‘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.’ (Uluru Statement from the Heart, 26 May 2017)
This book is a collection of thoughtful and thought-provoking essays. The book includes a foreword by Galarrwuy Yunupingu and is edited by Shireen Morris, a lawyer and constitutional reform fellow at the Cape York Institute and researcher at Monash University. The contributors are Noel Pearson, Megan Davis, Jackie Huggins and Rod Little, Damien Freeman and Nolan Hunter, Warren Mundine, and Stan Grant.
I’ve read this book, and I think that I need to reread it. The central question is, as Shireen Morris asks: ‘… how do we create a fairer relationship with the First Nations of this land?’
I like Noel Pearson’s way of seeing our nation in three parts: the ancient heritage, the British inheritance and our multicultural achievement. Can it really be too difficult to bring all three together by constitutionally recognising indigenous Australians?
Noel Pearson makes the point that: ‘… Indigenous Tasmanians were nearly extinguished between the Scylla of extermination and the Charybdis of protection.’
Recognition is about equality, about both liberty and responsibility. And, surely, such recognition would answer Galarrwuy Yunupingu’s question: ‘is there a proper and rightful place for the original peoples of Australia in the nation created from their ancestral lands?’
We, who represent the British inheritance, seem afraid to listen. Afraid to acknowledge the past, unwilling to recognise that change is about progress rather than defeat or failure. For me, the main questions are not about relative merits of occupancy but about identifying where we (collectively) want to go and how we (collectively) intend to get there. Again, quoting Noel Pearson:
‘There is an alternative to fragmentation and the assimilatory state. It is recognition and reconciliation where peoples within nation-states come to terms with each other and commit to the nation, while respecting the existential anxieties of distinct peoples.
The Constitution of Australia adopted in 1901 afforded no such recognition. ‘
We cannot go back, but we can go forward. Together.
As I read this collection of essays, my anger with successive governments increased. We’ve had so many opportunities to engage in meaningful discussion, so many opportunities to identify the issues we need to address, so many opportunities to move forward. Like so many others, I was moved by Paul Keating’s Redfern Address in 1992 and Kevin Rudd’s ‘Sorry’ speech in 2008. But what has been achieved since then?
This collection of essays is recommended reading. How can we continue to ignore this issue?