Tag Archives: reconciliation

Year of activism #21

Blowing off steam, having a rant, debriefing … what ever you want to call it … sometimes you need to make space to let excess energy and anger, disappointment, fear, anxiety take shape and be expressed. I’ve noticed over the years these moments in the life of an individual activist can leave them depleted, and in the life of a movement can take people into dangerous even explosive situations. They are often the moments where self-destruction seems only a breath away. Finding ways to do this safely and constructively requires discipline. For an individual it requires having quality friends and places where this can be done out of harm’s way.  It is necessary, and with its intensity can bring new insights and invitations.

This week I have watched at a distance the horror of the death of black man killed by a police officer on the streets in the Minneapolis. The rising up of outrage all over the world is too little too late for the man killed. The canaries in the coalmine of racism and inequity are now writ large on the consciousness of a nation.  In my own country institutionalised colonialism results in the deaths of Aboriginal people every day and the the life expectancy gap between Indigenous males and Indigenous females is 4 years (compared with 3.2 years for Non-Indigenous males and females) The life expectancy gap between Indigenous males and non-Indigenous males is 8.6 years (compared with 7.8 years for females). And then there is the 1987 Royal Commission into Deaths in Custody with around 300 recommendations, most of which are yet to be implemented. How we mourn, act in solidarity, educate, mobilise and how we don’t, causes our pain to seep out and take expression.

Very rarely in Australia are the non-white community so moved by injustice that they take to the streets.  This year is the 20th anniversary of walking across the bridges as part of National Reconciliation Week and I wonder how we might bring more of these actions into the public psyche by embedding them into our national calendar.  National Reconciliation Week ends with Mabo Day (June 3) and Bonita Mabo first called for making Mabo Day a public holiday after the death of her husband Eddie who took the action to the High Court that extinguished the falsehood of colonisation that Australia was uninhabited and with no laws over land and sea. Making public something that is invisible to many is one of the powerful ways we discover what is going on. The video footage of a man being murdered becomes grounds for a charge of murder, yet the institution and cultural context that breeds and fosters the behaviour of the individual or small group may not be held accountable or changed.  In Australia, no police officer or correctional services person has been charged over a death in custody.  There have been 400 deaths since the end of the Royal Commission in 1991. We are not descending into civil war on the streets, however the war of occupation continues and manifests itself in the diabetes clinics, in the lack of access to health and education, telecommunications, food supply chains, number of arrests and incarcerations.

I have always struggled with the flag. Seeing the Australian flag with the Union Jack in the corner is a constant reminder to me of our colonial story. I am living in a neighbourhood now that seems to have an abundance of flag poles and flags appear from time to time. I have a small Aboriginal flag in my office, which I have had for decades and it sits behind me, and has usually been up high to remind me I live and work under the sovereignty of a nation that has not had a treaty, on land that has never been ceded.  It’s National Reconciliation Week and I have been trying to figure out a way to pay my respects in a more public way. I have signed up for A Sign of Respect and  my sign arrived and I will organise to get it onto the front of my house.  It arrived with some guidance and gratitude. It also had a disclaimer on it about the social enterprise not being responsible for any damage that might happen to property where the sign was put up.  That stopped me in my tracks. It was a window into the meaning of solidarity.  It’s a small sign of respect and I live in a small street in a small seaside community.


ps I also want to reprise and remember the Deliberative Poll we did in Canberra in 2001 which brought together almost 300 randomly selected Australians to consider reconciliation and black and white relations in Australia. It was an emotionally charged extraordinary process that took the team to remote, regional and urban places. It culminated in a two day event at Old Parliament House. You can see the 3 minute trailer here. It changed lives forever. I had the privilege of being the lead facilitator, supporting recruitment and training the team of volunteer facilitators for the two-day piece of the process. co-designing and supporting Dr Pam Ryan with the initiative. I am forever grateful for the opportunity. 

Dancing with Speeches #22 Noel Pearson

It is National Reconciliation Week and this week’s dance is with Noel Pearson’s Eulogy for former Australian PM Gough Whitlam.

Reconciliation Week and my attention always turns to those who know what it is to turn around, not turn away. Whitlam continues to inspire me by his sheer audacity and speed of reform and at his funeral Aboriginal leader Noel Pearson took our breaths away with his eulogy. Pearson gave a litany of reform born from Whitlam and stated eloquently that reform always trumps management.  There is no reconciliation without action.  Action that is pointed and unlocks possibilities, builds equity and shines a light on the assumptions on why reform is necessary.

This is the kind of reconciliation I want: acts of restoration, accountability that brings together what was broken and torn apart and in the healing what is made new is more beautiful than what it was before it was broken.

The Japanese art of kintsukuroi where the broken vase is melded together with threads of gold and silver to be more beautiful is the gift of reconciliation complete. No denying of the broken pieces in the first place and deep recognition that healing happens in the crucible of heat and flame where the craftsmen and women are required to apply their science and their art to bring together the pieces. This is re-form. The form has been restored and it is made new. It is not just a case of managing and handling all the pieces so that they fit together again. It is a recognition of where the edges are; and instead of hiding them with some invisible glue, making those edges glow and shine and enabling them to be the strength to binds and make whole.

The alchemy of bringing together the elements is the gift of the artisan. The reformer works with their hands and their words are their tools. There are no mechanics although moving bits start to emerge as a movement is built. There are high quality ingredients and fidelity to integrity, for without these, there is no authenticity – only management.

Noel Pearson Delivering Whitlam Eulogy

Yes Noel, I agree “Reform trumps management” so let us re-form and with the artisans of democracy bring about justice and equity so reconciliation makes us all whole.


I have written about kintsukuroi previously:

Good Friday 2014

November 2014 : Made by Disappointment

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


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