I would like to acknowledge the traditional owners of Australia and the land in which we meet. We extend our thanks to the past and present generations.
June 3rd brought the close of National Reconciliation Week. And so, this is Curiosity Killed the Journalist on Australia and its relationship with its Indigenous people.
This year, the week featured two milestones. The 50th anniversary of the 1967 Referendum, which led to the Federal government making laws surrounding Indigenous Affairs, rather than individual states, and Aboriginal people to be included in the census. The other anniversary is 25 years since the Mabo Decision, which was a court case in 1992 that recognised land rights for Indigenous Australians.
Ever since the British arrived in New South Wales on January 26th 1788, and declared Australia to be terra nullius, the Indigenous people of Australia have been kicked aside. This has happened around the world to Indigenous communities, in the name of colonialism, and it’s ridiculously messed up.
You can kind of see why Indigenous Australians call that day Invasion Day, protesting the celebrations most Australian’s have on January 26th. It was the day that would lead to their land being stolen, the day that would lead to them having no rights – spending the next 200 years, and even to this day, fighting for recognition.
A quote from an article in IndigenousX states, “If we want to see Australia as a colonial outpost for the British then maybe that day makes sense, but if we want to regard Australia as a ‘vibrant multicultural nation’, and if we want to regard Indigenous peoples as a core part of the modern Australian identity then it makes absolutely no sense whatsoever to have Australia Day on that date.”
This isn’t the only history of horror that white Australia has forced upon the Indigenous people. The Stolen Generation, young children taken from their homes and forced into white society, was an attempt at breeding out Aboriginal culture. Instead, they were taught how to speak, think and act like a white person. They were sent to boys and girls homes, hidden away from their people. They were caught between two worlds, who they were and who they were forced to be. It had damaging effects. With no absolute records kept, it can’t be known how many children were stolen. It’s estimated between 1883 and 1969, 6,200 children were stolen in New South Wales alone. This was all done under the Aborigines Protection Act of 1909.
In penance for these actions, Australia hosted its first National Sorry Day on 26 May 1998, but it wasn’t until 20 years later that a Prime Minister of this country actually apologized to these people.
Australia will never truly heal from this day. The effects will be felt for decades, and maybe even centuries to come.
The theme of this year’s National Reconciliation Week is Let’s Take the Next Steps’. In that spirit, the 2017 National Constitutional Convention released what they call, The Uluru Statement of the Heart. The statement talks about how Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders are the original sovereign nations of Australia. They’ve been here for 60,000 years – and yet in the last two hundred, whilst they’ve never forfeited their sovereignty, it seems people have forgotten it’s existence.
“Proportionally, we are the most incarcerated people on the planet. We are not an innately criminal people. Our children are aliened from their families at unprecedented rates. This cannot be because we have no love for them. And our youth languish in detention in obscene numbers. They should be our hope for the future.
These dimensions of our crisis tell plainly the structural nature of our problem. This is the torment of our powerlessness,” the statement reads.
They want the establishment of a First Nations Voice enshrined in the Constitution, wanting the Makarrata Commission to, “to supervise a process of agreement-making between governments and First Nations and truth-telling about our history.”
The statement finishes, “In 1967 we were counted, in 2017 we seek to be heard. We leave base camp and start our trek across this vast country. We invite you to walk with us in a movement of the Australian people for a better future.”
Constitutional representation in parliament and acknowledgement isn’t all that much to ask for. Unfortunately, this statement is riling some people up. Deputy PM, Barnaby Joyce, said to RN Breakfast, “If you are asking for a new chamber in the federal parliament, some of the articles I see are heading in that direction, that’s not going to happen, I am going to be fair dinkum with people.” He talks about how the Senate has enough problems, and adding another chamber wont solve that. It’s not sellable to the Australian public.
Waleed Aly used his platform on The Project to say how we need a national conversation about this.
“Now, I would have thought for everyone who’s not Indigenous at that point, you don’t go ‘well that’s too much,’. You go, ‘well, we really have to listen to this,’ because otherwise what’s the point? Why would you bother going through a process of deliberation,” he asked.
Constitutional lawyer Megan Davis has played a key role in these talks, stating that no one wanted symbolic recognition but “reform that allows us to participate fully and actively in the life of the Australian state”.
Aboriginal leader Noel Pearson told SMH he believes the referendum could be voted on in the next 12 months.
With this discussion gracing our news, social media and daily discussions, it is definitely something that needs to be truly thought about and discussed. Australia owes so much to its indigenous people, and it is about time we start listening.