Aboriginal Reconciliation

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SpeakersWest The Hon Ian


Page: 3155

    The Hon. IAN WEST [10.12 p.m.]: The dispossession of the Aboriginal people of Australia began here 214 years ago, and this Parliament made laws that fostered the systematic and unnecessary destruction of Aboriginal communities. The voices of those who knew we were doing wrong have continued to rise in protest since that time. Former Governor-General Sir William Deane said:
        There will be no true reconciliation until it can be seen that we are making real progress towards the position where the future prospects—in terms of health, education, life expectancy, living conditions and self-esteem—of an Aboriginal baby are at least within the same area of discourse as the future prospects of a non-Aboriginal baby.

    The ridiculous assertion, made by a few whose sad ignorance and blind hate cannot be logically fathomed, that Aboriginals are a privileged group in Australia is a continuation of an attitude which owes much to the colonial mindset—mean, insecure, indifferent, guilty, in denial, supporting the concept of terra nullius. On the weekend I became aware that "Guboo" Ted Thomas, the last initiated tribal elder of the South Coast, had returned to the Dreaming, having passed away at the age of 93 in May this year. Guboo's work in developing mutual respect and understanding, and in the renewal of the Spirit and the Dreaming, was prolific and ongoing. In his own words:
        The earth is our mother.
        When I die I'm going down there.
        When you die you're coming too!
        And what are you doing for the earth—for the mother?

    Guboo's accomplishments speak volumes about his commitment to Australia and his achievements in making Aboriginal spirituality relevant to the twenty-first century. Through his work with the Institute of Aboriginal Studies an invaluable record of sacred sites along the New South Wales coast was established. In 1979 Premier Neville Wran ordered a cease to logging on the Mumbulla Mountain south of Bermagui. This led to a significant land rights settlement in New South Wales. Guboo's re-enactment of a 350-kilometre Dreamtime walk from Malacoota on the Victorian border to the Hawkesbury River during the Bicentenary with a group of koori kids from broken homes demonstrated a personal vision guided by hard work, spirituality, respect and love for our planet.

    Guboo wanted the Dreaming to enrich the lives of all Australians and devoted the rest of his life to being a catalyst for a worldwide return to selfless ancient values. On religion, Guboo went to the United Nations and urged the World Council of Churches to accept indigenous religions. Subsequently he became a member of the Baha'i faith, emphasising the spiritual unity of humankind of all religions. For the remainder of his life Guboo held "Dreaming Camps" around Australia and overseas. I join with the sentiments expressed by Guboo, who was fond of saying, "Always remember, the best is yet to come."

    In May I had the opportunity to visit some areas of State and national significance, along with a number of my parliamentary colleagues. We travelled to Echuca, Swan Hill and Hay and met with representatives from Moama, Wamba Wamba and Hay Aboriginal land councils and also representatives of the Balranald Aboriginal community. We visited the Yorta Yorta people and their "Keeping Place Museum". We also visited Wamba Wamba Mission and some recent acquisitions to the housing infrastructure on the Murrumbidgee River, which were provided under the Aboriginal Land Fund.

    To paraphrase the negotiating principles used by the Yorta Yorta peoples: The progress being made in these communities is testimony to what can be achieved when everyone recognises that the indigenous and non-indigenous peoples of New South Wales are all here to stay; that the movement towards reconciliation between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians is unstoppable and has wide public support; that litigation over native title will not settle detailed and practical issues satisfactorily—it is up to the people at the coalface; and that negotiation between indigenous people and government is the best method of reaching workable agreements for lasting partnerships.

    I look forward to continuing the work of learning indigenous and non-indigenous approaches to life in the expectation that through understanding will come respect and tolerance, renewal and hope. Perhaps, with that, Australia will emerge truly united, celebrating its Aboriginal heritage, and respecting the mother land and all its peoples. I also acknowledge Reconciliation Week from 27 May to 3 June 2002, which was the "Journey of Healing", and that 3 June marked 10 years since the High Court Mabo decision.