The Foundation was so enthusiastic about National Reconciliation Week 2020 that we kicked it off in early May.
The first of four virtual events was led by Professor Anita Heiss who launched the Foundation’s Reconciliation Library. She invited staff to both educate themselves and be entertained by its books, films, music and podcasts.
‘By sharing stories, by engaging in the issues, by supporting through awareness raising,’ she said, ‘you are showing that you understand and that you support the theme of this year’s National Reconciliation Week which is “In this together”.
‘Flying the Aboriginal flag, Acknowledgment of and Welcome to Country are all very meaningful symbolic gestures, but they go hand in hand with action. Reconciliation Action Plans [RAP] like [the Foundation’s] provide a platform for action but it's critical that the vision in your plan and the actions match up.’
Promoting Indigenous voices
Foundation CEO Shane Lucas was in firm agreement, saying that ‘our RAP is very much about listening to and promoting Indigenous voices, stories and experiences and learning from them’.
National Reconciliation Week ran from Wednesday 27 May to Wednesday 3 June 2020. Wurundjeri Elder Aunty Georgina Nicholson did the Welcome to Country for two of the three events run by the Foundation across that week.
Cricketer Ashleigh Gardner joined us to talk about culture, community and cricket. Ash was on the winning team in March 2020 when Australia beat India in the ICC Women’s T20 World Cup final at the MCG in front of more than 85,000 fans.
‘It was a surreal moment,’ she said, ‘and something we’d all dreamt of – playing in a home World Cup.
'It’s crazy to think of myself as a role model but it means a lot to know there are young girls and boys, Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal, looking up to me.'
Different perspectives on reconciliation
There was plenty of reflection across all the events on what reconciliation means and how it can be best worked towards. Many of the speakers spoke about education as the key.
‘To learn about the past,’ said Ash. ‘Acknowledge what has happened and provide recognition. It doesn’t matter who you are, everybody deserves to be recognised. And from there we can hopefully move forward.'
Tiffany Griffin, team leader at Mallee District Aboriginal Services, spoke about education strengthening community development. She particularly praised the role of Aboriginal women who ‘wear a lot of hats and do an amazing job.
‘It's so important that children have the chance to grow up on Country and not disconnected from Culture,’ she said. This connection is nurtured when ‘Aboriginal people have a voice in their programs’.
Fallon Harris from Rumbalara Aboriginal Cooperative spoke passionately on Eddie Mabo Day about the deep resonance for Aboriginal people of the current Black Lives Matter upheaval.
She drew attention to the ‘layers of inequality’ but also the lack of education and understanding within dominant powers. In particular, she singled out the recent demolition of the Juukan Gorge caves in Western Australia by mining giant Rio Tinto. This was one of the earliest known Indigenous sites dating back some 46,000 years. As Fallon pointed out, it was of known significance and dwarfed the timeline of the pyramids that have ‘only’ been in existence for 4500 years.
Having a seat at the table
'Reconciliation is about us all trying to understand each other, have proper conversations and find proper solutions,' she said. To have those conversations, Aboriginal people must be ‘invited to the table to get to have [their] say’.
Hilarity ensued as comedian Sean Choolburra, with maximum flexibility, performed a show from his car. Jessie Lloyd from the Mission Songs Project also provided entertainment, reviving songs originally sung by Aboriginal people who were removed from their homelands and onto missions, settlements and reserves. It’s a tough ask to perform alone to a computer screen, but the warmth and optimism of these early folk songs rang through clearly.
Musician Kutcha Edwards described music as always his ‘best friend’.
He talked about his passion for having conversations with children in schools about Aboriginal experience.
'It's dropping a pebble into a pond and that creates a ripple,’ he said. ‘I tell them to then go home and have a conversation with their family, so the kids become the teachers.'
Some 60 participants virtually followed the Birrarung Willam walk near Federation Square. Following the river and learning about the waterfall that used to be near the current Princes Bridge, we ended up at the scar trees near the Melbourne Cricket Ground which may be up to 800 years old. This walk was led by the Koorie Heritage Trust who also took us for a tour of their collections which range from returning, fighting and ceremonial boomerangs to a marngrook, a possum skin football.
The week ended with rave reviews from participants. ‘This is, by far, my most memorable National Reconciliation Week,’ said one. Another felt fortunate to ‘experience the cascade of joy, sorrow, anger and laughter that is part of contemporary Aboriginal culture’.