We visit amazing destinations on our tours around Victoria so we thought it would be only fair to get in touch with Melesa from Narana Aboriginal Cultural centre to find out some of the history, facts and reasons that make this such a great place worth visiting.
EA: Tell us a bit about yourself, what’s your story?
Melesa: How much time do we have for this interview ha-ha!
EA: As much time as you need!
Melesa: Well, I’m from New Zealand and I’ve had many careers to this point. I trained as an immunologist and worked in research for a while, then ended up in the business side of the wine industry before retraining as a clinical psychologist and worked as that for a while. I then went back into my own business, retrained as a nutritionist and now I’m here at Narana Aboriginal Cultural Centre, so I’m not sure if you can explain that route to me?
EA: Not really ha-ha, what’s your role at Narana?
Melesa: The official title is Senior Manager, so I’m overseeing the operations of the whole centre and also trying to create strategies to move forward and make it a profitable business.
EA: How did you end up there after your particular career path? By chance?
Melesa: At the end of 2018 I was looking at scholarships for PHDs in Nutrition and Psychology and nothing was really springing out to me, so I thought maybe I should get a job instead. I started looking on seek and this opportunity came up and I thought that it looked really interesting. I need to be interested all the time which is probably why I’ve had so many careers. This looked like it would be challenging and interesting.
EA: Can you tell us a bit about Narana and it’s history?
Melesa: Narana was founded in the late 80’s, originally it was just a storefront in Geelong, so our elder uncle Vince Ross had the idea that he wanted to have an Aboriginal Cultural Centre and went about trying to get funding for the centre. He couldn’t really find any until he approached the uniting church, they have a document called “the preamble” which was established in the 1980s and it sets out their intention to walk together as first people and second people. They formed Aboriginal and uniting Christian congresses in each state and so part of the work in the state of Victoria was to create Narana Aboriginal Cultural Centre and fund it and that’s what they’re still doing to this day.
Uncle Vince convinced them to buy this bit of land and to build a centre, so they put up all the money for the purchase and the construction of the centre and the ongoing running costs as part of their walking together agreement.
EA: Wow, so when people visit Narana what facilities are available?
Melesa: There’s a great retail store that’s stocked with quality things that you would actually want to buy, not just souvenirs. We have an art gallery with current, emerging and well known artists in Australia. We also have a café, the cultural education centre and also a wildlife walk where you can interact with kangaroos, wallabies and emus.
EA: Do you have any interesting facts about Narana?
Melesa: One of the missions at Narana is that we try and employ 100% first nations people which is not often that easy to do. We try to employ people that are not necessarily trained for the job already, but we give them the opportunity to train and gain skills. With a lot of our staff we accept that they’re only going to be here for a limited time which is not ideal for a business trying to make money but we have other important missions other than just trying to make profit.
EA: Is there a best time of year to visit?
Melesa: Not really, during the year we get a lot of school groups so we can get pretty booked up with school groups coming in to do their cultural education. When that comes to a close at the end of the year that’s when our main tourist season kicks in so over summer we get a lot more visitors over summer.
Melesa: It’s a great place to come in winter, even the garden is quite sheltered with all the trees and there’s an open fire place in the café, there’s not many places you can sit in a comfy chair next to a fire place and enjoy a coffee.
EA: Do you do any special events throughout the year?
Melesa: Our Uncle Vince Ross function rooms and our art rooms are available to hire out, so we have a lot of private functions here. We’re also planning to start more art exhibitions this year and we’ve had a few weddings as well.
EA: I believe in your art gallery you have a quilt from Australia’s Apology to indigenous Australians?
Melesa: Yes we have that quilt, it was developed for the apology and it has signatures on it from people who were significant at that time.
EA: What makes Narana so unique?
Melesa: Apart from the fact that it’s a beautiful centre, the architecture is really appealing and the fact that we’ve got animals that you can hand feed and there’s always something new and different to do. The fact that from a cultural and a political perspective we’re here to educate people. So anyone can feel comfortable to come here and ask any question without fear of feeling stupid or feeling inappropriate.
The idea is for people to come here and be educated about our first nations people.
EA: Do you have any advice for people when they visit?
Melesa: Take your time, talk to the staff, ask questions and make sure you leave enough time to have a coffee and have something to eat and a leisurely stroll through the gardens and soak up the atmosphere.
The word Narana actually means “listening” like a deep listening so that’s pretty much the atmosphere that we try to visitors as well, to come in and feel the place.
EA: Thanks for your time!
Melesa: That’s alright!