Visibility and Invisibility 2022 #23

National Reconciliation Week, framed with the two book ends of National Sorry Day and Mabo Day, is full of invisible stories. The stories of the stolen generation, people who have not yet found their families and for whom colonisation is ongoing and is not a singular date on a calendar. It was a week when the High Court Chief Justice who oversaw the Mabo decision, died at age 94. Sir Gerard Brennan’s social justice values, growing out of his Catholicism are deeply familiar to me. The Mabo decision was June 1992 and put the fiction of Terra Nullius to bed. Following the High Court decision in Mabo No. 2, the Commonwealth Parliament passed the Native Title Act in 1993, enabling Indigenous people throughout Australia to claim traditional rights to unalienated land.  Brennan made something invisible to so many, visible. This is how the law often works, bringing to light and to voice, evidence and facts and ultimately through reason providing a pathway for others to follow and laying foundations for next steps.

Reconciliation, as a word, is all about balance, restoring the relationship where there has been a breakdown or mis-understanding. It is all about getting things back into right relationships. This feels so inadequate and inappropriate when it comes to Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australia. How can a situation founded on a lie on one side of the equation bring anything into balance without that basic foundation being corrected first? Treaties are on the agenda so maybe one day, but for now, it is premature to use reconciliation as a word towards equity. The week done help us non-Aboriginal people take a step towards, and the extraordinary generosity of Aboriginal people bowls me over once again. There isn’t a common measure for what is immeasurable, like the way the land and the sea holds her people, or how the song lines can sing you home. There is a ledger but I am not sure it can ever be reconciled.

My Reconciliation Week has been a series of feeble steps. A visit to a local school where we were honoured with a smoking ceremony, song, dance and that ever present democracy experience, a sausage sizzle. I also went to an excellent screening of a set of short films, Nunga Screens, curated by Country Arts. I went to this event in my local community run theatre with a group of friends from diverse backgrounds and roles in the community – consultants, public servants, advocates and activists. I have worn a number of pieces of clothing created by Anangu artists and promoted art from the APY Arts collective in a Facebook community I manage. I’ve read some poetry by Yankunytjatjara Aboriginal poet Ali Cobby Eckermann. I pulled over onto the side of the road to hear the first women Aboriginal minister get sworn into the ministry. I started to cry and wanted to mark the moment and took the time to listen without distraction. It has been a week of visibility for Aboriginal people – it shouldn’t be one week – it needs to be every day. 

I am off planting trees on  Ngarrindjeri country at Raukkan, to end the week, a place once home to the man on our $50 note – inventor, preacher, activist David Unaipon.

Voice. Treaty. Truth is the order of business for the Uluru Statement from the heart.

Always was. Always will be.

Aldinga Payinthi College – National Reconciliation Week 2022 – colouring in by Sienna aged 4

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