Memorial seat unveiled

memorial seat unveiling

Rob Whelan was a significant person in the recent development of Churchill and other areas of Latrobe City.

He is remembered as a brilliant engineer, a quiet but determined achiever who could persuasively bring about the right outcome.

Rob was an art lover, a person keen to see reconciliation of our population with our First Nation’s people and a lover of nature and the environment.

It was with these attributes in mind that Margaret Guthrie and the Churchill & District Community Association decided to honour Rob by having a memorial seat installed below the Gippsland Enterprise Centre (Green Inc) building, looking to the ponds which Rob had been instrumental in designing where there is increasing bird life. This seat would be painted in Aboriginal artwork.

A grant from Latrobe City Council was secured and the project began with Theo Tewierik from the Churchill Men’s Shed constructing the seat where Aboriginal artist Ronald Edwards Pepper did the art work. Permission was secured from FedUni to use the land on which the seat was to be installed and CDCA volunteer, Jeff Kemp, poured the concrete block and installed the seat.

The event began with a gathering of about 20 people at the site of the seat - family and friends of Rob, Aboriginal community members including elders, and representatives of the partners in the project and other invited guests.

Margaret Guthrie began by introducing Aunty Doris Paton to do a Welcome to Country and explain the Smoking Ceremony which was to follow. It was appropriate that our Koori community was present as this is what would have pleased the heart of Rob Whelan.

Aunty Doris spoke of the local Braiakaulung people of the Gunaikurnai nation. The Gunaikurnai area extends from west Gippsland near Warragul, east near Orbost to the Snowy River, north to Mount Buller and south to Port Welshpool. It also includes 200 metres of sea country offshore and the rivers of the area. She welcomed everyone to their land on which the unveiling would take place. Then she explained that the smoking ceremony was to send away any evil spirits, demonstrated how each person should walk through the smoke as a cleansing and invited all to follow.

Margaret then explained the project and those involved before the unveiling of the seat was undertaken by Theo Tewierik and Margaret Guthrie, Jeff Kemp being unavailable on the day.

Because of the inclement weather the party then retired to the board room of the adjacent building where speeches followed.

 These included Councillor Melissa Ferguson Latrobe City Council, Angela Mazou FedUni, Jacki McLure Churchill Neighbourhood Centre, Darrell White, Mike Answerth, and a tribute sent by Russell Northe as he was an apology.

Each one mentioned it was a privilege to be involved with the occasion to honour Rob. Their praise and admiration of Rob as an engineer, a person who quietly but determinedly progressed works and dealt with difficult situations with unwavering and resolute patience, was very evident. He was claimed as a special community minded Churchill resident.

Ronald Edwards Pepper spoke about his artwork, saying the spirals were not typically Aboriginal art but that he used them as symbols of the all Australians working together. He also included some traditional symbols to represent meeting spaces, for which the seat will perhaps be used.

Rob's partner Bev then responded, thanking everyone and saying how delighted and impressed she was with the ceremony.

The final part of the occasion was raising a toast to Rob with orange juice or water with the instruction to imagine it was a glass of red or white wine, of which Rob was fond, which everyone did with enthusiasm.