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Reflections on Reconciliation

by Emeritus Professor Colleen Hayward AM

The road to reconciliation has not been as easy as many hoped it would be.

In lots of ways the process has been fraught with cynicism and a good dose of consternation on all sides. After all, aren’t we one nation? Don’t we all enjoy the same privileges? And what difference does Aboriginality make anyway, especially given so many in the Australian population didn’t perpetrate any wrong-doing in the first place?

Thankfully, as time goes on, we’ve moved further and further away from those sorts of questions.

But a brief look at the history of this movement can put things into perspective.

The word reconciliation implies a reunion, a resolution of some dispute and even a return to the relationship that existed before whatever disputation disrupted the previous harmony. Given the number of Aboriginal people who did not experience a level of harmony before the reconciliation movement, lots of the cynicism was on our part. We were suspicious of people’s motives and we doubted what good could come from this process. We certainly didn’t believe a process of reconciliation would change our life circumstances. As a result, our level of involvement differed from person to person – lots of us needed to see proof that this had genuine intent.

My own reaction and my level of engagement has fluctuated. On the one hand, as a child of a mixed-cultural marriage, I know directly the power of mixed-cultural harmony and understanding. I know the strength and resilience I have gained by knowing I belong in both worlds and the confidence I feel working in each. On the other hand, I see too often the disadvantages still faced by too many Aboriginal people and the disparity in outcomes between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people in pretty well every indicator we might care to apply.

I have always described reconciliation as an invitation for people to join the conversation about the Australia we want. It is now so much more than mere talk – it is also about action and I am heartened to see the efforts made by so many non-Indigenous people to address the disadvantages and disparities go beyond the well-intentioned to the practical.

This year marks 20 years since the inception of Reconciliation Australia as the organisation leading in this space and almost 30 years of the formal reconciliation process. It is nearly a quarter of a century since then Prime Minister Howard refused to take any positive role in bringing together ALL the people of this nation. It is 33 years since Australia’s bicentennial that was marked by protests. We are only eight years shy of Western Australia’s bicentennial that I desperately hope is not also marked by protests. Importantly, almost 40 per cent of Australia’s population have lived their whole lives during the reconciliation process so they only know the aspiration of a reconciled Australia.

Have we come far? In my view we have.

Have we come far enough? In my view there is still a way to go.

It is also my view that in this we all have a role to play.

The 2021 theme is ‘reconciliation takes action’. This is an opportunity for us all, no matter our age, our circumstances or our cultural background, to come together and make a difference – and for that to be enough of a difference for us all to know that reconciliation goes beyond the hope, beyond the promise and into the reality that is the Australia we want for ourselves and our future generations.

Image: Emeritus Professor Colleen Hayward AM

Reflections on Reconciliation headshot Colleen Hayward

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