Few nations can claim a history that goes back more than 65,000 years, but that’s the rub, isn’t it? That history was never ours to claim, and sovereignty of this land was never ceded. As result of that invasion and colonisation, the people living in Australia have a shared history that we need to reconcile, and working through that is bloody hard for everyone – including community groups like a Neighbourhood House.
Reconciliation Week 2023
This week, the country marks Reconciliation Week (27 May – 3 June). Few realise that the week started in 1993 as a week, not of celebration or apology, but of prayer supported by all of the faiths practicing in our country. The date of the week is deliberate. It starts with the 27 May which marks Australia’s most successful referendum (1967). This referendum saw more than 90 per cent of Australian’s vote to give the Australian Government power to make laws for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island people and recognise them in the Census. It ends on the 3rd June, when in 1992 the Australian High Court delived the Mabo decision, leading to the legal recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the Traditional Owners and Custodians of lands.
It's one thing to know the background, but another to unpack what that means individually or as a community organisation. At heart, Neighbourhood Houses are about inclusion and respect, so ensuring that all Australians feel safe, included and equal in our environment is important. As a result, we’ve been slowly (because it’s hard) unpacking how we do this meaningfully, in a way that makes sense for all. In a city this might feel more removed. But in the country where the land and history are a big part of who we all are now, dealing with the ugly parts is so much more in your face. But then it’s in your face for indigenous people too.
So how can you start taking little steps?
Acknowledgements or Welcome to Country: are increasingly familiar and as we repeat them over and over, are part of our routine. That doesn’t make them tokenistic, although they can be – but that’s a different discussion. Instead, they’ve become an automatic part of how we welcome people to a meeting or event. As Clunes Neighbourhood House has got more familiar with this over the decades we share this responsibility across all levels of our organisation and have blended our own language with the formality of an acknowledgement so that we can all own it. This seems like a small step but it’s an important one.
Understanding: the next real step for us came with cultural awareness training. Run by an indigenous elder, staff and volunteers from Neighbourhood Houses across the state participated in a training course that introduced us to how first nations people see the world, and how that might differ from our more individual cultural perspectives. Each person who participated in that training walked away with something different, but at Clunes Neighbourhood House we used it to revisit reconciliation and the role a Neighbourhood House should play in that. For organisations seeking to work through this there are frameworks available to help you do this, and a process that is supported by Reconciliation Australia. This framework is interesting on multiple levels, but particularly because an organisation’s journey through it is aided directly by first nations people.
Indigenous Maps: it was a small thing, but sharing indigenous maps lets us all see Australia in a new (or old) light. Visual aids like this both spark conversation and normalise discussion. We now stock these maps at www.boomclunes.org.
Language: another simple thing. But knowing how to say ‘Welcome’ in the first nation language of your country is not only respectful, it’s a beautiful thing. It connects us to those 65,000 years of history that anchors first nations people – and now ourselves - to this land. Feeling a word of welcome roll off your tongue that would have been spoken thousands and thousands of years before you were born is a special thing. It makes you feel part of something much bigger and less alone all at the same time.
...and perhaps that is what the journey towards reconciliation is meant to feel like? Complicated. Raw. A bit formal, a bit informal. But most of all, a chance for us all to be connected as we move forward.