Bungendore reflects on NAIDOC week
The following is a speech given by Russell Taylor AM after Mass on Sunday July 14 at St Mary’s Church in Bungendore regarding NAIDOC week. Mr Taylor received his Order of Australia for his tireless work with the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS).
Thanks for the opportunity to share some thoughts here today and I emphasise that my views represent AN Aboriginal perspective and not necessarily THE Aboriginal perspective.
Can I open by acknowledging country – by acknowledging that we come together today on lands which, since time beyond memory, have hosted the ancient and modern camps and campfires of the Ngunnawal and Ngambri families and their kinship groups. I pay respects to their elders past and present and pay tribute to their cultural survival and resilience as First Nations peoples.
Yumalundi – in the Ngunnawal language ‘hello’ – in my Kamilaroi language I say Yaama nginday, yaamagera Ngindayuu ‘hello hello everyone’.
I have been asked to share a reflection – and the obvious focus is on the past NAIDOC week and what it is all about.
Many of you will be aware that NAIDOC started out as a call for recognition of a dedicated national Aborigines Day (back in the 1930’s) and has since morphed into an entire week – all devoted to the acknowledgement, achievements and celebrations of the diversity and richness of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture in this country.
As I reflect on these events it strikes me that more and more Non Indigenous Australians are joining in on the various events, as well as embracing the spirit, associated with NAIDOC. This is a good thing as I feel that such growth in NAIDOC participation builds understanding and makes a strong contribution to the attainment of a more inclusive and reconciled Australia – an aspiration for many Australians including myself.
In my view the fundamental components of an inclusive and reconciled Australia would include all aspects of the cultural, social, economic and indeed legal and political institutional pillars which make up Australia as a nation.
And there has always been a link between NAIDOC and these important societal pillars.
You may be aware that each year NAIDOC has a national theme and this year the theme is: VOICE TREATY TRUTH – Lets work together for a shared future!
This year’s 2019 NAIDOC theme has obviously been influenced by the 2017 Uluru Statement from the Heart the documentary result of a comprehensive national Indigenous consultation held in Central Australia about constitutional reform. In summary the document states that as Indigenous Australians :-
We seek constitutional reforms to empower our people and take a rightful place in our own country…We call for the establishment of a First Nations Voice enshrined in the Constitution , and…We seek a Makarrata Commission to supervise a process of agreement-making between governments and First Nations and truth-telling about our history.
I do not intend to go into the mechanics of all this and there are many political considerations, detailed positions and debates involved here – AND I do not wish to be political here today – far from it –except to reflect that the Statement from the Heart was swiftly and categorically dismissed by the political leadership at the time of its initial release.
However as a very good friend of mine, Aboriginal leader Peter Yu once stated in an address at the ANU.
“I seriously believe that the Australian nation is far better than the political system which represents us. And where there is a groundswell of goodness in mainstream Australia the political system can change”.
And I strongly agree and I also note that more recently, and significantly during NAIDOC week, an announcement was made in support of a Referendum on the issue. This is encouraging but nevertheless the road ahead represents a challenge to all of us as Australians.
So as part of my reflection this morning, I continue to ask myself – in the context of the Statement from the Heart – is a reconciled, inclusive Australia achievable?
As a member of this community, as an Aboriginal Australian, as a parent, a grandparent and great-grandparent, I have to maintain the fervent hope that the answer to this vexed question is YES!
I am sharing this reflection at a very interesting and historic time in which I can reflect upon the following positive observations:
- 2019 is the United Nations Year of Indigenous languages
- For the first time in our history both the federal Minister for Indigenous Australians (Ken Wyatt) and the Shadow Minister (Linda Burney) are Indigenous Australians;
- Treaty and agreement making negotiations are already underway led by some state and territory governments;
- More and more school children (both Indigenous and mainstream) are being exposed to Indigenous culture and languages and – learning the truth about our “shared” colonial history
- More and more Indigenous Australians are graduating from universities
- Government led procurement policies are witnessing unprecedented growth in Indigenous business revenues and the census is showing a growing Indigenous middle class
- We are seeing more and more Indigenous Australians playing leading roles in all aspects of Australian’s society – in the arts, in business, in sports, in the public sector and the judiciary and in politics.; and if I may one final observation:
- The world’s number one women’s tennis player is an Indigenous Australian – and one of course of whom we are all very proud!
So there are certain observable elements towards us becoming a more inclusive and reconciled society.
However I would suggest that – to paraphrase the words of the ‘father of reconciliation’, now Senator Patrick Dodson – we have some ‘unfinished business’ – which goes to our Constitution
If the Constitution is truly, as Noel Person suggests, the nation’s Birth Certificate and if, as many other would tell us , it is meant to define our national values – then it needs fixing.
Australia has been confronted by various significant enquiries over recent times including Royal Commissions which told us things that we did not want to hear about our banks and other institutions and including of course about our churches including the Catholic church.
I can only reflect that as a society, as with this church, we need to remind ourselves of the need for reconciliation.
Further we collectively need to re-align ourselves with the teachings of Christ and with the Gospel values of the church which speak to inclusivity, humility and respect.
In my view, our Society through our communities, our churches and other institutions need to truly and unambiguously embrace and respect diversity and to shed the outdated notions of exclusion and disrespect for those who have been marginalised – notions which are completely out of step with modern enlightened social values and the Australian egalitarian principle of a ‘fair-go’ – which brings me back to the Statement from the Heart.
I consider that the Statement from the Heart, which involves Constitutional reform, supported by treaty and truth telling processes, speaks to how we can move forward together to ultimately achieve a respectful, inclusive and reconciled Australia.
In my reflection about what is involved – I feel that it is all doable and achievable provided we are prepared to be open minded, truthful and mutually respectful.
In this context, I take considerable comfort in what I sense to represent a groundswell of support to the Statement from the Heart already building across the Country- perhaps it represents Peter Yu’s ‘Groundswell of Goodness” I referred to earlier.
I am cautiously optimistic without being overconfident and like many of us here today, I will participate and observe progress with considerable interest. Undoubtedly there is much to do and much to talk about!
However in my reflection I am reminded of, and also comforted by, the words of the Dalai Lama, who said:
“Australia is a young nation. It is not scarred by civil wars, tyrannical rule and mass impoverishment. Australia has the potential to transcend its colonial and bloodstained birth and reconcile its history and become a beacon of light to the world”.
Despite my optimism, I readily recognise that undoubtedly there will be many ‘nay-sayers’ – citizens, politicians, lawyers and others – reasonable and otherwise – to oppose the Statement from the Heart.
However as one singular response I would like you to listen to what I am about to say:
“the Uluru statement represents no threat to a single individual in any corner of this country, and certainly no threat to the integrity of Parliament. And if you’re told that, don’t you believe it. On the contrary, it will add much to the integrity of our nation.
“We like to be seen as one nation made up of many parts, now it’s time to prove it!”
These are not my words but the words of respected Journalist Kerry O’Brien as part of his recent acceptance speech at the TV Logies presentation.
In closing please allow me to repeat the invitation and call to arms encapsulated in this year’s NAIDOC theme:
VOICE TREATY TRUTH – Lets work together for a shared future!
Happy NAIDOC week to all!