When I was in my first year of Uni I found myself in a conversation about Aboriginal people and all the things wrong with them. It was a conversation fuelled by misconceptions and stereotypes perpetuated by mainstream media. I wondered if anyone present had actually ever met an Aboriginal person. It was awkward. When should I speak up and tell them that the people they were talking about were my people? That I was one of these Aboriginal people they spoke so negatively about. My opportunity came when one of the group stated that he had never met “a good one”.
‘What about me?’ I said.
The group stared back at me, unsure what to say. They were quiet for a minute, clearly confused and not really sure what to think. My awkwardness became theirs as they realised that they had been caught in their racism, not that they would identify it as that. Finally, one of them spoke “Are you really Aboriginal? You don’t look it”.
Now this is a conversation I had had a thousand times, and have had a million more times since. I explained that Aboriginal people are diverse, not cookie cut outs of the stereotypical black person that mainstream media would have the world believe and it inevitably leads to the person declaring that I am somehow different, because I don’t meet their stereotype of an Aboriginal person – that somehow by doing well I have overcome the deficit that is associated with being Aboriginal. It is a conversation that most Aboriginal people are well versed in.
The deficit perception, the view that Aboriginal people are not capable, is something that still persists and Aboriginal people are still forced to prove themselves when other people don’t have to. Even when we have done something that shows we are capable, a question lingers about how we manage to achieve it. The fact that we achieved something overshadows what we have actually done and many people think we were only able to achieve because of a loop hole or handout.
As children, people often don’t expect us to achieve much. Our kids are often not pushed to their full potential because it is assumed that we are excelling just by scraping by. We go to Uni and people assume we got there on a hand-out, a mystical free pass. As adults many of us find ourselves in jobs where we are not utilised to our full potential.
I believe that the deficit perception is left over from the years when Government policy portrayed us as inferior in order to justify the way it treated us. They under-estimated our abilities and worth then and that has unfortunately continued and become part of the unconscious bias against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people that permeates today’s world.
This year I would like to actively and directly start to change the deficit perception. If you are a teacher, I encourage you to get to know your Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students, see their strengths and let them know you see their potential and expect them to achieve it. Encourage and support them to do this – work with them and their community to make sure they don’t get lost in the assumption that good enough is all they can achieve. Opportunity rather than ability is the barrier we face.
If you are an employer, talk to your Aboriginal staff – do they feel you are utilising their skills as well as you can be? Are there growth opportunities they would like to undertake?
This year, Wingaru will be sharing the stories of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who counter the deficit perception. Whose everyday life shows that our First Nations people are strong, determined and capable. That the deficit perception is the biggest myth of all.
I have started this post about six times now. I honestly don’t know what to write about Black Lives Matter and the racism debate that is raging in Australia right now. As an Aboriginal woman it is overwhelming. The racism that the world seems to finally be seeing is an everyday part of Aboriginal life. As an Aboriginal mum I am terrified for my boys and what they will endure in this world because of the colour of their skin.
I wondered if I should share my childhood experiences of racism, like:
Surely this would highlight that racism starts at a very young age and Australia needs change so that no child has to be at risk because of the colour of their skin. That no child should face racism before they even know what it is.
Or should I talk about the many times when the treatment of two boys in my extended family group – one white and one black – highlighted that being black meant you always got the raw end of the deal? Especially with the police. Should I talk about the time that they were riding an unregistered motorbike owned by the white kid, the black kid on the back: both wearing no helmets; both making stupid decisions as teenagers often do? Should I point out how the black passenger was arrested, not just fined, while the white owner of the unregistered bike, who should not have had a passenger, who also should have been wearing a helmet was given a warning? Should I talk about how this is just one of many examples I could talk about just in relation to those two lads? Surely this would highlight that race is often a factor in interactions with police.
Should I talk about white privilege and when I first became aware of mine? I was 17 and got called to the principal’s office to support a younger Aboriginal student who was in trouble for her response to being racially attacked by a white student. He was returned to class with no consequence while my koori sister was facing potential suspension. As we discussed the issue, she told me how lucky I was to be able to pretend I wasn’t Aboriginal if I wanted to while she could never escape it because of the way she looked. Should I talk about the awareness that her comment brought to my life and how sad I still feel that she once felt that way? Would talking about my white privilege help others acknowledge their white privilege and the impact it has on how they see the world?
Or is it better to talk about the racism I have experienced as an adult – the many cabs I have had to hail for dark-skinned friends, family and even strangers because cabs don’t stop for black people? Or the mouthfuls of hate I have copped from cabbies when they realise that the fair skinned person is letting Aboriginal people into their cab? Should I talk about the times I have had to pay for my trip up front because the driver refuses to move until we do? Amazingly this has only ever been an issue when I am with black people. Should I mention the time that I was filling out paperwork to start a new job and while making small talk with my new boss I mentioned I was Aboriginal? She instantly withdrew the job offer and eventually told me I was unsuccessful because they needed someone with more experience with petty cash. I had been working very similar roles with larger sums of petty cash for three years and had glowing references. But sure, let’s pretend my lack of experience was the issue. Should I talk about the many conversations I have had to listen to about how terrible Aboriginal people are, or how many times I have been told “but you are different, you are one of the good ones”?
Should I talk about my weekend on social media? In many of the groups I am part of – whether it be mums’ groups, business groups or hobby groups – that when the issues of Black Lives Matter or racism were raised they were met with racist rants denying all existence of racism and asserting that they were somehow a victim of black people’s search for fair treatment. Should I talk about how admins in these groups often dealt with the issue by deleting the anti-racism posts rather than asking those that were uncomfortable with the conversation to refrain from making racist comments? Even posts from fair-skinned mums checking in to see if Aboriginal mums were ok or asking what they can do to help or how they could educate their children about racism were deleted. Should I talk about how this made several of these groups an unsafe space for black mums and mums of black children? Should I talk about the lost opportunity to educate on this issue and to support any mum who wants to talk to their child about racism? Who is going to educate kids if mums are not supported to do so?
Do I talk about the racism that I have experienced as an Aboriginal business? Should I talk about how people assume we get huge government handouts (we don't)? Or that our resources should be free because government has already paid for them? Should I describe:
Each and every one of these things that I want to talk about is relevant and will resonate with people differently. But they all share one thing in common and that is change.
Each of us can help to change the conversation. We need to stop debating about whether there is racism in Australia because the simple fact is that there is. Findings from an Australian National University study released last week found that three in four Australians held an unconscious racial bias against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders. (You can read more about that here https://www.sbs.com.au/news/three-in-four-australians-hold-racial-bias-against-indigenous-people-study-finds)
So why are we still debating it? Why are people still denying it and trying to shut down attempts by the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community to be heard and to bring about change? And perhaps most importantly what are we doing to make sure the next generation has a better understanding of racism?
One thing is very clear – as a nation, our understanding of racism needs work. We think of racism being a deliberate act to discriminate against someone based on race. We rarely think about the unconscious bias that is also racism. We need to see it, we need to acknowledge it, we need to actively ensure we don’t do it and we need to make sure our kids are supported to understand it so that they don’t fall into the same patterns.
Tomorrows leaders are sitting in classrooms today – let’s help them do better and give them the information they need to create a less racially biased world.
Tip 1: Participate in a simultaneous learning experience with “All Together Now for Reconciliation”.
Across Australia children in early learning centres, primary and high schools, can simultaneously join the reconciliation movement and learn from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander voices via an exciting online platform we have developed in partnership with Reconciliation NSW.
“All Together Now for Reconciliation” is a simultaneous classroom experience specially created to provide easy and accessible cultural content and is a great way to engage kids in activities for National Reconciliation Week. Students will learn about the theme of Reconciliation through age-appropriate activities and discussions:
To participate join us online at www.togethernow.com.au.
Tip 2: Learn more about this year’s theme.
Visit the Reconciliation Australia website to learn more about the 2020 theme “In this together”. While you’re there download this year’s poster to display in your classroom.
Tip 3: Have an open discussion in your classroom.
What does reconciliation mean to your students? Encourage your students to explores the five dimensions of reconciliation as identified by the State of Reconciliation in Australian 2016 Report – historical acceptance, race relations, equality and equity, institutional integrity and unity.
Tip 4: Learn more about the significance of the dates at the beginning and end of National Reconciliation Week.
National Reconciliation Week is held on the same dates every year – 27 May to 3 June. Both these dates mark two significant milestones in the reconciliation journey— the successful 1967 referendum, which gave the Australian Government the power to make laws for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and to include them in the Census; and the High Court Mabo decision, which saw the concept of terra nullius overturned.
Our Wingaru Kids platform provides informative and engaging lessons on both these important dates with our “1967 Referendum” and “Mabo” lessons. Each lesson includes a lesson plan, curriculum outcomes, video, digital activities and printable resources.
Tip 5: Check out one of the Reconciliation activities
National Reconciliation Week is a time for all Australians to learn about our shared histories, cultures and achievements, and to explore how each of us can contribute to achieving reconciliation in Australia. Visit the Reconciliation Australia website check out this year’s National Reconciliation Week events.
A few months ago I went to a networking meeting – an opportunity to meet with other business people in the area in the hope of meeting some like-minded people who might one day be interested in collaborating on a project. To be honest I hate these events. I am not great at small talk and I feel awkward in a room of strangers. I try to make myself go a couple of times a year because as I tell my kids, it is good to step out of your comfort zone occasionally and challenge yourself to practice something you are not comfortable doing. I have also met some inspiring people doing some amazing things at these events so deep down I know it is a worthwhile activity despite my hesitation.
At this particular event I found myself talking to a lad, making small talk about his start up and the challenges he has faced in getting his vision from paper into the real world. His story was interesting and very different to mine. He was friendly and I think good hearted and I was enjoying our conversation. He asked about my journey and the barriers we face at Wingaru and I shared some of our barriers including race-based barriers that we are working to overcome. I talked about the assumed deficit that many people think Aboriginal people have – like we somehow cannot achieve to the same level as non-Aboriginal people, that we don’t quite do as good a job as our non-Aboriginal counter parts; how people incorrectly assume we have received massive amounts of funding to create our resources so our resources should be free of charge; how people continually dismiss Aboriginal education as an Aboriginal issue rather than a crucial part of Australia’s education system; and how as a business we often have to deal with racism before we can discuss our projects.
His interest in what I am trying to achieve was genuine and he confessed that I was the first Aboriginal person he had ever met. To be honest I am always a little shocked when people tell me they don’t know any blackfullas. Honestly, we are everywhere! But it is something I hear often, although I suspect that most people have met an Aboriginal person but haven’t realised because most of us don’t fit the stereotype that people are expecting. I shouldn’t have been too shocked when he suggested I pretend I wasn’t Aboriginal so that I didn’t have to face the adversity that our mob face. At least he didn’t suggest I line up for my free car or house, right?
It makes sense really. Why would anyone want to face the adversity that Aboriginal people face every day? Why, if we had a choice, would we put ourselves out there to become the subject of racial hate, disadvantage and misconceptions that continually pop up as barriers that stand in our way?
Because being Aboriginal isn’t a choice. It is part of who I am. I have always been raised to be proud of my culture and my mob. We are resilient, we are strong, we are still here despite every attempt to keep us down. I couldn’t pretend I am not Aboriginal even if I wanted to. It would be like pretending I am a duck instead of a human. I don’t know how to be anything but an Aboriginal woman. And I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I am part of an amazing culture and a great community. I am proud of all the things we as a people have achieved.
This seemingly innocent comment highlighted just how far mainstream Australia is from understanding Aboriginal Australia. To think that it is as simple as choosing not to be who you are so that you are treated appropriately by other people feels like something from 100 years ago, not today. In the past Aboriginal people did deny their Aboriginality out of fear but surely we are past that? How are we approaching 2020 and people still think like this? Not because they are trying to be disrespectful but because they don’t know better? If there was ever an argument for changes in Aboriginal education for all Australians, this is it. We cannot have another generation not knowing. We need change.
The month of September focusses on bringing awareness to suicide prevention with two key events, World Suicide Prevention Day (10 September) and R U OK? Day (12 September).
This year both days will focus on suicide being a community issue and the role each of us play in coming together in collaboration to address suicide. Here in Australia suicide rates have increased by 13% over the last decade, and it continues to be the leading cause of death among young Australians. Of our youth dying by suicide, one in every four is Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander.
Causes of suicide are complex, even more so for young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People who are nearly three times more likely to be psychologically distressed than their non-Aboriginal peers. Contributing factors to their negative social and emotional wellbeing include racism, social exclusion, intergenerational trauma and separation from culture and identity issues.
As Australians, there is much we can do to work together in addressing these negative factors and to help young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People feel safe, supported and part of the community. Two significant areas we all have the power to address, either as individuals or communities, are reconciliation and racism.
Reconciliation through Education
The truth about Australia's history since colonisation is difficult and confronting, but it is our shared story and while we are unable to change the pain and anger many experience we at least need to acknowledge it and understand the intergenerational trauma caused. It is our responsibility to educate ourselves and younger generations about this history, building a shared understanding, so that as a nation we can achieve true reconciliation. Only from here can we can begin to reduce the impact of intergenerational trauma on the wellbeing of young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People.
Celebrating and reinforcing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander’s knowledge across our school curriculum and throughout community life also plays a large role in reconciliation. Providing all Australians with the opportunity to engage in respect and recognition of the world’s oldest continuous living culture and encouraging a sense of cultural identity and pride among Aboriginal children, enhancing their psychological resilience.
Racism. It stops with me
Racism is one of the main factors negatively impacting the social and emotional wellbeing of young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People and appallingly, racism, both perceived and actually experienced, is increasing in Australia.
Stopping racism requires commitment and participation by everyone. We need to raise awareness of the issue and challenge our own behaviours and expressions of racial discrimination, particularly subtle racism. We also need to help kids identify racism and provide techniques for stopping it.
Within the workplace, cultural awareness training is required to ensure an understanding of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander perspectives. By learning about the importance of family and community, cultural sensitivities, the impact of the Stolen Generations and the role of intergenerational grief and trauma, organisations improve workplace culture and are able to better service Aboriginal clients and students. For teachers, cultural awareness training gives them the confidence to bring more Aboriginal perspectives into the classroom, increasing the number of kids who get to learn and celebrate Aboriginal perspectives, reducing racism.
To learn more about how we can help you with including Aboriginal perspectives in your classroom or to book cultural awareness training email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
We often hear the phrase “Australia’s dark past” in reference to unpleasant aspects of post-colonial history in this country. It includes the deaths of Aboriginal People through disease spread by Europeans; the injuries and deaths caused by conflicts between the expanding colony and the traditional owners; Indigenous incarceration at a rate far higher than their proportion of the population; the theft of wages for forced work and the stealing of children from their families in the pursuit of assimilation.
The conflicts between the European invaders and Traditional Custodians are commonly referred to as the “Frontier Wars”. It is another term used to describe conflict between the European invaders and the traditional owners and conjures a picture of frontiers the world over where territories have been disputed and fought for.
The advanced weaponry of the European invaders usually saw a higher number of fatalities on the Aboriginal side of the conflicts.
Many of these conflicts have now been declared “massacres”. The most heinous of these aren’t adequately described by the term “Frontier War”. They were the massacres that went beyond disputes over property or territory and saw white law enforcers exceed their legal duty and undertake murders of innocent, unarmed Aboriginal People. And while this occurred outside the limits of Australian law, the white perpetrators were rarely brought to justice.
It is hard to imagine now that massacres of Aboriginal families could have been officially sanctioned but that was the case less than a century ago near Coniston in Central Australia.
Coniston was a cattle station in Central Australia. 1928 was a time of severe drought which meant many people - Anmatyerr mob, Kaytetje and Warlpiri - migrated to an area near the cattle property known for water springs (Yaruku and Yurrkuru).
Randall Stafford, a pastoralist, had built Coniston Station and claimed the Yurrkuru spring as part of his land. The drought in 1928 had caused him to sell his cattle and lay off his worker, Fred Brooks. Brooks set up his camp next to Yurrkuru and was the first white man that many of the new arrivals to the soakage had ever seen.
But one of the men who arrived, an Aboriginal man known as Bullfrog, was familiar with white people and keen for some tobacco. He sent his wife, Napurrurla, to the white man’s tent to ask for tobacco. Brooks made her do jobs to earn the tobacco and when she didn’t return it was believed that Bullfrog had lost his promised wife to the white man. He was so angry he went to Brooks’ tent and killed him. He quickly buried the body and fled the area.
After Brooks’ body was found the police in Alice Springs sent mounted Constable George Murray (who was also Protector of Aborigines) to Coniston Station. He had orders to find who murdered Fred Brooks, and bring them into town so he put together a posse of station workers to help him.
They found a group of Aboriginal people near the waterhole and opened fire. A few escaped to the hills but everyone else was shot and killed. Murray was supposed to question witnesses and bring suspects into Alice Springs. But, unable to find Bullfrog, he undertook a series of reprisals killing between 14 August and 18 October. Over 60 Aboriginal men, women and children were killed over the following months.
This massacre was illegal by Australian law but the perpetrators were never charged and their actions were considered to be in “self-defence”. This August we remember the fallen at Coniston. Reflecting on one tragedy helps to personalise the staggering statistic that nearly 250 massacres occurred in Australia between 1788 and 1930!
A project to map the locations and scale of massacres across Australia is being undertaken by the University of Newcastle. You can view the results online at: https://c21ch.newcastle.edu.au/colonialmassacres/map.php
The Guardian also has used the same data to create a map of sites where violence occurred on the Australian frontier: https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/ng-interactive/2019/mar/04/massacre-map-australia-the-killing-times-frontier-wars
These tools can help to educate all Australians about the truth of the land we now share. We need to confront this dark past in order to make a better future.
Written by Tricia Wallace - Wingaru Butabuta Cultural Awareness Training Facilitator
In 2014 I was working for the Australian Government in an Aboriginal Liaison type position and I was also the President of my local AECG. The NAIDOC theme that year was about those who served. I received a study kit from the Department of Veterans’ Affairs that had been released for schools about Aboriginal soldiers. I didn’t know much about the history of Aboriginal People and the armed forces. It was something that I was never taught at school and something that was not talked about in my family. I wasn’t actually sure that any of my relatives had served. My curiosity peaked, I did some further research.
I found a site with some letters sent to the authorities from Aboriginal families asking for information on the death of their loved ones and if there were any “keepsakes” in the government possession that could be returned to them. The Aboriginal writers were so anxious about their requests, their writing often came off as cold and self-serving instead of driven by grief. I wondered how many of the letter writers received a response that provided some comfort and how many were dismissed, their grief not recognised by the person responsible for managing such correspondence.
Imagine my surprise to find one such letter written by my own great-grandmother about a nephew to whom she was close and had listed her as his next-of-kin. Like many Aboriginal People, I was left to stumble on my own family history because our mob had lost so much that this was often the only way to find out about those before us. Many of our people are still searching for bits of information in an attempt to find out where they fit and who their ancestors were. For many of these people we know that culture is forever lost for them. Past policies ensured that.
In my research I read about pride – the pride that people feel for their relatives that served, many making the ultimate sacrifice. Relatives of soldiers proudly presenting their loved ones’ stories and marching in honor of them. Sadly, most of these stories were about non-Aboriginal people. Aboriginal people who served were not treated the same as the white soldiers. Like the rest of their lives, their military service often went under appreciated. Many struggled to be enlisted at all and those that were successful returned from war to once again be treated like second class citizens, a stark contrast from the experience of their non-Aboriginal comrades.
I was horrified to discover that 50 Aboriginal black trackers, men who were unable to enlist as soldiers because they were Aboriginal yet still wanted to fight for our country, were denied re-entry into Australia under the “White Australia Policy”, so were left behind in Africa after the Boer War. They served their country alongside white Australians only to be discarded because of their Aboriginality. In cultural awareness sessions I am frequently asked ‘why weren’t we told?’ and this was one of those moments for me. Why did I not know this? Why doesn’t the world know this? But in reality I knew why – Australian history is a carefully curated story that has for too long hidden the treatment of our First Nations People.
For Aboriginal soldiers who did return to Australia, they had no choice but to resume life on missions or reserves. They were not given land grants as non-Aboriginal soldiers often were. They were not eligible to enter pubs or even the Returned and Services League Clubs and were ineligible for the Veterans’ Affairs pension. Aboriginal servicemen and women received no recognition and many returned to find children removed, and were told their pay had been withheld from their families.
For those who did not make it home, there were no plaques placed on their graves and their families were not allowed to participate in ANZAC Day marches or other events that families of non-Aboriginal soldiers got to take comfort in.
Aboriginal returned veterans held their own ANZAC service behind the Australian War Memorial in Canberra. Their shrine was a few hundred metres into bushland at a private ANZAC memorial plaque for Aboriginal Diggers.
In 2017, Aboriginal Servicemen and women led the ANZAC march for the first time. I was thrilled to see one of my favourite Elders finally strutting in the lead.
Post by Cynthia O'Brien-Younie.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander readers are advised that this post contains images of a person who is deceased.
I was glad when the then Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, made the very remarkable apology to the Stolen Generation. I remember watching the apology in the office – it is a day I will always remember. I had a lot of mixed emotions as I watched Prime Minister Rudd speak, as my mother and many of my aunts and uncles are part of the Stolen Generation. That apology spoke directly to them and the impact it had on my family.
My Mother never got to hear this apology as she passed in 2005, three years before the apology.
My Mother, Betty O'Brien, was one of eight siblings that were removed as part of the Stolen Generation. She was in her teens when she was taken and was sent to a farming property in Armidale NSW where she worked as a house domestic. She was paid wages but never received them as they were taken and placed with the Aboriginal Protection Board. Her wages were never returned and became part of the widespread history of Stolen Wages. My Mother passed before any claim could be made for her wages.
My mother's four sisters were sent to Cootamundra Girls Home where they suffered abuse of all kinds. Her three brothers were sent to the notorious Kinchela Boys Home near Kempsey where they also suffered abuse. At the home they were given numbers and not called by their names.
My mother didn’t talk much about her experience but I can say that when I was growing up my mother was very protective of all her children. She made sure that we were always clean and the house was spotless so that when the Welfare Board came checking on her there would be NO excuse for them to take us away. This is a fear that never left her. She would never complain about the way she was treated and would simply say she had a good life but she couldn't say the same for her brothers and sisters.
The Apology and recognition of the trauma caused by the removal policies on the Stolen Generation and their families was an important day.
I was glad to hear the Apology.
Cynthia and her mum Betty.
Every time I hear someone say that racism is not a problem in Australia I am surprised because racism is an everyday factor in the lives of Aboriginal people. Regardless of our age, skin colour and social status we are disadvantaged every day due to attitudes and actions based on our Aboriginality. And I am genuinely surprised that people cannot see it. How do they miss it?
You need look no further than social media to see this. Read any post that relates to an Aboriginal person and you will see the plethora of racist comments based on myth, bias and ignorance. A white person dies and the world expresses sympathy and support for the family in an outpouring of grief. An Aboriginal person dies and the family is instantly judged as incompetent, criminal and disrespectful. The ignorant comments come thick and fast.
The recent comments on the death of the lads from Townsville is an example of this. It was instantly assumed they died committing a crime (that later reports revealed to be committed by a white man) and people felt it appropriate to write comments that are nothing short of disgusting, adding to the stress, trauma and loss a family is already facing. Why is the loss of an Aboriginal life not given the same respect as the non-Aboriginal person?
Australia Day is another example of the racism that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people face daily. The belief that we do nothing but drink, wait for handouts and do nothing to better our lives feeds the hate that is directed towards us. Reading the comments is exhausting but I couldn’t look away because our country cannot go on the way it is. We need to find a solution and therefore need to understand where the hate comes from. Racism is complicated and I am not suggesting that the solution is simple but reading the comments it was very clear that most of the hate comes from misinformation and ignorance that continues to be spread due to fear. We can address this through education.
The reality is this – Australia was invaded and the country stolen from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People who despite the atrocities committed against them have maintained a connection to land. Acknowledging this takes nothing away from non-Aboriginal people. No one is asking them to pay for the crimes of the past, but acknowledging that the past happened and had a lasting impact is important.
Educating all Australians will help address the misconceptions feeding racism. We need to start there.
Closing the Gap Day is next week and it is a great opportunity to start a conversation about Aboriginal disadvantage to inform an understanding about the issues impacting on Aboriginal people and what we can all do to start to address the gap. We had a great response to our Closing the Gap Activity last year so I have attached it again in case you would like to revisit.
It’s that time of year again. You know, when Australians come together to celebrate how great Australia is on the day that marks the anniversary of the beginning of the cultural destruction for Aboriginal Australians.
Weeks before the big day social media fights ignite – should we really be holding a national party on the day that was devastating for a culture? The media throws fuel on the fire, pitting people against each other and soon Australians are at each other’s throats, arguing for their view point. This year the PM added a new dimension to the fight and announced he would introduce legislation forcing local councils to hold citizenship ceremonies on the 26th January, a practice some Councils have abandoned out of respect for their local Aboriginal people.
The racist comments and hate that is thrown towards Aboriginal people at this time of year is horrific and as an Aboriginal person it is hard not to be offended. But as I read through the appalling hate and racism it is clear that many Australians have missed the point and we are arguing for different things.
Those who are asking for the date to be changed are not asking for people to stop being proud to be Australian. They are not asking for people to give up their public holiday or to stop celebrating the achievements of their families. They are just asking for us as a country to stop hosting the nation’s biggest party on a day that forever changed a culture, a day that mass murders, rapes and destruction began. They are asking us to remember the true history of the country and to respect the people that gave up their lives in order for us to live ours today.
Changing the date takes nothing away from anyone, despite what mainstream media has us believe. All it does is move the party to a day when all Australians can truly participate. It’s not a big ask given that the 26th of January is a recent date for the day to be held and 56% of Australians don’t mind when the day is held as long as we have one (read more about this poll here).
There seems to be this fear that changing the date somehow takes something away from non-Aboriginal Australia. That somehow Aboriginal people will be gaining something at the expense of their fellow Australians. Yet in reality all that would be happening is that we would be moving forward together, with respect for the real history of our country and acknowledgement of the journey that brought Australia to where it is today.
The date will change eventually, that I am confident of. Shouldn’t we just do it now and start a celebration that we can all be part of?
This week Australians focused on Harper Nielsen, a nine year old student who refused to stand and sing the national anthem because she feels that it excludes Aboriginal People. As the story appeared in the media Aboriginal people around the country braced themselves for the racist hate that would undoubtedly be thrown their way.
Sure enough social media quickly filled with people’s opinions, with the majority of people who commented suggesting that Harper is the problem, rather than the out of date song she is protesting. Accusations about her being brainwashed and her parents not teaching her respect were quickly followed by the usual vitriol about Aboriginal people needing to ‘get over it’, being ‘dole bludgers’ and other inaccurate stereotypes fuelled by misinformation and lack of education. It was exhausting to read. It’s hard to be an Aboriginal person in this country sometimes with so much disdain directed at our people.
Another common theme in the comments was the thought that Harper was too young to come up with this stance on her own and that adults, most likely her parents, were behind the political statement. This view completely underestimates the intelligence and ability of children. Kids are very capable of considering issues and choosing a stance themselves. They are ready to be given information and an opportunity to form and share their own views and they deserve for these views to be respected. They won’t always get it right, but none of us do. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be given the opportunity to express our views or that we should not take the stand we believe in.
Standing up for what we believe in is important. As long as it is done respectfully, I support students who want to make a stand, particularly when it comes to Aboriginal issues in this country. We need kids today to start thinking about these issues so that in the future we have a generation of adults who are informed and can drive change. We need to have open discussions about the tough issues and teach kids to have these conversations in a respectful way. We need to make sure we are arming them with facts and accurate information to back their views. We as adults need to be able to respond to the arguments that we don’t agree with in a respectful way, something that many adults have failed at this last week.
Harper is not alone in choosing not to participate in the National Anthem. Many people make that decision every day for a range of reasons and it doesn’t cause the upset that it has this week. She is also not alone in thinking that we need to consider how well the national anthem reflects who we are as a country now. Victorian Supreme Court Judge, Peter Vickery, has previously been vocal about the exclusion of Aboriginal People from the National Anthem, founding the Recognition in Anthem Project to drive a change. You can check out the work they are doing on their website https://www.rap.org.au/.
Regardless of your views on the Anthem, the exclusion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People from our national song is surely something that we need to address.
NAIDOC Week is fast approaching and Aboriginal communities are buzzing with excitement about the opportunity to come together and celebrate our culture and recognise the work people in our communities are doing to promote, protect and preserve our culture.
Each year our celebrations seem to get bigger. It is a busy week and I love it!
It is an opportunity to acknowledge the work people have been doing, check out community initiatives and come together to celebrate our people. It is about connecting and reconnecting with people. It is about pride. It is about looking around and seeing all the great things our communities are doing and taking a moment to breathe that in, appreciate who we are and our place in the world. It is a time when, just for a moment, we can move the focus from the negativity and struggles that our people face day in and day out and move the attention to all the great things we are doing to overcome the adversity.
It is an opportunity to show the wider community our resilience and the great things we have achieved because, let’s be honest, our great work is often lost in the overwhelming negative voice of mainstream media and misinformed public opinion. And it is an opportunity to invite non-Aboriginal communities into our world, to experience some culture and witness firsthand the deadly people we are.
For schools, NAIDOC provides a great platform to introduce students to Aboriginal people, issues and education. It is an important week for all students and offers lessons in respect, self-respect, leadership and acceptance as well as Aboriginal education.
For some students, NAIDOC is the only exposure they get, the only opportunity to see through the misconceptions that permeate Australian society. It is an opportunity for Aboriginal students to stand tall and be proud of who they are and show their friends and peers the great things about being Aboriginal. It was at school, many years ago now, that NAIDOC became a key date on my calendar. I loved the activities and the fact that my parents and community came to school. The sports days, the BBQs, the art projects, the performances and the interest and respect that non-Aboriginal students showed that week.
NAIDOC will look different for every school – the most important thing is to enjoy your celebrations! We'd love to see your pictures and hear about your activities so please share on our social media.
Download our free NAIDOC poster and colouring sheets below.
This week we acknowledge World Environment Day and World Oceans Day. Both of these events focus on raising awareness and encouraging action to support a healthy planet. Modern society does not treat the environment well and the impact is starting to be seen. We are losing species; the land is struggling; our oceans are plastic wastelands; and climate change is out of control. We must start taking steps to look after our land.
Aboriginal people have inhabited Australia for over 60,000 years, living off the land and managing resources to ensure that they were sustained for future use. That Aboriginal culture survived for so long before invasion is a testament to the sustainable lifestyle once enjoyed. Today, we can learn a lot from the practices Aboriginal people employed before invasion.
Traditional and cultural practices dictated how natural resources were used. Strategies such as fire-stick burning were used to regenerate the vegetation, encouraging re-growth and attracting animals and insects to the area. Animals were used in their entirety – the meat was a food source, the fur and skin became clothing and bones and teeth were used to make tools. Nothing was wasted. Food sources were selected based on availability and hunters and gatherers were careful to ensure that enough was left so that stocks replenished. Mobs moved strategically throughout their country to give land time to recover from use. Totems played a part in sustainability with individuals not eating their totems. In this way totems were protected from over consumption while they in turn provided spiritual guidance to the people.
While these techniques can inspire us to look after this amazing world better, I think we can learn the most from the relationship that Aboriginal people have with the land. It is this relationship that is at the core of the sustainable approach that Aboriginal people so naturally adopt to look after their environment.
Aboriginal people do not view land as an asset, something to be owned. Land is part of us and we a part of it. The land and its resources do not only physically nourish us, they are also central to our spirituality. Our Dreaming tells our creation stories as well as the lore that should be observed to keep our land and people safe and healthy. Our totems guide us spiritually. Being on country heals our souls and helps to bring us back to center.
Long-term dispossession and displacement has meant that many Aboriginal people have lost some of this natural environmental knowledge but the spiritual connection remains and Aboriginal approaches to land management and land care can continue to contribute to a healthier, sustainable environment for all Australians. Wider Australia is starting to pay attention and incorporate this knowledge for the better of our world.
This week as you reach for your reusable shopping bag and decline the plastic straw, take a minute to think about connection to land and why it is so important that we look after it.
This week is Reconciliation Week. Reconciliation means acknowledging Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples as the First Peoples of this land, and recognising the dispossession, persecution and oppression they have suffered as a result of Australia’s colonisation.
Reconciliation involves developing our understanding of how this history of violence and oppression continues to shape contemporary Australian society and taking steps to ensure that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and cultures are treated with dignity and respect at all times.
For reconciliation to be achieved there needs to be a series of real, practical outcomes in relation to the systemic disadvantage experienced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. This involves creating awareness and real education opportunities for all Australians.
I have been a long time supporter of the NSW Reconciliation Council and the great work they do to inform, support and inspire reconciliation. One of the initiatives of the Council is the Schools Reconciliation Challenge. The Challenge is an annual art and writing competition for NSW school students in years 5 to 9. It gives young people across the state the opportunity to learn about and engage with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures, histories and reconciliation in an engaging and creative way.
The Challenge resonates with me because, as long time followers know, I believe that we need to focus on arming todays kids with the knowledge they need to create a better future for Australia. And this is exactly what the Schools Challenge does. It gives kids the space to explore concepts related to reconciliation and present their ideas about what reconciliation means to them.
Schools participating in the Challenge supporting with teaching resources and activities, giving teachers access to meaningful and culturally sensitive materials to foster respectful conversations around reconciliation.
Last year Wingaru started supporting the Challenge and winners of the Primary School categories were awarded with 12 month subscriptions to the Wingaru Kids Platform. We are excited to be able to provide these prizes again this year.
I encourage every NSW school to consider entering the Challenge. It is a great opportunity for kids to explore reconciliation concepts and share their views with the world. The Reconciliation Council hosts an event each year to announce winners and launch a travelling exhibition of the entries. Students works are professionally presented and on display for the public. There is something magical about watching the excitement of students as they discover their work on the walls!
Dates of the touring exhibition will be published on the Reconciliation Council’s website when they are available. I highly recommend a visit!
Details of the Challenge including key dates and information for this years competition and details of last years entries can be found on the NSW Reconciliation Council’s website at http://www.nswreconciliation.org.au/
National Sorry Day is celebrated around the country each year on the 26th of May. As the day approaches, there are Australians out there who are asking why we need to have such a day. Many of these people see Sorry Day as Aboriginal people stuck in the past and not being able move forward.
How very wrong they are.
Sorry Day acknowledges the past and recognises the trauma our people went through in the past, and continue to feel today. It is an official recognition of our Stolen Generations and their stories. It is a celebration of those affected and their resilience, strength and courage.
It is about acknowledging the past and healing the resulting trauma. It is about moving forward.
The first National Sorry Day was held in 1998, following a recommendation in the 1997 Bringing Them Home Report which recommended that a Sorry Day be celebrated each year. Aboriginal communities have embraced the day to come together to share stories, connect with others and ultimately contribute to healing. Healing for those effected by past policies and healing for our country which desperately needs to accept its true history; acknowledge the suffering resulting from colonisation; and allow Australia as a nation to grow.
Sorry Day is not about guilt. It is not about placing blame on today's generation for the actions of the past. It is the people who are stuck in this way of thinking that are unable to move forward because they can’t do so without accepting the past for what it truly was.
This is where education comes in. Schools who acknowledge Sorry Day in a culturally sensitive way, contribute to a shared understanding that supports recognition and healing. If your school needs support with Sorry Day resources, please get in touch because we can help.
There are Sorry Day events taking place all over the country this Saturday 26th May. All Australians are welcome to attend these events and share in the healing. If you have the time, go and check out an event close to you.
With Mother’s Day just gone and Sorry Day fast approaching, I wanted to take a moment to acknowledge all the mums of the Stolen Generation: the mothers whose children were taken, without cause, and in many cases never returned. For those mums, Mother’s Day isn’t about sleep-ins, flowers and carefully selected gifts that symbolise love and thanks. It is about a loss that never goes away.
Often discussion around the Stolen Generation is about the children who were taken and the trauma they endured. Horrific stories of loss, abuse and never belonging. We often hear about children who never saw their mums again, some finding their families not long after their mothers had passed and many never finding their way home.
These heartbreaking stories of injustice, have another side – that of the mother. The mother who had her children ripped away and in many cases never returned. The mother who spent every Mothers Day since mourning loss rather than celebrating with her children. She did not get the handmade cards that many of us take for granted. She did not get the cold toast and too sweet tea that we swallow with a stiff smile on our lips. She did not get the carefully selected trinkets that her child chose just for her. She did not get those moments that most other mums get to treasure.
Growing up, I knew that my Aunt had had her children removed. I heard stories of the school holidays when all the cousins got to spend time together at another Aunt’s house. My mum talks of those holidays fondly and the time she got to spend with her cousins brought fun and mischief for them all. Of course there were strict rules about my Aunt not being allowed near her kids.
Years later mother and children were reunited and I had always known them as together. So while I knew they had been apart, I hadn’t put any thought into the impact that separation had on all of them.
In my early 20s I spent a lot of time visiting my now elderly aunt in hospital. I would take my grandfather to visit his sister and listen to their stories. Aunty had dementia and would often slip between the present and the past, confused about what was happening. It was during these visits that I really started to understand the long term trauma she had endured. Not only did she have to go through the removal of her children, and the loss she felt every day while they were gone, the dementia meant that she also had to relive their removal time and time again.
During these visits she would often confuse me with my mum and on many occasions would make me get in the cupboard or under the bed to hide me from the Protection Board. She would be visibly frightened and upset that they were coming and they were going to take me, just as they had her boys. I did as she asked and my Pop tried to comfort her but I knew that there would never be true comfort for her – the removal of her kids was too traumatic.
This Mother’s Day my boys bounded into my room before the sun was up, shouting “Happy Mother’s Day”, thrusting themselves at me with great excitement. I hugged them tightly and thought of all the mums who had Mother’s Day stolen from them. I cannot imagine their loss – it is too great.
To the Mothers of the Stolen Generation, we have not forgotten you. We mourn your loss, we acknowledge your stories and the atrocities you suffered. We admire your strength.
We are sorry.
Over the last week we have been honouring Black Diggers for their service. I am overwhelmed by the response! Every single person who has served for this country deserves the highest respect and I have seen that this week. The pride the Aboriginal community has for our soldiers is heartwarming. It is great to see Black Diggers getting the recognition they deserve.
I have learnt a lot and been privileged to hear the stories of great people. I hope schools start to include Aboriginal soldiers in their ANZAC lessons and am proud of the resources we offer to support this.
I am fortunate enough to call Uncle Ken Canning a friend and am excited to share, with his blessing, one of his poems. You can download a printable version at the bottom of this post.
You will find more of Uncle Ken's work at https://vagabondpress.net/products/ken-canning-burraga-gutya-yimbama.
Author Burraga Gutya (Ken Canning)
Hail!! You brave men.
You gave your all,
Not for King or Queen
but for country.
in your heart.
All wars all battles,
the strong Black Diggers
stood tall proud
and gave honour
to all Peoples
of this land.
Fires of war
some came home
to be shunned
your fought for,
the brave Black Digger,
as brave as those
in our frontier wars.
You once more
were cast out by
a callous country.
allowed to speak
to those you fought
so valiantly beside.
humble Black Digger,
we your Peoples,
still amongst us,
stand tall in honour.
For at the going down
of every sun,
we shall always
BRAVE BLACK DIGGERS.
Burraga Gutya (Ken Canning)
This post may be upsetting for some readers.
Today is the anniversary of what has become known as the Appin Massacre.
On 17 April 1816, Aboriginal men, women and children were murdered after Governor Lachlan Macquarie dispatched soldiers to ‘rid the land of troublesome blacks’.
The victims were rounded up and forced over a cliff. Others were shot as they attempted to flee. The bodies of victims were hung in trees as a warning to the Aboriginal community. This was a common practice of the time.
Fourteen people are officially recorded as being killed during the attack, however reports from the night indicate that the death toll is much higher. Those killed were from the Dharawal and Gandangara Peoples.
The massacre occurred as part of a coordinated effort by Governor Macquarie to round up Aboriginal People in the area following conflict between the local Aboriginal People and the settlers in the area. Three regiments were sent out and they searched the area with deadly intent.
Rounding up and murdering Aboriginal people was not rare as the Government of the day and the settlers sought land and control. The Appin Massacre is just one example of the atrocities committed against Aboriginal People. Innocent men, women and children were hunted along with those who were accused of crimes against the new Colony. It is a part of Australia’s history that is often forgotten and many Australians are not aware of these events, nor the lasting impact this treatment has had on Aboriginal communities. Awareness and a shared understanding is part of healing.
We lost people. We lost language. We lost culture. We lost.
10 years ago today I was standing in Martin Place in Sydney, watching then Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd make history by apologising to the members of the Stolen Generation for the wrongs that had been done against them under the policies of previous Australian Governments.
I stood with a group of Aboriginal women, my colleagues who have spent their careers trying to make a difference and make things better for our people. Some of these women are members of the Stolen Generation. We cried, we hugged and we cheered. There was a sense of relief, weight lifted off shoulders and hope for a new beginning, a way forward where true healing might finally begin. We cried for each other, our families who have all been effected by those policies and the future generations who will also be effected by the trauma that came before them. We cried for those family members who had not yet made their way back to our families and for those who we knew, might be lost forever.
It was a great day, filled with so much promise and today I commemorate that historic moment. I think about the impact those three words – I am sorry – had that day. The impact on those who were stolen; those who were left behind; the communities that have since struggled to pick up the pieces; the mothers; the fathers; the children; the aunts and uncles; all suffering a loss that I cannot even truly begin to understand, despite watching the devastating impact on my community every day.
I am sorry. Such powerful words and such a momentous day.
But today, I also reflect on how little progress we as a nation have made since that great day. Aboriginal people still face appalling racism, we still deal with people who do not know or acknowledge the struggle Aboriginal people faced and how resilient our communities are. We are still faced with poor government decisions, a lack of consultation and outcomes that fall short of the national averages. It is time for Australia to move forward but it can’t do that without acknowledgement, understanding and a commitment to change. The Apology could have been the start but in my opinion we didn’t have the education to support the necessary change. We need strong Aboriginal education for all Australians. We need to build a shared knowledge base and create an understanding of Australia’s true history and work from there. It is not going to be easy and like this country’s history, it’s certainly not going to be pleasant but it is necessary and it is time. It is not about blame. It is not about guilt. It is about acknowledgement, respect and understanding. It is about healing.
I hope that you get to some of the great events being held around the country to commemorate the 10th Anniversary of the Apology and take a moment to reflect on what the Apology meant for all Australians, particularly for the Stolen Generations who will forever live with the consequences of abhorrent government policy.
A guest post by Julie Jones (Webb) Lead Consultant, Educator and Trainer at Gumadah Byalla Spirits Talking.
Why do people with a 230 year ancestry get to tell me, with a 100, 000+ year one, that they are "over" the change the date debate because they are sick of things being changed to suit Aboriginal people. Welcome to the life Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people felt since 1788.
CHANGE THE DATE !!!
Because none, not one of us alive today are responsible for what happened on the beach at Gallipoli either but ANZAC Day is always, and rightfully, commemorated with a heartfelt, respectful and meaningful ceremony where we honor and acknowledge what so many soldiers died and fought for.
There are 360 other days to choose from, many that are relevant to the post 1788 history of this country.
The tradition of having Australia Day as a National holiday on 26th January is a recent one. Not until 1935 did all the Australian States and Territories use that terminology to mark that date. Not until 1984 did contemporary Australia Day emerge. Not until 1994 was it celebrated on 26 January.
To those who make statements like that to my mob especially, but all others as well, I say this. If Australia day had always been this date, you would have some merit to your argument but it hasn't, whereas Jan 26th has always represented tragedy and trauma for Aboriginal people.
Australia Day July 30th 1915 initiated to actually raise money for WW1, July 28th 1916, July 27th 1917, even Aug 1917, July 1918 etc etc. The date varied and it was not even always Australia Day. It was First Landing Day, Foundation Day, Anniversary Day and was celebrated mostly in NSW as other States and Territories had their own dates.
So why can everyone be so patriotic about a date that is not steeped in tradition or true history but once again disrespect a day that for First Nation Peoples represents a day which cannot be changed for us.
Someone made a conscious decision to hold the day on Jan 26th, a day that decimated the Gadigal people, then other Dharug clans before annihilating Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and Culture all over this country.
I guess most only remember Australia Day being Jan 26th when the Nation comes together to celebrate or let’s be honest, for most, drink and get a Public holiday. Be honest at least folks. Are you saving a longstanding tradition or just not willing to acknowledge the inappropriateness because you would have to truly acknowledge people benefit today off the loss of so many. Keeping those heads buried in the sand and feigning patriotism as an excuse is a much easier moral conscience for people to live in I guess.
Be educated about the meaning behind, and history of, your supposed sacred day because rest assured my mob are.
Julie Jones (Webb) is a proud Dharug woman, working everyday to share culture and foster respect for Aboriginal Australia amongst communities. You can follow Julie's story on the Gumadah Byalla Spirits Talking facebook page.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.