I remember it was a Sunday and my wife and I did the Walk for Reconciliation instead of going to church. We didn’t go as part of a group but when we got to the gathering place at Kurilpa Point we met other friends who had come up from the Gold Coast and we walked with them. It was a really joyful, hopeful occasion and we were all excited at the number of people who had turned out and the diversity of the crowd. Seeing all those people covering the William Jolly Bridge and filling up Roma Street was a genuine buzz and I was thinking ‘surely they can’t ignore this’.
Why did you Walk for Reconciliation in the year 2000?
I was born in England and grew up in Brisbane in the 1960s and 1970s. We rarely saw an Aboriginal person or heard much about contemporary Aboriginal communities. The only Aboriginal people I met growing up (at least, that I knew were Aboriginal) were people who were getting drunk in Musgrave Park, next door to my high school. It was quite a shock when I got to Uni and learned a bit more about Australian history and then went to work in child protection and then homelessness and got to know Aboriginal families and community leaders. It was clear to me that there were wrongs that needed to be righted. The reconciliation movement seemed to be a way to move forward in setting things right.
What has changed in the last 20 years?
The aftermath of those walks was a real disappointment. It wasn’t that long and we had John Howard making that terrible speech, banging the lectern and shouting at people while half the audience stood and turned their backs. The energy seemed to melt away really quickly and a couple of years later I went to a Sorry Day march and there were only a few hundred people there. I think it’s been a hard lesson for non-Aboriginal people like me (one I suspect Aboriginal people might have been more prepared for) as to how entrenched colonialism is. I’ve tried to hang in there with Aboriginal communities in various ways, working with community-controlled housing organisations in my work, going to Aboriginal Christian events when I have time (like Auntie Jean’s Invasion Day services) and for the last two years going along to the Invasion Day rally and march.
What is your vision of Reconciliation for the next 20 years?"
For me, I’ve come to understand better that my job as a non-Aboriginal person is to listen to what Aboriginal people say and to support them in their struggle. I suspect that back in 2000 I might still have had the idea that reconciliation was something white people could bring about. These days I don’t think in terms of reconciliation, I think in terms of sovereignty and reparations, of self-determination and treaty. Aboriginal people can solve their own problems if we get off their backs. Our responsibility is to give back some of the wealth we stole, and let go of the ‘power over’ that we hang onto, so that they can get on with it.