Hannah Cutts’ photo of welcome to country at Payne’s Hut, home of Do Lectures Australia.
Do Lectures Australia was a forceful reminder that fine words are pretty but that action counts. Thanks to Luke Pearson attendees at Do Lectures Australia were asked to reflect on Australia’s relationship with its indigenous people and what we may need to unlearn.
The history of Australia’s relationship with its indigenous people highlights that the words are occasionally fine. Too often the actions fall short or the outcomes we seek escape us. We need to move from talking at each other to working together to make things better.
Last weekend I saw a reference in an article on speech making to Paul Keating’s speech at Redfern in 1992. I didn’t recall the speech but I looked it up to learn more. The missed potential of that speech and curiosity to learn more led me to a short review of other speeches on the topic.
There is no shortage of fine words in the history of Australia’s relationship with its indigenous people. To select only from notable speeches of recent Prime Ministers:
- Read Prime Minister Gough Whitlam at the granting of land rights to the Gurindji Land Council. We still have ‘much to do’.
- Read Prime Minister Bob Hawke promise a treaty in response to the Barunga Statement
- Read Prime Minister Paul Keating’s famous and moving speech at Redfern. What strikes us most now is that it is a long time after the decade in which he hoped for success.
- Read Prime Minister John Howard’s speech on a New Reconciliation. Reconciliation remains a people’s movement and the work of generations.
- Read Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s apology in Federal Parliament to the Indigenous People of Australia. We still need to work on our ‘mutual respect, mutual resolve and mutual responsibility’.
- Read Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s speech on Closing the Gap. We have a long way to go to close the gap.
One can quibble with the politics and the policies but all the words are elegant and heartfelt. There are many more words from Prime Ministers and others. Sadly, not all of them qualify as fine words. Where there were actions associated, there was a bigger difference. Whatever the words, there is more to do.
The answer is not more fine words. The answer is not found speaking at the indigenous people of Australia with elegance. The answer will not come from convincing the people of Australia from a podium. No one speech or one action is likely to address the complexity of people, history and systems.
We need to listen. We need to learn from each other. I don’t have answers, but I have questions. We all have questions. We might benefit from asking more questions of each other. A much less elegant, but more engaging conversation might be productive of new understanding and new actions.
Most of all we need to act together. Those actions will help us to improve understanding, to better relationships, to reduce disadvantage and to improve the lives of our indigenous and all Australians. Perhaps questions asked in new conversations will help lead us find a way from fine words to better and more action.
What are your questions? Who do you need to ask to learn their answers? What actions might make a difference?
26 May is National Sorry Day and 27 May-3 June is National Reconcilation week. For a chance to learn more about Luke Pearson’s work to share the diversity of indigenous voices, follow Indigenous X on twitter.