AFTER more than 40 years of working at a Catholic school, an Aboriginal traditional landowner from Hinchinbrook was baptised on her country yesterday.
Warrgamay cultural leader Elaine Morganson started work as a 17-year-old in the laundry at St Teresa’s College, Abergowrie, in 1979.
More than 20 years later she began studying education and qualified as a teacher in 2006.
Speaking after the ceremony, which took place St Teresa’s Chapel on Warrgamay country, she said: ‘It completes my life now I’ve been baptised.
‘This is what I wanted. I said to Father Damien that if I was going to be baptised I wanted to do it out at Abergowrie on country, with the school community.
‘It’s a blessing. I’m pretty sure my father would be proud today if he was here to see this special occasion.’
To be on country is an Aboriginal expression meaning to be on one’s traditional land.
Ms Elaine was raised in a Salvation Army Christian Church family.
Reflecting on why she had chosen this moment to be baptised as a Catholic, she said: ‘It was in my mind for ages and was a thought process I was going through.
‘I stayed back and had some studies with Father Damien in the afternoon, but not only that, celebrating mass with the boys every week [inspired me] as well.’
Ms Elaine entered the chapel behind an Aboriginal dance troop made up of St Teresa’s students, with 14-year-old Jahrarn Neale-Yeatman playing the didgeridoo.
Her niece Shari Pedro performed a ‘Welcome to country’ to open the ceremony before Ms Elaine was baptised by Father Damien McGrath.
Shari started by using Warrgamay language, saying: ‘Nimba nyuna gaganya – hello’.
A ‘Welcome to country’ is a tradition that has been performed in Australia for thousands of years – and has been part of mainstream etiquette since 1976.
A traditional owner welcomes visitors onto their land and pays respect to elders past, present and emerging.
Yesterday a minute’s silence was held for the Warrgamay ancestors who have passed away.
In the absence of a traditional owner, an ‘Acknowledgment of country’ is performed by a person who recognises land custodians.
After four decades of working at St Teresa’s College, which was built by the Christian Brothers in 1933, Ms Elaine chose to complete her training to become baptised, receive her first holy communion and be confirmed as a member of the Catholic church.
The 58-year-old currently runs the school’s ‘Emerging Leaders’ programme and works with young First Nations men.
She said: ‘This school means everything to me. I’m on country – and I’m here for the long haul I guess.’
After the baptism, cultural marks were painted on Ms Elaine’s face.
Students from the school performed traditional Aboriginal and Torres Strait dances after the ceremony, and gifted her a headdress that was made partly of bird feathers.
Rita and Isabella Melara were Ms Elaine’s sponors.
Rita said: ‘My mother worked with Elaine in the laundry at St Teresa’s when I was 15, and now I work with her in Emerging Leaders. We’ve come full circle.
‘It was an honour to be her sponsor.’