At Assembly, at the start of National Reconciliation Week (NRW), I normally urge our students to think beyond the hype generated by big events like the AFL’s Indigenous Round, to try to develop a deeper understanding of what the week is really about. The anniversary of the 1967 Referendum (27 May) marks the start of NRW each year. The referendum altered the Australian Constitution, with more than 90 per cent of Australian voters choosing ‘Yes’ to count Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in the census, and give the Australian Government the power to make laws for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
National Reconciliation Week aims to make it easier for all Australians to learn about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and histories, to share that knowledge and help us grow as a nation. This year, the national campaign highlights some of the lesser-known aspects of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories, cultures, and achievements; to prompt us to ask ourselves; ‘What are some of the things I don’t know about our shared history as a nation?’
Some years ago, wanting to understand more about what it means to be an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander in Australia, I read a book written by Stan Grant, ‘Talking to My Country’. Stan Grant is an Australian television news and political journalist, and television presenter for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. He is a member of the Wiradjuri tribe of Indigenous Australians from the south-west inland region of New South Wales. The Wiradjuri also have roots in inner Victoria, which is where he spent much of his childhood.
I recommend Stan Grant’s book as a valuable insight into our shared Australian heart. I leave you this week with this powerful excerpt.
‘What does it feel like to be an Indigenous person in Australia?’
I am standing in a radio studio in Sydney trying to explain why it is that we are so vulnerable and exposed in our own country … What does it feel like?
I could resort to moral outrage. I could recite the litany of injustice and brutality that has been visited on my people. I could roll out that endless list of damning statistics that always ends in that same mantra: we are the most impoverished, disadvantaged people in the country. All of this would be true. I could speak with anger throwing up words like guilt and shame and blame. In this too I would not be wrong. But I find myself searching for something else …
I have grown beyond the angry student of my youth. I have had to confront my own failings so it is not hard to understand, even forgive, the failings of others. Australia is bigger than us all and we only hold it for a brief moment before handing it to our children … I seek the language of healing because we just can’t take any more pain.
…So here we are: all of us in this country — our country. Tethered to each other — black and white, the sons and daughters of settlers, the more recent migrants and my people with tens of thousands of years of tradition. I have to accept you because we are so few and have no choice. And anyway, you are in me and I am part of you. You can turn away from our plight, but while you do your anthem will forever ring hollow. And I don’t believe that is who you are.
The truth for me is that I love Australia and I must love its people. I have dear friends who are white and I love them. And I love the mother of my son. I love more easily than I can forgive. So we must learn who we are, and see ourselves as if for the first time.
Stan Grant, 'Talking To My Country'