Bringing your community up to speed on reconciliation


At IPAA Queensland’s Chief Executives and Young Professionals Breakfast event in early 2020, an attendee posed an interesting question to the panel –

 I love my mum. She was born in Adelaide, educated to grade 10 a long time ago and then now educated by the TV. I need to bring her up to speed. And I’m sure all of you know people in your lives that are a bit like that. Great people but they just know what the system says so they’ve got a lot of prejudice that they don’t even know they have. They mean well but behind the scenes they make daily choices that aren’t progressive. So how can I bring my mum as a 60-year-old white woman, non-diverse, up to speed?”

Notwithstanding that majorities of Australians believe in and support reconciliation and the Uluru Statement from the Heart’s call for voice, treaty and truth – this question may strike a chord for some.

Moreover, how might each of us use our personal and professional positions of influence to support others’ understanding of these issues? How might we progress re-framing relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples for genuine reconciliation?

Our distinguished panel of speakers shared their thoughts. Check them out below.

Kerry O’Brien

“Look, I will just say very quickly make clear to her in your own words how important this issue is to you and why. The dialogue between generations on this issue I think is very important. And another – not exact parallel but another example would be the same sex marriage debate where there was a very clear difference, often a generational difference. And I’ve seen some of those arguments taking place and discussions taking place, and I’ve seen many older people’s position changed as a result. So it’s entirely possible.”

“I absolutely empathise with what you’re saying. You’re talking about your mum who is a good person, is of another generation, who perhaps had a narrow exposure to the issues we’re talking about and carried views that might reflect condescension or paternalism which could possibly quite easily be changed with just a little bit of knowledge and a bit of information.”

 “There is still a massive vacuum in this country’s education system on precolonial, colonial and post-colonial history and the impact of colonisation on indigenous Australians and the fact that still today the whole conversation is framed in that colonial settler language.”

Dr Chris Sarra

 I think that’s the point, isn’t it, Kerry, as you said. And I offer my advice to you with this caveat, that one of my best friends is white, so… I’m joking. But your mum has humanity. And that’s something that we all share. It’s getting to that level of humanity and appealing to her sense of humanity. And just chipping away at that. Because there will be a reason why she thinks and believes and behaves in the way that she does, as does everybody. So it’s chipping away and giving people a reason to think and believe differently to how they’ve done up until now.”

Professor Megan Davis

 I think the problem’s Adelaide – no, that’s a joke!”

 “Whether it was for the referendum council, expert panel, we’ve met a lot of your mum. And what I reckon – this is no answer for you, because, yeah, resources, education are important – but often it’s when you’re just yarning with people like talking with people, Aboriginal people, makes a huge difference – particularly those who might be on that end of the television spectrum, as you say, people who are educated through Sky News and stuff.”

 “We talk about it sometimes with rugby league, right. There’s a particular culture on the east coast because there’s large, large numbers of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. And with Rugby League, it’s really – I hate to bring it back to rugby league – it’s very much the view on Queensland and New South Wales with a very deep history of Aboriginal people because there’s so many Aboriginal, the population is massive. And in Queensland, we had the biggest pre-contact population of Aboriginal people.”

 “So my point is exposure, living in and among and talking to, working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people makes a huge difference. That’s why we always say the AFL is a little bit contrived with its propaganda around its relationships with Aboriginal people because with league, it’s very deep, which is why we would probably not have the Goodes’ booing incident, in the same way that the AFL Board is still conflicted about whether he brought it on himself.”

 “Exposure makes a big difference, being in and around black fellas makes a huge difference. And obviously, there’s huge numbers of Aboriginal people over there too but my point is, maybe just giving her those opportunities to meet and yarn with Aboriginal people, whether it’s NAIDOC or National Reconciliation Week.”

 Dr Chris Sarra

“And tell her to follow the Cowboys.”

 Professor Megan Davis

“Yeah, and the Queensland Maroons.”

 Lizzie Orley

“My brother is an ambassador for Australia Day, and he mentioned an optimistic way to look at how we can go forward. Looking at the bushfires and how a lot of us have come together to support those who have suffered through these fires, we’re really good at coming together and supporting each other. So I think that’s something that we can think about in terms of understanding the struggles of other people.”

 “Also, the really invaluable things that First Nations people have to share, and that a lot of non-indigenous people have missed out too. So it’s about coming together, again with the knowledge and strengths we have to address those gaps. And I think you guys are doing a perfect job of that.”

 “We’ve got a really good way of moving forward for a better future for all of us. I don’t mean to sound cheesy but, you know, there you go.”

So – from following sporting codes, to having a yarn, and of course, encouraging empathetic conversations with those around you, will go a long way in ensuring we can progress the conversation around treaty and reconciliation and reframing this important relationship in our community.