Winter 2017

Building partnerships with Australia’s First Peoples

John Lochowiak

Man holding a container with smoking leaves.
John Lochowiak performing a Welcome to Country ceremony.

John Lochowiak is Vice President of the St Vincent de Paul Society South Australia State Council.

He is also chairperson of the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Catholic Church, and is looking forward to discussing ways the Society can progress its journey of reconciliation at the October congress.

A Wati (initiated Man), John has strong ties to many language groups throughout Australia, including the Pitjantjatjara, Kaurna, Ramindjeri and Arrernte.

The father-of-five was born in Coober Pedy to a Polish father and Aboriginal mother, Mabel Walker, who was chairperson of the Umoona Community Council for 30 years.

John’s great-grandfather, Aboriginal soldier and ANZAC Arthur Walker, landed at Gallipoli in 1915.

John said family ties and being part of four generations of Walkers involved in the Otherway Centre which he now manages, inspired him to help others. He took great joy in helping lead a retreat there for the National Council earlier this year.

“Supporting the community and making society a better place by working together and building friendships and partnerships has always been important to me,” he said.

People enjoy learning about Aboriginal culture, Mr Lochowiak adds.

‘It’s a very rich culture. We lived in harmony with our land. And people are fascinated with it.’

When he was at school, Mr Lochowiak says he learned about many other cultures, but not his own. It was a shame to not include Aboriginal studies in the school curriculum back then, he says, ‘because a lack of knowledge often results in myths. And myths are negative’.

Nowadays he travels across the country, sharing his knowledge of the Aboriginal culture with adults and schoolchildren alike.

He regularly performs Welcome to Country and Smoking Ceremonies, and would like to teach ‘all the Vinnies people about our culture’, as he believes this is essential for fostering good quality relationships with Aboriginal people and organisations.

‘And it will give us an idea of areas we can develop, and how to go about building partnerships. And that will determine the success of the projects we get involved with,’ he says.

John will be performing the Welcome to Country ceremony at the October Congress in Adelaide.

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