Symbols are powerful. They touch our hearts. They are shorthand for complex feelings and deep beliefs.
That is why I am proud that we Canberrans have led the nation with a Reconciliation Day public holiday. This is symbolic recognition of the value we as a community place on reconciliation. It also provides a practical opportunity to stimulate conversations about what reconciliation is, why it’s important and how we can get it done.
I have not always been a strong supporter of reconciliation, like many other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people I used to think that this was work for non-Indigenous Australians. Then, eighteen years ago on a freezing cold Canberra day, I walked with hundreds of others across Commonwealth Bridge as part of the national movement for reconciliation. Whilst the snow fell around us I saw the value of unity and goodwill. I saw it again as I led the work of the ACT Indigenous Education Consultative Body to make an agreement between the ACT Education Directorate and parents acknowledging the truth of past injustice and promising to work together for our children.
When I was elected to the ACT Legislative Assembly in 2011 I used my inaugural speech to talk about reconciliation as the nation-building work of this century. My last speech in the Assembly was also about reconciliation as I successfully argued a motion calling on the ACT Government to establish a Reconciliation Day public holiday commencing in 2018. Reconciliation is about a better Australia. An Australia free of racism and injustice. An Australia where our institutions, both public and private, deliver equitable outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people as well as non-Indigenous Australians. An Australia where we know the truth about our 230 years of shared history. A history marked by invasion and dispossession, violence and racism. A history also with amazing acts on all sides of generosity, kindness and love. We have to own all our history, mourning the bad and celebrating the good. An Australia where we can, all of us together, whether non-Indigenous or Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander, reach into those forty thousand years of culture and knowledge and say that is part of what it means to be Australian.
This Monday 28th May, Canberra’s first Reconciliation Day public holiday, let’s take the chance to talk with family, friends and neighbours about reconciliation. Come to the free community event on Monday, between 10 am and 2 pm at Glebe Park in Civic and meet with other Canberrans as we continue the conversations that build relationships to reconciliation. Listen to the reconciliation inspired performances from non-Indigenous and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander musicians, learn more about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture with demonstrations and activities for all ages, chat with an elder or Reconciliation Day ambassador. Of course, food and coffee will be on sale at the stalls.
Many other events are also happening around Canberra throughout Reconciliation Week and more information is available at https://www.reconciliation.org.au/national-reconciliation-week/nrw-events/