Camp Coorong, Ngarrindjeri cultural centre, closes, but weaver Ellen Trevorrow vows to keep sharing history, tradition

“Stitch by stitch, circle by circle, weaving is like the creation of life – all things are connected.”

So reads a sign on the gate at Camp Coorong, a place which has connected people to each other and to Ngarrindjeri culture for more than 30 years.

Ellen Trevorrow has spent those years looking after the camp's museum, full of photos, hunting tools, paintings, weavings and a canoe; welcoming visitors from near and far; and yarning with generations of young people.

Her husband Tom gave his life to the place: he lived there and he died there.

Now she sits in a cold, dark dining room, the power disconnected, hoping the camp's last chapter has not yet been written.

A dispute within the Ngarrindjeri Lands and Progress Association (NLPA) resulted in Camp Coorong closing in February, leaving Aunty Ellen without a job or an income.

As a weaver, her artistic creations have won her acclaim across South Australia and beyond; yet now, at the age of 63, she is on Centrelink and looking for work.

Several other employees are in the same basket.

"I don't want to leave here," she said.

"I want to continue on with what we've been doing.

"We need to look for funds to get us going again; we need to talk to the Aboriginal Lands Trust, because the NLPA lease this building.

"We've had hard times; we were just clearing the way; then you've got this closure."

For a while she has stayed on, sitting and weaving out the front of the building and opening up the museum anytime someone turned down the camp's driveway.

As well as accommodating visitors, Camp Coorong has been a training ground for workers on country, exhibition space for Country Arts SA and home base for youth programs and holiday activities.

A longtime friend, Jelina Haines, said it was a safe place where she had always been welcome.

"Camp Coorong is the only place in regional SA run this way," she said.

"Being here, it gives you that connection to land and country, including all the aunties and uncles; it gives you more appreciation of the culture."

That appreciation has led her to learn traditional weaving techniques, and to begin studying the ways Ngarrindjeri elders interact with young people.

For now, that is as far as Aunty Ellen’s plan goes: she will stay, weave and teach.

"I lost my husband in that office," she said.

"I'm not leaving."

The Standard has sought comment from the Aboriginal Lands Trust.

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