NAIDOC celebrations originally started as an annual day of mourning but now the National Aboriginal and Islander Day of Observance Committee holds functions all around the nation from July 6 for a week. This is a good opportunity for non-Aboriginals to participate in events and learn cultural ways. During these school holidays kids can logon to the ATSIC web site and take the link to NAIDOC where they can hear and experience songs and activities like the Wombat Wobble, and read of the people and their history. This is a week of Indigenous celebration, but it wasn't always so. The more I learn about the Australian Aborigine's journey since white settlement, the more I wonder at the grace they show to us today. Recently I have been reading 'Australia Through Time', which chronicles the years from 1868 to 1999. The pages are filled with newspaper clippings of important events. Woven right through this comprehensive publication is a record of arrogance and indifference in the way that the Aborigine has been treated. This is particularly striking when we think of the later years in which we prided ourselves as being more enlightened and empathetic. Even though the injustice started from the white invasion, an Aboriginal Elder and Christian Pastor told me that his people were still being transported in chains in open cattle trucks as late as the nineteen sixties. In 1868 our first Australian Indigenous cricket team went to England for a test series and had wonderful success. Call me cynical, but I read that the players in that team 'happily' accepted nick names like Dick-a Dick and Twopenny because their real names were too hard to pronounce. Funny how, with a little good will, we can get our tongues around Namatjira, Wurundjiri, Gulilpul, Cummeragunga and the like. Sadly I recall that two boys I knew in the sixties who were given the names Matches and Kerosene Tin for registration. To understand why the Observance Day started is to try to understand events like the passing of the last full blood Aboriginal male in Tasmania. William Lanney's, death at age 34, started a 'hyena' type attack on his body in the name of science. Someone scalped him, someone else took his skull for a souvenir, the authorities cut off his hands and feet for 'safe keeping' in the Colony's Museum and later, after his body was exhumed by vandals, his bones were taken to the Hobart Museum. At a 'people' level, the Aborigines were not eligible to vote in the newly constituted Federation of 1902, and government policy was put into place decreeing that they were to be assimilated into the white community. This policy was a concerted attempt to stop full bloods breeding with whites and was epitomized with the a two hundred-mile exclusion zone around Darwin for the women and the men who worked in the community during the day had to return to a compound at night. Finally in 1946 they were given the right to vote and it took until 1959 for them to be given full citizen rights. Controversial issues like land rights, compensation and treaties still remain unresolved in our dealings with our Indigenous people and there are many difficult bends to encounter in the road ahead. I can only hope that we learn from our past and deal with these issues with the equity, empathy and dignity they deserve. Let's not get side tracked with issues like which generation was at fault and who should say sorry, for these things will find their place when relationships and friendships are built on a genuine and trusting basis. It takes time to refill the reservoir of trust. Aborigines can teach us much about relationships, but what they have to say doesn't always fit with modern ways of possession, image building and achievement. Let the past inform the future and in the meantime, join in the celebrations.
On behalf of the following participants:
Benwerren Respite Care
Christian & Missionary Alliance
Churches of Christ
River Valley Church
Valley Care Counselling Service
Valley Christian Fellowship