Raise our voices

Jack is a quietly spoken man. He has a beautiful smile. And he openly shed some tears when we recently spoke. There was no vitriol, rather a humble, challenging request from this proud Kamilaroi man. “Please embrace our invitation. Please walk with us towards reconciliation. We can do this.” And words I won’t forget; I can’t forget. “If we miss this opportunity, I don’t think it will come again for for a long, long time and we’ve been waiting a very long time”. Today at the beginning of National Reconciliation Week 2023, I raise my voice for Jack and First Nations’ people like him.

For too long, Jack and so many other First Nations’ people feel non-Aboriginal people have not taken the time to genuinely listen to their voices, hopes and aspirations. As I talk with Jack, and hear personally about the long reconciliation road he and his family have walked, I am struck by his good heart, perseverance and resilience.

Generations past – including Jack’s people – have passionately, patiently and painfully kept stepping forward in hope of reconciliation and a better future for our nation. They have courageously persisted. Many saw small steps forward and sadly huge strides backwards. Many never saw what they dreamt of, but they didn’t give up. “Sometimes it seemed like we were going in the right direction and plenty of times it’s felt like we were going backwards. I’m worried about those that want to take us backwards now,” Jack warns.

This beautiful Kamilaroi man wasn’t alive on 26 January 1938 when the first national day of mourning was marked in Australia, but he does remember being a kid in regional NSW on that special Saturday in 1967. On this day – 27 May – in 1967, a resounding 90.77% of the population voted “Yes” in the referendum to change the Constitution so that like all other Australians, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples would be counted as part of the population and the Commonwealth would be able to make laws for them.

“I remember how important this was for my father. I remember him weeping at the result.” Jack says with emotion in his voice. “But we haven’t got to where we thought we would all these years later. And t’s now about my kids and their kids and their kids.”

From 1967, Jack and I step through other important dates in the long, slow, reconciliation walk. Dates like:

  • 16 August 1975 – As Prime Minister Gough Whitlam pours dirt into the hands of Vincent Lingari.
  • 3 June 1992 – The historic Mabo decision.
  • 10 Dec 1992 – Paul Keating’s Redfern speech.
  • 26 May 1997 – The tragic but truth-telling publishing of the “Bringing them Home” report.
  • 2000 – Walks for Reconciliation across the nation.
  • 13 Feb 2008 – Prime Minister Rudd’s formal apology.
  • 26 May 2017 – The publishing of the Uluṟu Statement of the Heart.

The Uluru Statement concludes: “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.”

Six year later the moment is with us. May many of us embrace Jack’s request: “Please raise your voices with us.”

The theme of National Reconciliation Week 2023 is “Be a voice for generations”. And the Uluṟu Statement captures this future hope – Jack’s hope. “We seek constitutional reforms to empower our people and take a rightful place in our own country. When we have power over our destiny, our children will flourish. They will walk in two worlds and their culture will be a gift to their country.”

May we receive this gift!

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