David Purnell, Canberra Regional Meeting
The Committee on Racial Equality (CORE) began in 2007 on the initiative of Waratah Rosemary Gillespie. Based in Canberra, its initial focus was on the Northern Territory intervention and its impact on Aboriginal communities. The group includes Quakers, indigenous people, and other concerned citizens. Since it began it has examined and acted upon issues such as sovereignty, treaty, stolen generation, justice, language, constitutional recognition, and closing the gap. Apart from making occasional public statements, it has met with politicians and bureaucrats to make representations. It has also supported the gatherings at Silver Wattle arranged by the YM First Nations Peoples’ Concerns Committee.
In 2015 the group decided to take a new direction by offering a listening space to Aboriginal people to share their stories in a supportive environment. The intention was to encourage reflection and conversations among those present, but not to make decisions. The Canberra Local Meeting agreed to be part of this outreach, and from August 2015 until now there have been six events held on Sunday afternoons for two hours each. Here is a list of those who have shared:
- George Villaflor, an Aboriginal lawyer, told of his journey from Wagiman (Darwin), via the North Queensland Land Council, to working on care and protection of children in the ACT. He described the ongoing confusion created by attempts to achieve land rights and native title, and affirmed the importance of Australians learning and listening more before making major decisions on recognition of the first peoples.
- Lara Pullin Gundungurra (from Lake George/Weereewaa) spoke of her activism in connection with the Aboriginal Tent Embassy for 25 years, and in supporting sovereignty. She also referred to difficult interactions with police over a range of issues in recent years.
- Murrumu (Yidindji Nth Qld) explained that his people were excluded from the constitution of the Commonwealth in 1901, and that he was now resuming his tribal identity after years as a journalist. This involved giving up his “western” identity and asserting the sovereignty of the Yidindji people in negotiating a treaty with governments for shared use of the land.
- Samia Goudie (Bundjalung) was born in Canberra but removed from her mother at birth to grow up in an adopted family. She connected with her mother many years later, after searching for a long time. Her own life journey has taken her around the world, and she now heads the Aboriginal medical education program at the ANU Medical School, encouraging the development of more Aboriginal doctors and more awareness among other medical practitioners.
- Guumaal Ngambri Mingku also known as Shane Mortimer, used words from the Guumal language (Lake George) to open the meeting. He described the early interactions between European settlers and local Aborigines, the forced re-location and break-up of Aboriginal families, and their survival in spite of great injustice. Shane outlined in detail the way the legal system has systematically deprived first nations peoples of their rights and lives, and raised the question whether genocide had been committed.
- Douglas Amar Amarfio , child of an Aboriginal mother, spoke of his early childhood in Canberra with a white stepfather/anthropologist, and his later time in Papua New Guinea being nourished by the local food and feeling part of a culture in contact with the land. After that he was in several dance companies (including Bangarra) which toured and helped him learn about links between his people and the environment. He is now keen to help those in the ACT understand the ancient links with the original custodians, and how the Griffin plan for Canberra took into account the landmarks that were of significance to the first peoples.
- Judith Kelly from the Amangu/Yamatji nation in the Geraldton area of WA, was adopted by a European family in Perth and did not realise she was Aboriginal until in her teens. She finally met her birth family in 1989 and keeps contact. Her life has been a series of awakenings to her true identity. Her experience as a mother of sons has led her to a very cynical view of police harassment. She has moved to Canberra and become active in the Tent Embassy. Her call is for Australians to ‘come back to the land’ and listen to the wisdom and knowledge of the original people and nations of this country.
There has been a very positive response to each talk, and an opportunity for questions and discussion after each speaker. Over 40 people (including many non-Quakers) have attended each event, and the series will continue this year. The meetings have enhanced our understanding of the severe impact of European settlement on generations of first nations peoples, whilst at the same time emphasising the resilience and generosity they have shown. The CORE group has found it very helpful to be able to discuss the issues raised by the speakers and to be better informed about what steps we might take to advance justice for the first peoples of our land.