2002 Mahatma Gandhi Lecture on Nonviolence,

Centre for Peace Studies, McMaster University, Hamilton, Canada

 

 

Human rights and reconciliation in Australia in the
twenty-first century: an unfinished journey

Lowitja O'Donoghue
Flinders University, South Australia

 

Born at Indulkana, located in central south Australia, O'Donoghue is a member of the Yankunjatjara people of North West South Australia. Her commendations include the Order of Australia (1977); commander of the British Empire (1983); Australian of the Year (1984) and Australia’s Living National Treasures (1998). She was also the former chairperson of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC) from the inception of the Commission.

After her retirement, O'Donoghue continued her commitment in the areas of Aboriginal health, welfare and human rights and is currently a visiting fellow at Flinders University. She is also chairperson of the Co-operative Research Centre for Aboriginal and Tropical Health; chairperson of the Sydney Olympic Games National Indigenous Advisory Committee; member of the Sydney Olympic Games Volunteers Committee; trustee of the Rio Tinto Aboriginal Foundation; and a member of the Indigenous Law Centre at the University of New South Wales.

O'Donoghue has received honorary doctorate awards from the Merdoch University in Western Australia; Flinders University of South Australia; University of South Australia; the Australian National University in Canberra and the Queensland University of Technology. She is an honorary fellow of the Royal College of Nursing Australia as well as the Royal College of Physicians. She is also the patron of the Military Nurses Memorial fund, the Bob Hawke Prime Ministerial Centre and the Congress for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Nurses.

Presented at McMaster University, Canada, October 23, 2002

 

Thank you.  I am delighted to have crossed the world to be here in your beautiful country.  And I am very honoured indeed to have been invited to give the seventh annual Mahatma Gandhi Lecture on Nonviolence.  I believe I am the first Australian to do so.  So it is indeed a great privilege.

I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate McMaster University and its Centre for Peace Studies for the work that you do - and to offer my whole-hearted support.

 

I must confess though, that for the first time in my life, I had a few days of anxiety a month or so ago, when I felt that I really didn't want to fly.  I think that this was prompted by those graphic television images of the planes crashing into the World Trade Centre, which flooded the media on the anniversary of September 11th.  I don't know what it was like here, but in Australia it was re-played endlessly, so that it became like a kind of feverish nightmare!  It's interesting to recognize that even ordinary citizens like me worry about being caught up in the violence of world politics.  The recent tragic events in Bali in which so many civilians died, including many young Australians, have compounded these fears.

However, I suspect that people have always looked to the past and thought of earlier times as less complex and less dangerous.  Perhaps in reality, every generation has had to contend with the same fundamental issues around conflict.  Issues such as: justice, courage, revenge, fear, ethics, and morality.  But, having said that, it seems to me at this particular historical moment (as America is about to attack Iraq - with or without the sanction of the United Nations), that the world is very dangerously poised indeed.  And so, the issues of non-violence, and how to deal effectively with conflict and oppression, are as urgent as ever, or perhaps more urgent than ever.

 

I don't pretend to be a Gandhi scholar.  I haven't read all the books ...  but at the risk of sounding flippant....  I have seen the movie!  I know that Gandhi was a visionary, a great philosopher, and a deeply spiritual man.  Like most people I applaud his commitment to non-violence and his unwavering concern for justice and equality.  He once said in fact "agitation against every form of injustice is the breath of political life." That's a view of politics I heartily endorse.

 

I also applaud that he was a strong advocate for the rights of women to participate fully in political life and social work.  And I know that he devoted much of his life to opposing racial discrimination in both South Africa and India.

 

I know too that one of his great achievements was freeing India from the shackles of British rule.  This of course strikes a particular chord with me, as an Indigenous Australian.  In fact, I spent a year nursing in Assam, India in my 30s, where I worked among people who lived in poverty, and where I had the opportunity to see first hand the negative effects of an imposed colonial culture.  Like many Australians I still haven't quite recovered from the result of our referendum almost three years ago, in which we chose to retain a British monarch as our head of state! I vigorously supported the campaign for Australia to become a republic, as you might imagine, and it has never ceased to amaze me that all Australians in their right mind did not agree with me!

 

What I admire most about Gandhi I think was that he was not just a great philosopher - he was also an activist.  Gandhi was a highly strategic thinker who managed to mobilise popular opinion to achieve his goals.  One of the lessons his life has for us is the emphasis on community, his belief in the power of collectivism.  Before pursuing political reform he made sure that his ideas and methods were widely accepted by the people.

 

Increasingly I believe, in a world so divided by politics, religion, nationalism and the pursuit of wealth - that our only hope lies in developing an alternative sense of community connectedness, both locally and globally.  We live in times where economic bottom lines hijack the agenda and put social justice issues very much in the background.  Economic capital is valued over social capital.  And this breeds alienation, pessimism, and faint heartedness about the possibilities of social reform.

 

Gandhi never divorced politics from social, religious or ethical matters.  He once wrote, [and I quote] that:

 

"human life, being an undivided whole, no line could be drawn between its different compartments, nor between ethics and politics".

 

Interestingly, this mirrors the traditional beliefs of the Australian Aborigines, my people.

Gandhi also believed that we need to have a sense of a global community.  He said [and I quote]:

 

"The whole world is like the human body with its various members.  Pain in one member is felt in the whole body".

 

I'm sure that sentiments such as this have been very important in the formation of the Centre of Peace Studies here at McMaster University.  And I'm sure too that they have inspired and sustained this lectureship over the past six years.

 

Australia is often described as a young country and a lucky country.  Both those perceptions, of course, assume that you are white.  From an Indigenous perspective Australia is neither young nor lucky.  Indigenous Australia is in fact the oldest living culture in the world.

 

But perhaps a few facts about contemporary Australia might be appropriate here.  Like Canada, Australia is large in area but low in population density.  There are approximately 19.7 million Australians.  But for every square kilometre of land there are only around two people.  This statistic hides the fact that 84% of the population is contained within the most densely populated 1 % of the continent, around the southeast and southwest coasts.  41 % of Australia's population were either born overseas or have one or both parents born overseas.  Especially in the capital cities of Sydney and Melbourne, we are a very cosmopolitan society.  This multicultural mix has brought with it a richness and diversity, evident in our cuisine, religion, sport, the arts, and culture generally.  However, despite our reputation for being an egalitarian society Australia is a deeply divided society in which there are huge differences between the haves and have-nots.  And of course Indigenous Australians feature prominently among the have-nots.

 

In June 2001, the total Indigenous population was estimated to be 427,000 - approximately 2% of Australia's total population.  For over 50,000 years before the British ships came to Sydney Cove, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people had lived a largely nomadic hunter-gatherer existence in harmony with the land.  Our traditional law and spirituality centred on the land.  Like children, the land was something to be nurtured and loved.

 

Captain James Cook's instructions were to take possession of the continent if it was uninhabited.  If inhabited it was to be done [I quote] "with the consent of the natives".  This consent was, of course, neither sought nor gained, and the legal fiction of terra nullius - or unoccupied, empty land - was conceived.  This meant that there was considered to be no need for a treaty or compensation.

 

Until recently the official and popular view in the history books, was that Australia was peaceably colonised.  But from an Indigenous point of view, white settlement of Australia was an invasion - one that was perpetrated with arrogance and paternalism at best, and at worst with brutality and violence.  For more than 160 years a 'bloody frontier was moved across Australia, resulting in the deaths of approximately 20,000 Aborigines and 2000 Europeans[1].  With advances in gun technology in the latter half of the nineteenth century, the Aboriginal spears and guerrilla tactics were no match for the revolvers and rifles of the settlers, the military and the police.  There was simply no contest.

 

In later years when physical violence was no longer officially sanctioned, Aboriginal people were managed and contained by assimilation policies, often literally confined to reserves.  Our numbers were also decimated by introduced disease, alcohol and high fat and sugar diets.  We became victims of a different kind of war - a war of attrition -which continues apace today, and is evident in the appalling health profiles of my people.

 

The forcible removal of our children was the most insidious form of violence inflicted upon us.  In the sixty years between 1910 and 1970 an estimated 40,000 children were forcibly removed from their families and communities.  And this was official Government policy.  In the guise of "protection" Indigenous children, especially so-called "half-caste" children, were taken under duress and against their parents' wishes.  They were, in effect, stolen.  There was scarcely an Indigenous family, which was not affected.  Many lived in constant grief and fear that other children would be taken.  The entire fabric of communities was destroyed.  They were taken away, often right across the country, and put into institutions or foster homes.  When they were old enough the girls were often placed into domestic service, the boys into labouring jobs.

 

The effects of such dislocation and deprivation have been profoundly disabling, threatening the very core of our people's well being.  And the effects are ongoing, setting up a vicious cycle of damage from which these children, and their children, have had difficulty escaping.  I was one of these children.  And I would like to just tell you a little of my own story.

 

I was born in 1932 at de Rose Hill in the very north of South Australia.  My people, the Yankunytjatjara people, call this place Kantja.  My Aboriginal mother Lily was a house girl (in other words a servant) on a large cattle station, and my Irish father was the station manager.  Along with three of my sisters and my brother, I was forcibly removed from my grief stricken mother, at the age of only two years.  I was not reunited with her for thirty three years - by which time we did not even have a common language with which to speak to each other.  I never again met my father.

 

The grief I have felt, and still feel about this, is profound.  And the pain my mother must have felt, having five children removed, is unimaginable.  Yet the truth and meanings of such experiences were silenced.  And not only back then.  Incredibly, they are still being denied by many even today!

 

I was reared at a Church Mission Home called Colebrook, initially in Quorn in rural South Australia and then later in Adelaide.  We tji tji tjuta -Colebrook kids -were expected to be grateful for being saved.  In a book about Colebrook written in 1937 called Pearls from the Deep, we were seen as:

 

"waste material"...  "rescued from the degradation of camp life"...  "brought up from the depths of ignorance, superstition and vice"...  "to be fashioned as gems to adorn God's crown".[2]

Many of those implementing this policy were well intentioned.  Yet it is now widely admitted that, even by the standards of the time, these interventions were contrary to common law and in breach of international human rights obligations.

 

Some of you may have been at the screening of Rabbit Proof Fence yesterday.  This is an excellent recent Australian film about three young Aboriginal children forcibly removed from their families in Western Australia, and taken to an Aboriginal settlement 1500 miles away, to be trained as domestic servants.  It's a remarkable film.  I believe it will go a long way towards developing people's understandings of the policies that produced the stolen generations, and the human suffering that resulted.  I highly recommend it to you.

 

Modern Australia therefore has been built on a foundation of injustice, violence and dispossession - everything in fact that Gandhi devoted his life to opposing.  The legacy of the British invasion of Australia has been devastating for my people.  And the atrocities that I have described cannot be dismissed conveniently as something that happened way back in Australia's past, because my people live with the consequences of invasion and white fellas' rules every day of our lives.

 

Let me just give you a brief snapshot of Indigenous Australia today.  Indigenous Australians have third world health status.  Our children are dying as babies at the same rate as in the poorest countries in the world.  Our people are twice as likely to be hospitalised as other Australians.  Indigenous life expectancy in Australia is 20 years lower than for the non-Indigenous population.  This means that we do not have an "older population" in the usual sense of the term.

 

Our educational participation and achievement is dramatically lower than that of the rest of the population.  We still have a situation where Indigenous unemployment rates are over 50%, and where most Aboriginal people live below the poverty line.  Substance abuse and violence are at epidemic proportions in our communities.  Indigenous people, who number only 2% of the population, account for 15% of homicide offenders and 15% of homicide victims.  20% of adult male prisoners and 80% of female prisoners are Aboriginal.  For many of these women their only crime is that they are poor.  They are mostly in gaol for non-payment of fines or traffic offences or because they cannot afford bail.

 

Aboriginal women are more than 45 times more likely than non-Aboriginal women to be victims of domestic violence.  60% of Australian youth in care or custody or other forms of detention are Aboriginal.  We have a generation of Aboriginal youth who have come to see gaol as inevitability - their rite of passage to adulthood.  Not only is the collective wisdom of our elders disappearing, but also the collective possibility and vitality of youth is being denied.

 

There are enormous implications here, for individuals, for communities, and for the future of our culture.  I do not want to shock you with these statistics, or to give the impression that no progress is being made.  But neither do I want to shy away from the enormity of the problem.  And I do want to argue that not enough is being done at the level of government.  Despite some far-reaching national Inquiries and Reports, for example into Racist Violence, Aboriginal Deaths in Custody and the Forcible Removal of Children, few of their recommendations have been implemented.

 

But despite this, much good work is being done and we have made many small gains, and a few giant leaps forward.  There are some grounds for hope.  For example, our population is increasing at a faster rate than the rest of the population, and a growing number of people are identifying as Indigenous.  School participation and attendance rates are improving steadily, in fact quite dramatically in early childhood and primary years.  Our Year 12 retention rates have shifted from single digits to about 32%.  In 1964 the late Charles Perkins was our first Aboriginal graduate.  By 1998 there were over 8000 Indigenous students enrolled in university courses.

 

We have growing representation in the parliament and in senior positions in the public service, academia, the law and medicine.  We have a vibrant Aboriginal arts community with many examples of excellence in dance, music, film, television, painting and both traditional and modern arts and crafts.  And there have been some notable sporting success stories.  I'm sure I do not need to remind you of the sensational performance of Cathy Freeman in the last Olympics.  This was especially wonderful for me because I was there.  Not in the race, you understand!  But in the stadium!

 

But there are many less spectacular and less publicised achievements too.  I'd like to tell you this evening a few of these lesser-known stories.  For there are many examples of quite heroic "civil disobedience" - what Gandhi would have called "passive resistance".  My first story is from 1965.  And it is a good example of how important the global community of peace-loving people is.

 

It is known in Australia as the Freedom Ride.  Its major impetus was the American Civil Rights movement of the 1960s and the non-violent protest tactics of Martin Luther King.  After some Sydney students had demonstrated against American racial discrimination, they were confronted with the challenge of doing something about the discrimination on their own doorstep.  So they organised a bus tour visiting some racially segregated towns in northern New South Wales and Queensland.  During the tour, Aboriginal student Charles Perkins emerged as the leader of the group and became its media spokesperson.

 

Compared to Gandhi's campaigns, the Freedom Ride was a modest movement, involving about 30 students and lasting less than three weeks.  But there are also similarities, particularly in the way that public opinion was mobilised.  Through the media, other Australians became aware of the racism in outback towns -much of which was tolerated by local and state government authorities.  The Freedom Ride in turn empowered Aboriginal people in these country towns to speak out.  For example, Aboriginal women in one country town became brave enough to publicly name the hypocritical men, the so-called pillars of society, who were involved sexually with Aboriginal women.  And the men scurried for cover.  It was great!  This happened in a town where Aboriginal children weren't allowed to use the local swimming pool, and Aboriginal people were denied service in clubs and some shops.  The Freedom Ride became a major turning point in black and white relations in Australia.

 

My next story dates back to 1966.  It is about an Aboriginal man, Vincent Lingiari, from the Gurindji tribe, who led a walk-off of stockmen, their families and others from a huge British-owned cattle station in the Northern territory.  Lingiari and others enlisted the support of the unions, churches and students.  Their fight for better wages and conditions became a struggle against discriminatory social conditions and for rights to their land.  Despite being close to starvation, and in the face of enormous pressure from pastoralists and the Government, the Gurindji held firm for almost eight years, when the strike ended and the Gurindji lands were restored to their rightful owners.  In many ways it was our equivalent of the Salt March!

 

My final example is the Tent Embassy.  On Australia Day, January 26th 1972, the conservative Prime Minister, McMahon, announced his government's Aboriginal policy.  McMahon's policy denied Aboriginal people any right to land or compensation.  Mining was to be allowed on Aboriginal reserves and Aboriginal communities were to be granted only special purpose leases.  This was the last straw for young Aboriginal activists.  And so that afternoon, a beach umbrella appeared on the lawns in front of the old Parliament House, Canberra, with a sign saying "Aboriginal Embassy".  Later a tent was erected there and then a more permanent structure.  It has become known as the Aboriginal Tent Embassy.  Over the next months thousands joined the demonstration, which received national and international publicity.

 

Despite repeated efforts to have it removed over the years, it is still there today and houses a display and Aboriginal art works.  In fact in 1995 it was listed by the Australian Heritage Commission for its political and cultural significance!  A few months back the Government removed the Embassy's toilet and cut electricity to the site, but Greenpeace moved in and installed solar power panels, and the United Trades and Labour Council delivered a "ports-loo" [a portable washroom].  It's a wonderful example of collective non-violent action!

 

It might be appropriate at this point to try to convey to you something about the complex political landscape in Australia.  It's useful to understand some of that complexity because it underpins the possibilities for reconciliation in the future.  A backdrop reality is that governments in Australia (and I am talking here of any political persuasion) adopt their agendas on the basis of what will win votes and keep their party in office.  And, to put it bluntly, there are no votes in Aboriginal affairs.

 

'Popular opinion' in Australia about social issues is a strange and sometimes contradictory thing.  Let me give you a couple of examples of this.  In 1996 for instance, the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation undertook surveys that revealed that 83% of the people supported reconciliation.  And, 92% supported the proposition that all Australians should have equal opportunity.  However, in practice people often see this as 'treating everyone the same'.  This of course overlooks the crucial reality that not everyone starts at the same point!  An extreme version of this faulty thinking emerged in recent years with a far right wing political party that gained worrying levels of support.  Its version of 'treating everyone the same' was to advocate the abolition of government support for disadvantaged groups, such as Aboriginal people.

 

Another example is that many Australians genuinely feel a sense of pride about traditional Aboriginal culture.  They are interested in our paintings, dancing, stories of the Dreaming, music and perhaps bush tucker - our traditional foods.  But this interest in traditional Aboriginal culture does not necessarily embrace a concern about the often-grim realities of life that contemporary Aboriginal people face.  Rather, it is the celebration of an ancient and exotic past.  People sometimes appropriate Aboriginal culture in order to showcase diversity.  In other contexts these same people behave in ways that disempower Aboriginal people.

 

Our Prime Minister boasts about "practical reconciliation".  By this he means providing funding for Indigenous health, housing, education and welfare.  But these should be our basic human rights.  They should be core government business, not special initiatives.  What is also needed is a philosophical commitment from the Government.  To coin a new phrase, we'd like him to put his mouth where his money is!

 

The Australian Federal government has still not given an official apology to the Aboriginal people.  State governments have.  Churches have.  Even the Pope has!  But not our own Prime Minister.  And 200 years after the British invasion we still do not have a Treaty.  I would argue that a Treaty is necessary to deal with the unfinished business between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.  A treaty is also necessary to build new relationships for the future.  If Australia is to move in to the twenty first-century and hold its head high among nations such as Canada, who have negotiated treaties with their first peoples, we too must have a treaty, which spells out mutual rights and obligations.  Without it there can be no meaningful reconciliation in Australia.

 

There is still no mention of Australia's first peoples in our Constitution.  The land rights of Indigenous peoples are still not adequately ensured.  We do not even have a ministerial portfolio devoted exclusively to Indigenous Affairs.  It is lumped in with Immigration and Multicultural affairs, which in their own right are, of course, deserving of great attention.

 

So there are many obstacles to reconciliation at an official level.  But I am pleased to say that there is a vigorous and energetic people's movement for reconciliation.  And from this energy I take great heart.  I think in a relatively short historical time frame, we have experienced a major shift in thinking and practice in mainstream Australia.

 

In 1998, on the first anniversary of the tabling in parliament of the Report on the Stolen children, we had a national Sorry Day, and over half a million people signed Sorry Books and took part in ceremonies across the country.  A year later again, the people's movement launched the Journey of Healing.  And in 2000 it was affirmed again, when around 250,000 people walked across the Sydney Harbour Bridge in support of reconciliation.  This was the biggest turnout for a single cause ever seen in Australia.  And 50,000 walked in my home city, Adelaide and 70,000 in Brisbane.  In fact there were reconciliation walks and events in cities and towns right across the country - some in small country towns with just a few hundred people, but these were just as significant as the bigger capital city events.

 

These amazing outpourings of the Australian people were an inspiration.  The people's voice was speaking loud and clear to the leaders of this nation.  They were saying:

 

•           We want a country where Aboriginal people and Torres Strait Islander people and Australians from the wider community can live together in harmony and mutual respect.

•           We want to heal the wounds of the past.

•           We want to make this symbolic gesture for a reconciled Australia.

•           The time has come - we want this now.

 

The people were seeing a real possibility - the possibility of reconciliation.

 

Quite apart from some of the well-publicised events, there are thousands of other reconciliation activities, happening right across the board.  Quite remarkable things are happening in church groups, community reconciliation groups, in schools and universities, business corporations, professional associations, and at the level of state and local government.  These are inspiring examples of a people's movement for reconciliation in Australia.  It is this sort of commitment that sustains me in my belief that we can make a difference if we are persistent enough.  But there is a long way to go - it is an unfinished journey and we cannot afford to be complacent.

 

It is to Australia's shame that the plight of our people is still drastic enough to have warranted United Nations Human Rights scrutiny and criticism.  Several United Nations committees have focussed their attention on Australia's performance in the area of human rights.  For example:

 

•           The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination

•           The Human Rights Committee.

•           The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

 

The sorts of concerns they have raised include:

 

•           the slow progress in resolving land rights,

•           mandatory sentencing,

•           over representation of Indigenous people in custody,

•           the inadequate response of the Australian Government to the report about the stolen generations,

•           And, our treatment of asylum seekers - which I will say more about later.

 

It is clear to me that all of these issues could be resolved if the political will to do so is there.  For example, recently the new leader of the Northern Territory Government overturned their mandatory sentencing legislation, as her first political act in office.  (As you would know, mandatory sentencing means that sentences for offences are prescribed and automatically applied.  Magistrates have no discretion in deciding what might be appropriate in particular circumstances).  This affects Aboriginal people disproportionately and there have been some notable and tragic cases - such as an Aboriginal youth, imprisoned for stealing some pencils and texta pens, who later hanged himself in his cell.

 

So governments can have an enormous impact.  As I understand it, your Gathering Strength initiative has set out an extremely positive strategy for transforming relationships between Canada's indigenous and non-indigenous people.  I am sure that I will learn more about it during my visit.  I was profoundly moved by its opening statement of Reconciliation - which fully acknowledges the mistakes of the past.  And I was inspired by the significance of the programs that have been put in place to build strength and the possibility of a shared future.  I believe this speaks of a country that is taking its history on board in a mature and honest way, and one, which is demonstrating its genuine commitment to the possibility of a better and different future.

 

And, I think that working towards a better future involves opposing social injustice in its many forms.  One of the ways in which this happens is to join with others to make connections and to form alliances.  There have been some examples of this recently in Australia, and I am sure you have the same experiences here.  Situations where anti-racism groups work with peace groups who in turn join with reconciliation activists, and so on.  These sorts of connections are very important in Australia where the population is relatively small.

 

A particular example of this sort of collective struggle applies in current activities in Australia to oppose our Government's treatment of asylum seekers.  Hopefully we are influencing public opinion, but it is not easy when the Government has actively created anxiety about "border control".  In fact it won the last election using the slogan: We will decide who comes into our country...

 

The issue has been a potent one ever since the Norwegian vessel, the Tampa, arrived in Australian waters in August 2001, having rescued 438 refugees from drowning.  The Government refused to allow them to land, despite the 1951 International convention on refugees, which makes it clear that any refugees rescued on the high seas are to be taken to the nearest port.  I would never have believed such behaviour to be possible in my country...  to think of it fills me with anger and shame.  And yet it has been widely recognised by political commentators that it was this "tough stand" that won the election.

 

Obviously this topic deserves to be a lecture in itself - which is not possible today.  However, I do want to make the point that people's human capacity is severely diminished when they cease to regard other people as fully human.  And it is interesting to note the ways that they are encouraged along this path, for example, with the use of language such as illegals, queue jumpers, potential terrorists, and so on.  All of it stripping people of their fundamental humanity - objectifying them and rendering them disposable.  To me it is both morally and ethically offensive.

 

I believe that the Government has manufactured a crisis in relation to asylum seekers.  The facts are that there are relatively few asylum seekers arriving in Australia compared to other countries.  Let me give you some telling figures.  Over a ten-year period, other comparable countries have taken in refugees in the following numbers:

 

•           Canada - 100,000

•           Denmark - 50,000

•           Sweden - more than 150,000

•           United Kingdom -100,000

•           Australia -less than 10,000.

 

In 2000, for example, there were some 800 potential placements within Australia's humanitarian category that had not been filled.  And of course, the real human rights issue here is that many asylum seekers have suffered appallingly in their home countries.  I believe that Australia could afford to be more generous.

 

Finally, I would like to return to the "unfinished journey" mentioned in my title.  Maybe it is a never-ending journey, by definition.  It certainly seems like an odyssey at times!  Of course reconciliation will be slow and there will be frustrating tangents and dead ends.  Sometimes I have to remind myself that the climate for change operates in cycles - with some contexts and times being more opportune than others.  Gandhi reminded us of the need for patience, when he wrote:

 

"To be dissatisfied with the slowness of progress betrays ignorance of the way in which reform works"

What is clear, also, is that reconciliation cannot happen at all without the efforts of people of good will.  I believe everyone has a decision to make about where they stand and what they stand for.  And those who attempt to construct a life that embodies integrity, truth and justice must support each other- no matter which part of the world they inhabit.

 

Indigenous people here and in my country have embarked on journeys of healing.  Against all odds we have survived, and we are strong and we are proud.  Our resolve is heightened by a global community of people committed to actively opposing oppression and violence in all its forms.  You are part of that global community.

 

Let us focus on what has brought us all here tonight.  Let us rejoice in what we have in common.  Let us celebrate our victories, and at the same time maintain our courage for the difficult challenges that lie ahead.  I invite every one of you to join us in our struggle for justice and reconciliation, to embark with us on our journey of healing.

 

Thank you


[1] Racist Violence: Report of National Inquiry into Racist Violence 1999, p.  38.

[2] Miss VE Turner, Pearls from the Deep, United Aborigines' Mission, 1937, various pages.