This week’s THINKING ALLOWED comes from JENNY ARCHIBALD and BRENDAN MOORE. Jenny is a councillor and former mayor of the City of Fremantle. Brendon is the senior Aboriginal engagement officer of the City of Fremantle, former chair of the South West Aboriginal Land and Sea Council and is of Whadjuk, Yued and Wardandi Noongar heritage. While associated with the City of Fremantle, the views expressed here are entirely theirs.
ON Four Corners recently, Yorta Yorta man Ian Haam said that “twice in my lifetime, my countrymen will get to judge my worth as a human being” (Muddy Waters, ABC, September 11, 2023) – a comment few of us could even begin to contemplate.
Its history – in 1901 when the Australian Constitution was brought into effect to guide how Australia would be governed, it included “people of any race, other than the Aboriginal race”.
When counting the numbers of people in Australia, it specifically stated that “Aboriginal natives shall not be counted”.
In an Australian referendum 66 years later, more than 90 per cent of the Australian electors voted in favour of amending the Constitution to include the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people of this country as Australian citizens.
The implications of colonisation and “management of native affairs” by the states and territories had been devastating – people were marginalised from their traditional lands, denied access to language and culture and their children were removed at will.
Many died from common European diseases to which they had no immunity, and rates of incarceration and murder were staggering.
The legacy of this devastation has been long lasting.
There were many attempts made by First Nations peoples to improve conditions, including petitions sent to prevailing Kings and Queens, the colonial powers and the Australian and State Governments.
Even modest efforts by some to secure title to “reservations”, usually unwanted land on the edge of country towns and to which many were curfewed, were refused.
In later years, Australian governments, in acknowledging the need for a better way to improve conditions, established organisations which in turn were terminated by a revolving door of subsequent governments.
In 2017, with alarming conditions perpetuating for many of their people, representatives of the First Nations of Australia gathered at Uluru – 50 years after being recognised as citizens of this country.
There was consensus that a direct and ongoing dialogue between First Nations people and the Australian government was needed to achieve better outcomes.
This was proposed in the form of a Voice, to be enshrined within the Australian Constitution and as such could only be amended by the Australian people.
It is with an enormous leap of faith in the goodwill of fellow Australians that First Nations people ask to be included in the constitution and for their voice to be heard.
Actions resulting from proposals of the Voice would still be determined by the respective Australian government.
While it was not a unanimous decision of all delegates given some priorities differed, the final Uluru Statement from the Heart was endorsed by an undeniable majority.
It is a statement of just one page and is a heartfelt request to the Australian people. We are a nation of nearly 27 million people, and we will not all agree.
Some are seeking greater change; others want no change.
Saying YES will affirm that we value the First Nations people of our country and that we will support them in their extraordinary effort to support their own people.