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National Reconciliation Week from May 27th-3rd June is a time for all people, from the different cultures that call Australia home, Indigenous and non-Indigenous alike to reflect on our shared history and work towards a unified and equitable future together. It is a week full of events that aim to bring people together to celebrate the important moments in the journey towards Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders peoples’ recognition, justice and peace. The 27th of May marks the anniversary of the 1967 referendum in which Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples were recognised as citizens and given rights in the Australian constitution. The 3rd of June, which marks the 32nd anniversary of the landmark Mabo decision, recognising First Peoples’ land rights and refuting the ‘Terra Nullius’ myth. The theme for Rec Week this year is; Now, more than ever. 

With that theme in mind, we are consonant with the fact that reconciliation is an invitation for a fractured country to meet together and support one another towards a more just and equitable future for everyone. A key tenet of this process is truth-telling. This is the idea that we can’t meet in the middle and support each other effectively or meaningfully without first dropping the lies that were (and continue to be) used to prop up a project of colonisation and oppression of Indigenous peoples. This has to be an ongoing process of debunking and disentangling the many stories that were created to legitimise and legalise an invasion, dispossession of land, the fracturing of communities, cultures and families and the ongoing violence, racism, deficit positioning and paternalism that characterises the relationship between white Australia and First Nations peoples. 

Truth-telling is an uncomfortable process, and at times, we have seen conflict when trying to simply speak the truth of our nation’s past. However, it is essential for white Australians to do the work of, interrogating our privileges, questioning our claims to this land and the hurt our shared history has caused for so many, to adequately show up and reconcile. This means critically reflecting on both our past and our present here in Australia; where Aboriginal people have shorter life expectancies, lower levels of health, education and employment and higher infant mortality rates than non-Indigenous Australians, earn up to 85% less than white Australians, where up to 40% of the population live without two or more essentials like clean water, are among the highest incarcerated populations on the planet and currently (2024) experience a rate of child removal akin to the Stolen Generations. First Nations people in Australia today are also the keepers of cultural knowledge, speak over 123 different languages that are growing every day, are some of our most revered artists, musicians, writers and academics, understand how to manage the land; protecting threatened species and minimising the effects of climate change. They are leaders in sport, business, politics and community action. Engaging in this truth-telling process opens doors for newfound respect, knowledge, healing and building a future together. There is so much to learn. White Australians need to stop living with the fear of being ‘punished’ for the actions of the past, but acknowledge it and move on, actively engaging with the problems today and into the future. With an open heart and an open mind, it truly can be so much better. 

‘As lies empower governments to justify violence, the truth underlines how unnecessary violence is. War does not bring about peace. Prison does not heal, and it does not teach. Removing a child does not secure their future. We need to invest in real solutions that are supported by the evidence and knowledge we have gained over millennia and that have been crystallised by our elders and leaders’. Tyson Holloway Clarke, Njamal, 2024 

It is worth noting that many view Reconciliation as something that has been depoliticised; talk that has replaced meaningful actions, land back and Treaty processes. Reconciliation talk without action risks placing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ knowledges, contributions and futures on the periphery. 

‘Later I sit at a long table, talking about ‘reconciliation’. Treaty has become reconciliation. There is all this talk about nothing. It is not connected to the real goings-on. Eventually I can’t stand it any longer. I get up and leave the talkers to their talking and go back to Arnhem Land. Later, I send in my letter of resignation’.  Galarrwuy Yunupingu, Gumatj, 2009.

The ‘talk’ of reconciliation must go beyond seeing Aboriginal affairs as an ‘add in’ or an ‘inclusion’ to a white Australian system and be based in truth. Here, truth-telling is a launching point for the work of dismantling this system and meaningful decolonisation. This kind of ‘talk’, led by First Nations peoples’ with the listening of white Australia is essential to Treaty, our ability to heal, to close gaps and to create policies with guts. With the disappointment and hurt that resulted from the 2023 Voice to Parliament Referendum, the meaning I take from Rec Week this year is truly Now, more than ever. 

Ways we can do the work and show up: 

  • Learn about the Country you’re on and the local culture 
  • Become involved with First Nations communities and listen to their stories 
  • Be an ally 
  • Celebrate and involve First Nations people in education and employment 
  • Assist each other in achieving dreams and goals
  • Respect that First Nations people come from different backgrounds and skin types, just like white Australians

Donate: 

Support First Nations businesses: 

Learn about First Nations culture: 

Support language: 

Support Country: 

Ella and Anthony work together in the Murrup Barak Program at the University of Melbourne.
Anthony is a proud Arrernte man and student of Anthropology. 

References: 

Conversation Co

Conversation Co proudly acknowledges and celebrates First Peoples of Australia and their ongoing strength in upholding some of the world's oldest living cultures. We acknowledge the Traditional Owners of the lands throughout what is now Victoria – where we live, conduct pop-ups, and engage with our communities – and pay our respects to their Elders, past and present. Conversation Co acknowledges First Peoples' sovereignty has never been ceded. The strength, resilience and pride of First Peoples, their cultures, communities and identities continue to grow and thrive today despite the impact of colonisation and ongoing experiences of racism.

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