the town and this ultimately meant that I was to go to school in Ballarat, so I did.
Anyway, in 2010, myself and my family successfully sued Daylesford Secondary College on the basis of discrimination, we were bound by confidentiality agreements at the time. I proudly completed Year 12 in 2012, so yeah a huge f**king finger to DSC.
This school has a well-known reputation for its lack of ability to deal with bullying, there is a new school principal every ten seconds and you just need to mention the name of the school to 80% of the community and they will have a horror story to share.
Fast forward 2 Years
Throughout the year of 2014, I reflected a lot about the fact that I was living between two worlds. I was working hard with my people and for the rights of my people but wasn’t aligning any of these values with the town I was sleeping in every night. I began to feel really overwhelmed by the fact that this town was sitting on Dja Dja Wurrung Land and it felt like no one knew and no one gave a shit. There is a strong history of massacres and brutality that occurred to Aboriginal people on Dja Dja Wurrung Land, to which the town attempts to bury as deep as possible.
I made the decision to stop separating everything I was doing from the town I was living in. I attended this one event for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women, which was an incredibly empowering experience. I returned home from this event with a determination to let everyone in the town know that they had a strong black woman living in it. I contacted the newspapers myself and spun some yarn about the event I had attended just to get myself in The Advocate with the Aboriginal Flag.
The next eight reasons are scenarios of what occurred following my determination to create change in Daylesford as an Aboriginal woman
3. Hepburn Shire Council
In 2014, it came my attention that there were 79 councils across Victoria, of that 79 councils there were 8 that didn’t fly the Aboriginal flag and Hepburn Shire Council were one of the 8.
So with the above determination fuelling my actions, I approached the Hepburn Shire Council and asked them to fly the Aboriginal Flag alongside the Australian Flag on the Town Hall (which sits itself in the centre of town). The Hepburn Shire Council came back to me and said they cannot fly the Aboriginal Flag as it will disrupt the historic overlay of Daylesford’s main street.
“The Hepburn Shire Council came back to me and said they cannot fly the Aboriginal Flag as it will disrupt the historic overlay of Daylesford’s Main Street”
My shock and my anger drove my campaign to force these backward thinking idiots into flying the Aboriginal Flag. I wasn’t very experienced in dealing with ignorant white people at the time, but I had plans on how to get this flag flying. My main tactics on reflection were; speaking at local events and naming and shaming the council, contacting the media and using social media as the most powerful weapon I had. I also organized to lead the New Year’s Eve parade with an Acknowledge of Country (much to the disgust of the brass band who traditional would lead the parade), this moment I can’t put into words, I had goose bumps the entire parade. I felt something spiritual shifted that day. I wanted this ‘out of site out of mind’ business to end.
At one of events I spoke at (The Swiss Italian Festa), I had a lady in the front row stand up, turn her back to the stage and block her ears as I spoke.
I must acknowledge the small but very kind-hearted group of supporters that stood by my side throughout this campaign, unfortunately the backlash I received from the rest of the locals outweighed the positive commentary and support. I had people say to me – why should your flag be flown, if any flag should be flown on the hall it should be the Italian flag.
Six months following my initial questions to Hepburn Shire Council regarding the Aboriginal Flag and six months of speaking at events, dealing with racist comments at the super market and coffee shops, the council agreed to fly the Aboriginal Flag.
It was a bitter-sweet moment. Bitter-sweet as I wasn’t invited to be a part of the any of the planning for the flag-raising ceremony or invited to speak at this event, but I did play-up to have my voice heard at this event and did eventually obtain permission to speak – with great hesitance from the Hepburn Shire Council.
4. The Local Magazine
The Local is a publication that started in 2013, it claims to have ‘come about because of a need for a truly local publication’.
In January 2015 (which was in the midst of my battle with the Hepburn Shire Council) the journalist and founder of The Local contacted me expressing interest in doing a story on the continued battle for the flag to be flown and more broadly the fight to acknowledge the traditional custodians of the land. I agreed to the request, it was creeping closer to the 26th of January and I was excited at the fact that the story was going to be front-page of the publication on the week of Invasion Day – As the journalist had told me.
All went ahead, I was front cover and I felt as though my main messages were represented in the piece.
Below are some quotes from the piece published.
A few months following this, I thought as though I had this ‘truly local’ publication on my side, so I emailed the founders of the publication with an idea of having a permanent Acknowledgment of Country in the publication.
Whilst I thought this was a good idea, my request was out-right refused. I was told by the same person that interviewed me that; ‘The Local will not publish anything of a religious nature and that publishing an Acknowledgment of Country would be inappropriate and be forcing a religious belief upon its readers’. I replied with an extensive response outlying the deeply offensive nature of the response and suggested they do some work around educating themselves – of which I received no response to this day.
‘The Local will not publish anything of a religious nature and that publishing an Acknowledgment of Country would be inappropriate and be forcing a religious belief upon it’s readers’
The following year The Local front page cover for the 26th of January was of a young girl waving the Australian Flag……… riddle me that lol.
To this day, I feel sick at the thought of being used for The Locals front cover bullshit and sick at even sharing my story with an incredibly ignorant, uneducated publication.
5. Jim Crow Creek | Jim Crow Action Committee
Just a fact for those of you who don’t know. Within the boundaries of the Hepburn Shire, about 15 minutes out-of-town in a place called Yandoit, there is a creek named ‘Jim Crow Creek’. I get a sickening feeling every time I ever drive over the bridge that displays signage proudly stating the creeks name.
All you need to do is google Jim Crow and you will learn how fucked this is.
In 2017 myself and other community members called for the creeks name to be abolished, much to the disgust of “The Jim Crow Action Group”.
There was an article published in The Advocate which published comments from the stressed, concerned, white locals.
The creeks name remains unchanged due locals comments above and Hepburn Shire Council clearly seeing no urgency in the need for a change.
6. ANZAC Day 2017
In 2017 I made the conscious decision to – for the first time attend the ANZAC Day Dawn service in Daylesford, at the forefront of my mind were the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander soldiers.
At the service I spotted a community member who was the only Aboriginal man I knew in Daylesford, who also happened to be my uncle. I felt comfort in knowing he was there and stood with him for the service.
I had no expectations for there to be any acknowledgment or welcome to country, or any recognition of our black soldiers, so it was all going as good as can be expected. I felt good to be there paying my respects to all soldiers.
As the sun rose the skies became clearer, uncle looked up to the town hall and came to the realization that the Australian Flag had been put at half-mast whilst the Aboriginal Flag had been completely removed. It stayed removed for the rest of the day.
We were both disheartened and disgusted. I posted on the ‘Daylesford Community Grapevine’ questioning why the flag had been removed and as per every single post I ever posted on that toxic page, I was abused and attacked.
The next day, following the abuse from the locals and what turned into an abuse Sissy post rather than a post about the flag being removed, the Hepburn Shire Council posted a public apology.
I simply could not believe, that in 2017, this shire could still not get something as simple as this right. This action on Anzac Day is a representation of the current state of the town.
7. Daylesford – The Community Grapevine Facebook Group
I just want to make a quick point about this group that exists.
This group on social media is where I received the majority of abuse and racism from the community, you see a lot of the haters in Daylesford will only express their racist views whilst sitting behind a screen.
I regret not screenshotting the hundreds, literally hundreds, of comments which were abusive, nasty and racist. I remember posting about the Invasion Day Rally, letting community know it was on – receiving abuse, I remember posting about the council removing the flag on Anzac Day – receiving abuse and I remember posting about the Jim Crow Creek – and receiving further abuse.
I made the conscious decision to leave this group, which was one of the best steps I took during a period of time where I felt like the weight of the world was on my shoulders because of living in the Hepburn Shire community.
Whilst it was extremely negative every time I posted, I do want to acknowledge the many individuals that used a lot of their own energy defending me on these posts and I also acknowledge the individuals who messaged me personally apologising for the abuse I was receiving – they were the ones that were too scared to comment publicly in fear of being attacked like me.
8. St Johns Anglican Church Glenlyon
There are many details to this case, which I will not go into here, but I do feel the need to mention this case as it was my final battle in the town.
I grew up in Glenlyon, which is 10 minutes out-of-town. We were always told, and everyone just knew, that the block of land that the St Johns Anglican Church Glenlyon was built on Crown Land.
In march 2017, the church went up for auction. I knew nothing about the laws surrounding this so I set myself a goal to learn and that is exactly what I did. I felt like I became an obsessed bush lawyer/ private investigator.
I am a strong and very proud Gunditjmara woman, so I always knew where my limits were when doing business such as this on land other than my own. When first learning of this auction, I drove past the auction sign every single day, as the auction day was growing closer I was up in air as to whether I should pursue any investigations into this auction. I made the decision with permission from an Elder of that country, to pursue this fight. I felt as though I had a duty to give back to the land that I was living on, and I had that quote in my head ‘If not you, who? and if not now when?’.
My plan of attack was to:
- Do my research
- Stop the Auction from going ahead
- Pass whatever information I found to the traditional owners
I wrote a pretty deadly letter for someone who was expelled from Daylesford Secondary College. My letter was based on two arguments:
- The moral argument around the church selling land they never actually owned and that it should be returned to the traditional owners and..
- The legal argument around the consultation steps that were skipped to sell crown land when the traditional owners had rights through the Traditional Owners Settlement Act.
I sent the letter to the Dja Dja Co-operation, The Anglican Church of Australia, St Johns Anglican Church of Glenlyon and posted the letter publicly on social media (as I needed to put the pressure on to try to stall the auction which was occurring around 5 days after I had finished the letter). I felt like this was a huge battle so I pulled together a group of locals that I trusted and respected to help me out.
We made it publicly known that we would be camping at the church the night before the auction and I had Aboriginal community members from all over Victoria ready to camp, which was so deadly.
In the end – two or so days before the auction, the Anglican Church ‘postponed’ the auction.
See more information on this here – Church Action Post-Ponned
Whilst there was success to some degree, it was ultimately this and the Anzac Day attack on The Daylesford Community Grapevine that resulted in me giving up the fight and moving out of the Hepburn Shire area / AKA Daylesford.
The commentary throughout the church fight – as I hope you can imagine was belittling and draining.
In July 2017, I made the decision to pack up my house and leave the town, I done this with no reluctance what so ever. Around a week before I had made my final decision, I walked into the coffee shop at around 7am before my daily commute to Melbourne, I was patiently waiting for my coffee when a lady who was sitting on a table of around five others said loud enough for me to hear “there’s that Sissy Austin, the one that causes all the trouble around here”. I got in my car that morning and cried, it was this moment where I knew I had nothing left, I knew I had nothing more to give to Daylesford, I could not fight this fight anymore. My initially vision was to pay my respect as a Gunditjmara woman to the traditional custodians of the land I had grown up on and in my spirit and my heart, I feel as though I had achieved that.
There is a 9th reason though.
9. My brothers racial attack at the Glenlyon Reserve December 2017
My brothers Facebook status and post on the Daylesford Community Grapevine –
10. And a 10th.. Racist attack by a local on Saturday 10th of March 2018 AKA Chill-out Weekend
Content Warning: Racist language.
I thought I had completed this piece last week, and was going to end it on 9 reasons, until I made the decision to go out in Daylesford on Saturday night (last night) for chill-out weekend. It is the 11th of March 2018 right now and last night I was racially attacked by a local woman Tracy Barns.
I had no motive or energy to enter into any arguments or debates with anyone in Daylesford last night, I simply wanted to spend time with my cousin and attempt to enjoy chill-out.
I was finished partying by 12:30am and was waiting for my lift home back to Ballarat when a clearly very drunk and/or drug affected Tracy was stumbling all over the road. She then stumbled her way over to me. I was sitting on the ground just waiting alone for my lift. I hadn’t recognised it was Tracy (someone I knew growing up in the town) until she threw herself on me and laid beside me on the footpath.
“I am grateful for your racist attack on me tonight as you have re-affirmed to me the exact reason why I moved out of this town 8 months ago”
Tracy belittled myself, my brother, my sister and Aboriginal people as a whole for a very long and painful 10 minutes, whilst I sat there calmly not allowing for her to trigger any anger within me. The only thing that angered me was that I currently have a $40 Nokia and couldn’t film or record what Tracy felt the need to communicate to me, so while the quotes are fresh in my mind I will list some of them below:
“Sissy we all know your mum only ticked the box so you kids could get everything for free, my kids never got to go on camps like you three abos”
“Sissy you’re a shocking person, you don’t respect the white blood in you”
“You are 1/3 Abo sissy (placed her finger on my leg) look at all that white blood in you”
“Sissy I am not being mean, I am just saying you’re a white abo”
“We are all Indigenous to this county, you Abos need to stop thinking this land is yours”
I will not share everything Tracy said to me, but the uneducated attack ended with Tracy saying to me, ‘Sorry If I have upset you Sissy” as I sat there silently shocked, I replied back to Tracy “you have not upset me, you have not upset me at all, I am grateful for your racist attack on me tonight as you have re-affirmed to me the exact reason why I moved out of this town 8 months ago”. Tracy begun to get angry at me at for this comment, she said I was being passive aggressive towards her…
Tracy does not represent every local in Daylesford, although she does represent the large cohort of locals that influenced my decision to get – out.
In summary, the waterways, the country, the wildlife, eagles, kangaroos, cockatoos are all stunningly beautiful and spiritual. I thank Dja Dja Wurrung Country for healing me throughout some of the hardest chapters of my life and I thank Dja Dja Wurrung Country for what was an awesome childhood. I also thank the good Daylesford community members that tirelessly supported myself and my family, I will forever be grateful for these select individuals, but the reality is, these kind-hearted individuals were not in the firing line as I was, every single day.