This is an article by Kungarakan historian Sue Stanton following the panel discussion–entitled 250 Shades of Black after the 250 known Indigenous languages in Australia – at the Gamarralang Festival held at the Darwin Entertainment Centre in late May 2017. The panel included leading Aboriginal activists and speakers including Michael Mansell, Josie Crawshaw, Olga Havnen and Luke Pearson.
250 Shades of Black coincided with the 50th anniversary of the 1967 referendum, which led to passages in the Australian constitution that discriminated against Aboriginal people being removed. The discussion will follow a national meeting of the Prime Minister’s Referendum Council at Uluru.
Kemec nygngah Tjalingmara Kungarakan : I am Tjalingmara of the Kungarakan
I bring you good morning greetings from beautiful Kungarakan country.
1. My first duty today is my acknowledgment of Larrakia, Elders – past, present and to all Larrakia yet to come – acknowledgment of Bilawara Lee, Kelvin Costello & any other Larrakia in the audience.
2. My second duty today is to acknowledge my own family – all Kungarakan & Gurindji peoples – my own Elders, past & present – acknowledgement of my little sister Ms Wendy Ludwig, A/PVC-IL and other Kungarakan & Gurindji peoples in the audience. I also acknowledge another sister, one who has inspired me over the years, my big sister MaryAnn Bin Sallik who is here with us today.
3. Today I also express my greetings to all those representing other First Nations groups from wider Australia as well as family, friends and colleagues from the Torres Strait Islands.
4. Of course, my greetings and best wishes to all who are in attendance at this breakfast today, especially colleagues from both Batchelor Institute, especially Professor Bob Somerville and all friends and colleagues from Charles Darwin University.
What an extraordinary last few days … and it only took us 50 years to finally move from the stalemate of the 1967 Referendum to (hopefully) a new dialogue of hope, and not one resting only on more symbolism with oblique, almost hushed references to recognition in Australia’s Constitution.
Our delegates – our brave and courageous Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples – our First Nations Peoples of the land mass known as Australia, and all those from adjacent islands that connect with us – I salute you today. And I thank you for those strong words, that statement from the heart that reached our ears within the last few days.
Standing up to the torment of our powerlessness, challenging the very structural nature of our problem, the Australian Constitution – the rejection of more soft words giving us token recognition in the most powerful document of the land instead of granting us our sovereign rights – the demand for constitutional reform so that we can ensure stronger and safer futures for our children is our best response so far and makes for safer and stronger dialogue in the shared space between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and Australians.
While the Referendum might have signalled a new phase for some, or at least hope of a new phase when Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander peoples were finally included in the census, it did not automatically equate into any level of genuine equality … and genuine justice still remains a casualty to this day.
The constant undermining of the right to self-determination through funding cuts, increased service delivery being centralised by mainstream services, discriminatory and racist policies, Aboriginal incarceration rates has not improved while we talked Reconciliation and or the advanced model that was steering us to another powerless place – Recognition.
We deserve much more than that. We deserve much more than the same old symbolic and minimalist pat on the back, blankets-and-beads dialogue and distribution of ‘gifts’ of the past 200-odd years.
Lets begin the next phase of reconciliation by lifting the veil of silence and make serious effort to dismantle the cult of forgetfulness by not restricting what is taught in schools and throughout the general population.
Let us recognise and reveal all the truths of the history of white Australia. Most Australians who have bothered to learn some of that history already acknowledge the Custodians of country and recognise the connection to lands, waters and communities but now we need to take that a step further by listening to and reacting positively to the wise voices that spoke at Uluru a few days ago.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have waited long enough.
I am filled with hope and while still reluctant to embrace the Australian Reconciliation agenda and direction in its entirety. I am a stronger person today and I am buoyed by the spirit of ordinary Australians who are also not afraid to step up and be heard and who wish to stand strong beside us on this next part of the journey that will see Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples finally become real players in the overall Australian social contract.
Meaningful reconciliation will only be achieved when Australian government and its people are capable and committed to achieving goals that include working in genuine partnerships with the objective of ending inequities – in genuinely closing gaps – by ensuring support for healthy and thriving communities – across the land.
Australia needs to confront its high level racism and truly work hard at developing and sustaining credible partnerships with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
Get behind and or beside Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in their push for substantial and genuine reform and give strong support as they face the inevitable challenges that lay ahead. As one commentator expressed at the 250 Shades of Black panel discussion on Sunday 28 May: The biggest opposition we face and the hardest battle lie for us with parliament and politicians, not with ordinary Australians citizens.
I share with you the closing words of the Uluru Statement From the Heart received by all in the last few days;
In 1967 we were counted, in 2017 we seek to be heard. We leave base camp and start our trek across this vast country. We invite you to walk with us in a movement of the Australian people for a better future.
Go well and go in peace…and remember the spirits are always watching.
Thank you. Mumuk for now.