30 May 2023

Reconciliation Day celebrations bring thousands to Arboretum in winter sunshine

| Genevieve Jacobs
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hand signs in grass

The Sea of Hands at the Arboretum, prepared by ACT school children. Photo: Genevieve Jacobs.

The sun shone brightly, and although there was a distinct nip of Canberra winter in the Arboretum’s air, it didn’t deter the large crowds who blocked traffic off the Parkway and streamed through the gates for the ACT’s sixth Reconciliation Day celebration yesterday (29 May).

A sea of hands made by school students across Canberra greeted visitors as they stepped out of the Village Centre, children sang along with legendary singer and entertainer Uncle Johnny Huckle, and long queues formed for the sausage sizzles run by Tuggeranong Sea Scouts and other community organisations.

The crowds were there to fly kites with their kids, learn weaving and painting, try bush tucker, talk about reconciliation and the Voice, attend local language workshops and reflect on a journey that’s come a long way but has much further to run.

There’s been a consistently strong response from Canberrans since the event began, although in the year of the Voice referendum, there’s a more serious edge to the ongoing conversation.

two women inside tent

Floral activist Hazel Davies of Making Peace with Education Minister Yvette Berry. Photo: Genevieve Jacobs.

The theme for this year’s Reconciliation Week (27 May – 3 June) is Be a Voice for Generations. This concept was explored in conversations with Reconciliation Australia CEO Karen Mundine and the ANU’s Professor Peter Yu in youth workshops and panel discussions across the day.

The intention was to foster understanding and conversation and to bring people along who hadn’t yet considered their vote in depth.

READ ALSO Reconciliation Australia’s CEO Karen Mundine on debate, dignity and a voice for generations

“We’re delighted, there are thousands here already and it only picks up during the day”, Reconciliation Council co-chair Richard Baker told Region.

“In terms of the Reconciliation Council’s role, we’ve already determined that we want to see the ACT lead the country with a yes vote.

“We know that we need to frame this debate in ways that are respectful, that understand the long history of dispossession and violence in this country. And we need non-Indigenous Australians to step up and do some of the hard work so that we’re walking alongside each other.

“This is a real opportunity for the whole community to get a much deeper understanding of this issue”.

His thoughts were echoed by Ngunnawal elder Aunty Violet Sheridan and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith.

“As a nation, we have an important decision to make regarding the proposed constitutional change to recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and embed a Voice to Parliament,” Ms Stephen-Smith said.

“This event will provide a place for positive conversations and allow us to build our collective understanding of what this historic referendum will mean.”

The ACT is the only jurisdiction to mark Reconciliation Week with a public holiday.

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Capital Retro9:55 am 01 Jun 23

With respect, Genevieve there appear to be only a few hundred in the image heading this article.

On any public holiday there are lots of people visiting the Arboretum but I would like to know how the crowd of “thousands” for this special event was determined.

And the purpose appears to be about a “yes” vote for the referendum which has nothing to do with reconciliation.

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