Reconciliation and Celebration
There is no concrete date marking the ‘beginning’ of reconciliation in Australia. The reconciliation movement began gradually as Australians began to acknowledge the wrongs done to us and to promise that such actions would never be repeated and to adopt measures to repair the pain and loss.
In 1991 the Australian government established the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation (CAR). For ten years it worked to promote reconciliation and advise the government on formal ways by which reconciliation could be achieved.
Groups like Australians for Native Title and Reconciliation (ANTaR) and Reconciliation Australia (RA) work steadily for reconciliation. In 1996 Reconciliation Australia initiated the first National Reconciliation Week. National Reconciliation Week is held between 27 May and 3 June of each year (27 May marks the anniversary of the 1967 referendum while 3 June marks the anniversary of the judgment on the 1992 Mabo case).
In the year 2000, hundreds of thousands of people expressed their desire for reconciliation by taking part in walks across Melbourne’s Princes Bridge and Sydney’s Harbour Bridge, while other states held their own gatherings.
Plans for action
Many organisations have developed their own Reconciliation Action Plans (RAPs). RAPs are business or strategic plans that create meaningful relationships and sustainable opportunities for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians. They allow everyone to make a public contribution to the national reconciliation effort. International experience and the growing evidence of what works reveal the essential ingredient: respectful partnerships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people.
NAIDOC Day is celebrated around the country every July, and it has its origins in the fight for Aboriginal rights that began in the 1920s and 1930s when groups like the Australian Aboriginal Progressive Association (AAPA) and the Australian Aborigines League (AAL) drew attention to our poor living conditions and our lack of citizenship rights. In 1957, a National Aborigines Day Observance Committee (NADOC) was formed, supported by federal and state governments, the churches and major Indigenous organisations. In 1988 the committee’s name was changed to NAIDOC (National Aborigines and Islanders Day Observance Committee) to acknowledge Torres Strait Islander people.
On 13 February 2008, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and the leader of the Opposition, Brendan Nelson, offered an apology to members of the Stolen Generations. This was supported almost unanimously in the House of Representatives. It seemed to release a tide of goodwill, and a commitment to right past wrongs and overcome the social disadvantage of Indigenous people. This is an important moral enterprise, and economically sensible. If it is acted on, all Australians will be enriched, and all Australians will have been given a fair go.
Most of our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander festivals encourage the participation of visitors. See our listing in our ‘additional resources’ section for some of the festivals around Australia.
Many Australian and overseas visitors are taking advantage of the increasing number of tourist programs operated by our communities. There is no better way to appreciate our cultures than to hear it from us. Visitors can learn about mud-crabbing and trochus jewellery at the Ardyaloon Trochus Hatchery & Aquaculture Centre at One Arm Point (western Kimberley, Western Australia) or bush tucker and aquaculture at Lake Condah (Victoria), while contact with rare animals is the daily experience in the Desert Park at Alice Springs. There are rainforest tours at Queensland’s Mossman Gorge or guided walks on the Larapinta trail or the Adnyamathana lands of South Australia’s Flinders Ranges. There are many groups offering first-class tourism experiences. These are good examples of people staying on their country, within their communities, and teaching and retaining their culture while running a business enterprise.
Should you wish to visit our communities, you may find that there are organised tours, in many cases led by Indigenous people. If not, it is advisable to write, phone or fax the Council in any community you wish to visit. There are some communities, especially in remote areas, where you need to seek permission to enter before your visit as it is legally privately held land. This also ensures your safety in remote and difficult terrain, and helps to protect the community from unwelcome intrusions.
Uncle Bill and festival director, Alison Page at the Saltwater Freshwater Festival in Port Macquarie on Australia day 2011. Photo by Saltwater Freshwater Arts Alliance. Photo © Alison Page.
T-shirt from ANTaR’s 2009 Respect campaign. Photo © ANTaR.