Tag Archives: Aboriginal

Dancing with Speeches #34 Jesse Williams

At the end of June, Grey’s Anatomy star Jesse Williams received the Humanitarian award from Black Entertainment TV. His speech was widely acclaimed by his peers in the industry for its direct and uncompromising statements around racism, activists on the front line, organised resistance and those making money out of the industry.  WIlliams is being touted as the new Harry Belafonte – 60s black rights activist.

Read the Full Transcript of Jesse Williams’ Powerful Speech on Race at the BET Awards


It’s never too early or too late to thank your parents, your teachers and the ones you choose yourself to share your life and who invite you into theirs.

The equation of one and one is never two, there is always a multiplier effect, even when we act as if we are alone we aren’t – all the DNA has come from somewhere and we join our story to others and our story comes from others. We are part of an amazing system of molecules and moments whirring together through time and space and somehow collide and we are formed – a temporary configuration that will whirl away in good time too.

As the droplets of water erode the hardest of rocks, so will molecules mobilizing for equity give birth to movements where justice stands tall and inequality, discrimination and prejudice dissolve.   Erosion of hate and fear starts with the salt water of tears. There is no other place to start. Without the tears, the anguish and the tide of anger cannot rise. More than a king tide, we have a tsunami of emotion rolling in from the horizon – and when it hits land there will be damage. The deaths of young blacks on the streets of the USA are collateral canaries in the inequity coal mine of that country and the reality TV show that is this year’s Presidential election is just adding more fuel to that fire. Here in Australia we don’t have far to look, colonialism has left a gap that is taking generations to resolve and the idea that equality and equity are around the corner for the oldest of cultures on our planet is not going to happen in my lifetime.

What would freedom from infant mortality look like? Or freedom from premature death? Or freedom from kidney disease? Or freedom from child abuse? Or freedom from violence? And more importantly, what would it take?  We have some taking to do!  How about taking away racism, intolerance, ignorance? How about taking away disease and despair? How about taking away fear?

Get to know the history and understand.  Lets start with a tear and an ache, lets build on each sob and hear a guttural cry goading us to be our best selves and add magic to our molecules and see a flash mob dancing, mobilized, keeping it real and moving to a freedom beat. Get yourself organised, get organising.


Dancing with Speeches #6: Keating

On Human Rights Day in 1992, the Australian Prime Minister, Hon Paul Keating, gave a speech in Redfern to launch 1993 as the International Year of Indigenous Peoples. It set the tone for a new era of relationships with Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australians. He forecast the 90s as the decade to right the wrongs.

Gentrification of Redfern is characterized by the cranes in the skyline. Black pride is pumping in the veins of the locals. Australia is still failing the test, still no recognition in the Constitution, still dying decades younger, still no treaty. There’s been some progress along the way the colonist’s sorry business side of the equation has taken a few steps marked by the apology to the Stolen Generations (13 Feb 2008) but we have not lived up to Keating’s ambition.

Australia will not be grown up, and I would argue, is not ready to be a Republic until we have righted these wrongs. As a non-Aboriginal person I say recognition in the Constitution has to come first and that recognition has to include the sovereignty of Aboriginal peoples in the land the First Fleet of British colonists called terra nullius.

Recognition is an antidote to invisibility, bringing what was hidden in shadows and behind closed doors into the open and into the light. The deep long shadows that stain the soul of the land of Australia can not be erased. A legacy of destruction, disease, displacement … death. As a non-Aboriginal person I cannot pretend it didn’t happen, because it keeps happening … on my watch too.

How do I stand, sit, walk in solidarity?

How am I silent to the past, by not recognizing into the now?

How do I hold the knowledge there was no just settlement?

First things first, recognition. It begins with being able to recognize, to see the signs in the landscape, understand that statistics are people, find the backstory in the pages, being witness to tears, standing still to enable others to go forward. Seeing my own racism and noticing how that unfolds consciously and unconsciously in what I say and what I do. It means learning, relearning and applying the lesson of putting myself in their shoes (one first learnt as advice from Atticus to Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird I think, a text from the US not my own land):

You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view . . . until you climb into his skin and walk around in it. – Harper Lee

Recognition leads to equity. There can be no justice without equity, it is the foundation for any kind of fair go the heart of what so many of us consider a fundamental Australian value.

Can we imagine an Australia where there is equity and the oldest living culture on the planet is universally recognized and that recognition brings the same health and well-being outcomes, the same chance at making a living, the same potential for education and housing … the same human rights of non-Aboriginal people?

Igniting an imagination for recognition needs the eyes to be open wide, the heart to be vulnerable to face into the horrors of the past and the mouth to bring respect, acknowledgement and deep appreciation of the past, so the wrongs get righted and more importantly stop happening.


Keating in Redfern Photo: Sydney Morning Herald

When Keating gave his Redfern speech he said he couldn’t imagine that we would fail, but fail we have. He had a big imagination and a belief in Australians being able to imagine equity beyond the ballot box and founded on recognition. There is still so much to do and having an imagination is the first step to making it possible.

Where’s your imagination Australia?






If you can imagine it, you can achieve it. If you can dream it, you can become it.

William Arthur Ward


Seven Sisters and Shields

Dear Sor Juana,

The celebrated portraits of you show you wearing a nun’s breast shield, so large in one portrait you would have been unable to turn your head. Unable to avert your gaze to what is in front of you the background of your books, scientific equipment and accumulating wisdom from study and prayer you look directly at the viewer. There is a clock behind you keeping time which would have regulated your behaviour, although I have a sense that this discipline was also liberating for you. The works of the founder of your order St Jerome lie on the table top in front of you and I am curious as to what rule is talking to you from the page. (Jerome would have a lot to say right now about the state of the clergy as well as a great student of his day, his letters on sexual morality and corruption of priests were a clarion call in the 4th century.)200px-Retrato_de_Sor_Juana_Inés_de_la_Cruz_(Miguel_Cabrera)

We adorn ourselves and our surroundings with images, objects, badges and jewellery, there is a conversation about how we are held by them and how they hold us.

This week I bought a painting, a portrait of the stars, my favourite constellation the Seven Sisters – Pleiades. It is one of the deepest of the songlines in Australia, spanning half the continent. The artist of the painting I have is Dean Jakamara Briscoe, this is his country and his sky. His ancestors have looked into the skies for aeons and told their story of Jakamarra (Orion) pursing the women unable to attain a union with any of them. My ancestors from Greece had a story of seven sisters fleeing across the sky too and being the source of advice for sailors. Although I am estranged from my Greek heritage and it is hidden from me, I love the thought of our common ancestors looking to the heavens, being guided by the same constellation, salt water and fresh water people – we are all one. The artist and I met in the Adelaide Mall by a 4 metre high pair of silver spheres, I saw the artist approaching in the reflection of the balls and the iridescent yellow Toys R Us plastic bag protected the 45cm square dot oil painting from the August elements of drizzling rain. Taking the painting out to reveal more protection, a black cotton cloth securely and gently being held in place by tape in common time Dean told me his story of the Seven Sisters. I like the idea of this painting being a portrait of the cosmos, captured in time on a canvas, like a photograph, frozen for a moment so we can catch our breaths and stare at their beauty, yet all the while knowing they are moving.

Here is Dean’s story in his words:

For many years the seven sisters lived peacefully and when a man called Jakamara found out about the sisters he fell in love straight away and didn’t want to be alone anymore. Wherever the seven sisters went Jakamara would follow and would beg them to marry him, the sisters tried to hide from him but couldn’t so they fled to the Milky way where they are seen now and Jakamara ( Orion ) still chasing after them.

Perhaps your shield served the purpose, of holding you in your place in the astronomical journey of your spirit traversing the night the sky despite being pursued by your own version of Jakamara, that pesky Bishop of Puebla.

Like your portrait Sor Juana, the cosmos is in the background with all the lessons and knowledge the universe can muster up to deliver to you as you soak it all in, yet gaze only forward. Dean’s Seven Sisters will look at me each day and farewell me into the night as I have put the painting by the front door and next to the light switch, which is one of the last things I do before I go to bed is to switch off that particular set of lights. As I sleep they can watch over me and this household. A breast shield for our home protecting us and leading us forward into the new day and each new season.

Seven Sisters by Dean Jakamara Briscoe

After the booing

Dear Sor Juana,

The juxtaposition of your days of silence at the end of your life compared to your early days of vocalising your knowledge and sharing your thoughts in words reminds me this week of the balance of hearing and speaking.

Voicing your opinions, find our own voice, listen to the voices of others, hearing ourselves into speech or song and making spaces for voices to be heard, adding your voice to others- all ways to celebrate the voice and equally silence can be deafening.

This week our country has been in an uproar with the sound of booing and bullying of an elite athlete, poised against his silence and absence from the conversation. Our nation faces facts about its colonial history, about power, inclusion and exclusion and polarisation.

As far as the North Pole is from the South I hear reactions in the public spaces of trains, trams, salons, cafes and at pedestrian crossings. Racism’s slip is showing and in some of those conversations the slip is long, visible and glowing.   The storm clouds over us this week are being blown away by the voices of those who are standing with Adam Goodes, 2014 Australian of the Year.   It will be cheers and solidarity that will be heard the next time he takes to the field – and I hope he does – so he can have the memory of the boos replaced by cheers. Adam Goodes is one in a long tradition of others such as Nicky Winmar and Michael Long who have stood before him on the sporting field strong and proud of their cultural heritage. They are among the bright stars who rise to shine and teach us about cultural pride, racism and extremism.

How we listen and how we speak to one another is at the heart. I was fortunate to hear Grant Poulson and Liz Skelton recently share their lessons and open up their conversation for others to hear their journey on how they listened to one another as black and white and not letting each other leave the conversation and hang in with all its messiness. (You can download their book for free here.)

Having courage to speak needs to be matched by others have the fortitude and discipline to be silent – deep down I think it is this pairing of silence and speaking that is central to reconciliation in our one on one relationships and as a country. Each day we are being invited into conversations of our hearts through to the big national building conversations we need to have to heal and hold one another.  This (football) season offers a time, in the great tradition of Ecclesiasticus, to be silent and a time to speak.

Adam Goodes

Adam Goodes

Identity and Recognition

I have recently been in some conversations about our identity – what does it mean to be an Australian? Are we ready to claim our sovereignty and be a republic? Beginning with these questions uncovered some deeper feelings and thoughts. I began to muse on what actually makes us visibly Australian to non-Australians and how we notice one another when we are away from home or in a group at home with other nationalities around us.   I thought about you Hildegard, how people identified you, in a habit, in a cloister, as a Benedictine and whether being German (or rather what is known as Germany now) was part of your identity and how others identified with you? Our national identity seeps into our pores, I was told once that it is in the drinking water and comes through air conditioning ducts; like a scene from a Doctor Who episode.  The cultural capital that somehow makes up this identity is deposited in varying amounts in each of us as we are captured by the landscape and find our stories waiting for us there or fused onto the songline that calls us home.

When I am away from my homeland of Australia I can hear an Aussie accent in a crowded room or on a busy street.  I notice the songs of Aussie music on the radio and get chuffed when I see an Aussie movie on an airline choice list.  There is something inside of me that connects and bonds me with an invisible umbilical cord to my motherland.  I don’t think I am particularly patriotic and I am scared of what nationalism can do, I’ve never had a t-shirt with the flag emblazoned on the front or back and I don’t know all the verses of the national anthem.  I do however love to see the red, red sand of the outback and the smell of the eucalypts after the rain, and hear the warbles of the magpies and laughter of the kookaburras, the taste of vegemite on toast and the feel of my ugg boots on cold winter’s morning – as the song goes these are some of my favourite things.  How does my sense of self as an Australian then morph into a national songline and form a shared Australian identity?  When so many Australians were not born here and most of us can’t claim custodianship of the land – we are not from the first nations.  My ancestors came here leaving behind Ireland, Scotland, England, Greece – they came for greener pastures and the promise for the future they envisioned for their next generations. Bequeathing to me a legacy and inheritance that they probably wouldn’t have been able to imagine, such was their poverty and for some persecution.  I wonder how much of an idea they had about what the exchange was all about – in their gain, Aboriginal peoples were moved off their lands, became ill, were persecuted, died.  Whether I like it or not, it is possible for me to live where I live because of theft, ill gotten gains.  Sometime back more nearly two hundred years ago (Willunga will be 175 years old as a village next year) a group of white men came along and started creating a village. The name of my town is Willunga, which means place of trees in Kaurna, and I am pleased it has retained its language, which somehow means to me that it was always known by this name and therefore was a place where people met and came often – to rest by the trees, drink from the spring-fed stream and enjoy the fruits of the land and catch up on news from those who stopped and passed by.  This is pretty much what still happens to day although it is very rare to see an Aboriginal person in the main street.

I love where I live and I love the identity and sense of place that I can ascribe to myself to say I live in Willunga, I am an Australian.  In doing so, though it is based on a terrible hurt and destruction of others who also gave this place a name and were claimed by the space in generations past.

I went to conversations about sovereignty and recognition of the same to be enshrined in our constitution and to separate from our British colonial past by becoming a Republic and it is still something I want to support – but first things first – we must acknowledge Aboriginal peoples in the Constitution before any other changes are made.

Back in 1967 when more than 90% of Australians voted to enable Aboriginal people to have the vote it was obviously a time when it was clear this was a certain and necessary step in how we saw ourselves as a nation, with the amount of mean-ness and small minded-ness rife in my land right now, I don’t know if that size of a vote would be achieved -but I really hope it would be.  Division and disunity forecasts death. And so I think that unity is somehow connected to national identity as well and when we all face the future looking the same way into our hearts and at the horizon together the spirit of our land and the sense of ourselves as a nation might have the chance to gel and form a shared identity.

To that end Hildegard, I will talk and tweet, listen and share what I can over these next months to the Australian identity that can be shaped and informed by our deepest songline and by those who first heard the music in the land and who continue to sing it with dignity and remind us of how we can address the injustices of the past by embracing the future constructively. One important step is to recognise Australian Aboriginal peoples in the Constitution – after all sovereignty starts there.  Once that is sorted and the dreaming track is walked together and we have, as Australians, righted a wrong then we will be ready to be a sovereign nation, grown up enough to be a republic.



National Apology

Dear Hildegard,

It’s been quite a week for leaders on the political landscape – stepping up to the mark, not stepping up to the mark, resignations, sackings and apologising. In the midst of all the upheaval in Canberra, the hearts of mothers who forcibly had their children removed and given up for adoption had a moment in their long quest for recognition acknowledged and witnessed by the nation. I am such a believer in this idea of witness. Witness is solidarity’s sister. It is not vicarious. We could all see, first hand, the effect of forced adoption anguish and the residue of tears of lifetime etched in the crevices of faces, and in doing so we were not the same again.

Loss and grief is a journey that sometimes seems to have no final destination. To carry this around for a life time must be exhausting and relentless and I hope for many of these women and now adult children, they can at least take a rest from that journey for a while. I keep hearing Chuck Girard’s song Lay Your Burden Down in relation to these experiences and trusting that all involved can lay their burden down and rest a while. Where laying down isn’t an act of surrender but an act of rest of handing it over to another authority or sharing the burden so you don’t have to carry it all on your own.

I can find laying burdens down an enormous challenge – wanting to chew over and revisit decisions or relive experiences – instead of shaking off the dust from my sandals and moving on. What is it that enables us to be free and liberated some times and at not others? Is it guilt, ego, pain, the lack of a witness? When you meet witness you discover the power of observation and deep reflection, you notice the details and the nuances, you hear all the modulations of the tones, you see the spectrum of colours. You have taken the time to be still to stare and to soak in and soak up and come to know (word witness root meaning is wit – to know and when you trace that back it is linked to vis – to vision and to see). The sea of witnesses to the apology about forced adoptions gave me a glimpse of a vision of a world where saying sorry brought healing, hearing those words brings reconciliation and forgiveness and being witness to the events of a world where it is possible for institutional power to hear the truth of the words spoken allowing the veil of shame to fall away. As the Quakers would say “speak your truth to power” I wonder if when I can’t lay my burden down it is because I have not spoken my truth?

I hear your voice Hidlegard in your song of light as it is only in the light that the witness can see and in doing so brings more light to the task of witnessing.

A National apology is something I am proud my country can do. As a citizen I give thanks for the work done on my behalf by the Senate to bring this apology to birth and a lighter journey for those who might be able to rest now and lay their burdens down. As a woman, a mother and a daughter I give witness to this event and all the other women, mothers and daughters whose lives are defined by the experience of forced adoption. As a spiritual sojourner, I step into the light so I might see more clearly and know more deeply what it is to forgive, be forgiven and to speak my truth to power.