Forty years later, Joey’s multi-layered voicemail message hints at an ambition fulfilled. His day job is Aboriginal community liaison officer with Victoria Police in Warrnambool, where he crosses metaphorical bridges, helps people to better understand each other, and walks lightly through the difficult terrain of domestic violence, juvenile justice, mental health and cultural awareness.
The latter is a constant passion. Joey has worked in cultural heritage for 25 years and, in his role with traditional owner group Kuuyang Maar, can be found beside western Victorian highways digging test pits and sifting through soil in search of Aboriginal artefacts used by his ancestors hundreds and even thousands of years ago.
‘My grandparents taught me respect – for my elders, for family, for community.’
He mentors in art that connects people to their community’s Indigenous heritage. He helps put on an annual ‘Lore versus Law’ cricket game that builds relationships between police and the Aboriginal community. He sits on committees and boards with an eye to improving everyone’s lot. He scuba dives, fishes, hunts and spears eels. “Yeah, I’m active,” he says.
Above all, he tries to live in the image of the grandparents who brought him up at the Framlingham Aboriginal Trust (“we just called it ‘the Mission’ or ‘the Mish’”), and who died a day apart when he was 18. “They taught me respect – for my elders, for family, for community.”
The discovery of artefacts on the footprint of future road duplication provides a window to our history, yet short of finding skeletal remains (which Joey thankfully hasn’t) it won’t stand in the way of progress. Yet he lives by a no excuses credo, imploring people to make the most of their opportunities.
He likens the search to “one shot at the title, but you’ve got to give it a go”. Locations for standard test pits are chosen just as we’d pick a camping spot today: “near a river, a creek, somewhere with shelter”. Pits are dug to 500 millimetres and the soil is sifted by hand.
‘The difference in finding something and just missing could be a millimetre.’
Ahead of the Princes Highway duplication between Winchelsea and Colac, items found numbered in the hundreds, and included grinding stones, scrapers, knife and spear points, core stones and charcoal.