When I began teaching in Australia in Victoria in 1976 my contact with Aboriginals was scant. I bought painted boomerangs and went to a paddock to learn how to throw them. I immediately loved the Evening Shadows (Johnstone) painting depicting an Aboriginal camp along the Murray River at dusk, and bought the poster from the gallery. I read the story of Tiddalick the frog to my class. My contacts with any Indigenous people was very limited and mostly happened incidentally while I was holidaying somewhere.
Once I took up residence in South Australia in 1979 my interest in Aboriginal culture changed from the curiosity of a visitor to concerned interest. I remember once being startled and offended when an in-law called my boxed wine a “goon box”. To me it was like hearing the word “nigger”. It wasn’t supposed to happen anymore.
In 1996 I was pleased to see, as I travelled Australia in an RV with my three sons, that many national parks on the east coast had Indigenous names. These were my first encounters with “recognition”… the first glimmers of acknowledgement of prior “ownership”. The MABO hearings brought a spotlight on Indigenous land rights and the Native Title Act overturned the previous doctrine of terra nullius. Looking back on the fierce debate then (1993-1998) I can see parallel fears with the debate we are having now in regard to The Uluru Statement from the Heart and the campaign for a Voice in Parliament and the referendum that will decide whether Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders will be recognized in the Constitution. Do we need to be anxious, full of fear and know everything to avoid mistakes?
Have you been cogitating on the YES/NO vote on the referendum concerning a voice for our First Nations people being written into our constitution? I certainly have. My deep listening began with listening to and praying on the Uluru Statement from the Heart in 2018. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders had already been meeting and dialoguing for years to formulate their statement.
Our government’s response is to call a referendum to decide whether to provide in the Constitution for a representative body that gives First Nations people a Voice to Parliament. We are called to discern whole heartedly from an informed position. I’ve been talking and listening to others, reading, attending information sessions and praying.
I will vote YES in hope and humility; sorry for past injustices and confident that we can do better to be fair and understanding and wise.