Download a copy of the 10th Anniversary of the Bridge Walks for Reconciliation Q&A
It’s hard to believe that 10 years have passed since the historic Bridge Walks for Reconciliation in 2000. Almost a million Australians swarmed across Sydney Harbour Bridge and marched through cities and towns in support of reconciliation. Here are some straightforward answers to questions you might have about the Bridge Walks and other events that took place at that time.
1. What was the Bridge Walk for Reconciliation?
On May 28, 2000 more than 300,000 people walked across the Sydney Harbour Bridge in support of Indigenous Australians and reconciliation. Held the day after Corroboree 2000, the walk attracted Aboriginal, Torres Strait Islander and other Australians of all ages and from many different backgrounds including politicians, public figures, families and members of the Stolen Generation, who streamed across the Harbour Bridge for five hours.
The ‘mass mobilisation’ in Sydney was quickly followed by walks in other capital cities, and towns, involving almost a million people in total around the country. In Brisbane more than 60,000 people crossed William Jolly Bridge, 55,000 filled the heart of Adelaide when they walked over King William Street Bridge and in Canberra, people braved snow and sleet to cross Commonwealth Bridge. Walks were later held through the streets of Melbourne and Perth in December—with another 300,000 people taking part to support the reconciliation movement.
2. What was Corroboree 2000?
Corroboree 2000 was held at the Sydney Opera House on 27 May, 2000, organised by the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation (CAR). Federal and State politicians, Indigenous leaders and representatives of various sectors were amongst the 2000 Australians who came together to chart the future of reconciliation.
The meeting celebrated the achievements of reconciliation, and participants made commitments to continue working towards reconciliation. The Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation also presented to the Australian people, the national reconciliation documents, Corroboree 2000: Towards Reconciliation and the Roadmap for Reconciliation, a culmination of nearly a decade of its work. The documents arrived at the Man O’War steps outside the Sydney Opera House aboard the sailing vessel Tribal Warrior. After a symbolic welcome and smoking ceremony, they were carried in a procession across the forecourt into the gathering of Corroboree 2000.
3. Why was this event so significant to the reconciliation process?
Corroboree 2000 was significant to the reconciliation process in many ways. Firstly, it was at this event that the national reconciliation documents were presented. These documents served to demonstrate a commitment to reconciliation by all Australians and map out practical actions to be taken in order to achieve reconciliation. Secondly, the broad cross section of Australians represented at Corroboree 2000 was an important demonstration to Australia’s leaders of the public’s opinion about reconciliation issues. Finally, with so many people from different backgrounds meeting together, Corroboree 2000 offered an opportunity for healing through Indigenous and non-Indigenous people showing unity and offering their support to one another.
4. What has all this got to do with Reconciliation Australia?
The Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation made six recommendations in its documents of reconciliation which were presented to the Prime Minister at Corroboree 2000. One recommendation was to set up an independent, not-for-profit reconciliation organisation and Reconciliation Australia officially took over from CAR at the end of 2000.
Drawing on the work of the former Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation, Reconciliation Australia is the peak body to promote reconciliation between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and the broader Australian community. Since 2000 it has embarked on a range of strategies to improve relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians and ultimately to close the gap in life expectancy between them.
5. What are some of the key milestones for Reconciliation Australia over the last 10 years?
Over the last 10 years, Reconciliation Australia has built a profile among key stakeholders, networks and the general public as the independent national body responsible for providing focus for the reconciliation process. Activities have been varied and many—from educational websites and toolkits to workshops, conferences, national concerts and large-scale public events.
Reconciliation Australia’s first significant programs focused on promoting good governance in Indigenous communities. As a part of this, Reconciliation Australia convened the first National Indigenous Governance Conference. Later, in partnership with BHP Billiton, Reconciliation Australia created the Indigenous Governance Awards which highlight strong leadership and good management in Indigenous Australia.
One of Reconciliation Australia’s key strategies in closing the gap has been the Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP) program which supports organisations to contribute to reconciliation through clear actions and realistic targets. Around 400 organisations nationwide, employing 20 per cent of Australia’s workforce, have made their commitment to the program.
Throughout the decade Reconciliation Australia has worked with media outlets to ensure balanced reporting of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander issues and to show the diversity of Indigenous Australians. Voices from the Heart, a partnership between The Australian newspaper, PAW Media and Communications, and Reconciliation Australia was a special feature that gave an on the ground account of the Federal Government’s Northern Territory’s Emergency Response in Yuendumu.
On the fifth anniversary of the Bridge Walks, Australia’s most senior political leaders gathered at Old Parliament House for a workshop to consider new opportunities for moving the reconciliation process forward. In 2007, Reconciliation Australia coordinated activities across the country to mark the 40th Anniversary of the 1967 referendum—culminating in a weekend of celebrations in Canberra.
Today, Reconciliation Australia continues to develop education resources including the Share our Pride website, text books for schools in partnership with MacMillan Books, regular Q&A mailouts like this and regular Closing the Gap public lectures.
6. But are we getting anywhere, have we achieved reconciliation in this country?
Research suggests we are getting somewhere but there is still work to do. The Australian Reconciliation Barometer, a national research study, looks at the relationship between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and other Australians. First undertaken in 2008 by Reconciliation Australia and designed to be repeated every two years, the Barometer explores how we see each other, and how these perceptions affect progress towards reconciliation and closing the gap.
The Barometer compared the core values of Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians and found some encouraging signs for the future of reconciliation in Australia. For example, the Barometer found that the vast majority of the general population (91 per cent) believed that the relationship between Indigenous and other Australians was important for Australia and just over half of both Indigenous and other Australians believe the relationship is improving.
The Barometer also helped to identify some areas that need more work, such as the fact that Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians have different perspectives on what causes disadvantage, the general public don’t really know what they should do for reconciliation and the level of trust between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians is low both ways.
Anecdotally we see Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people continue to excel in the arts and in sporting arenas. Indigenous businesses are on the increase. Over the last decade we’ve seen an increase in the use of Welcomes to and Acknowledgements of Country at official functions—at local, state and national levels. These are just some examples of events and initiatives that have helped create a change in atmosphere since 2000 and an overwhelming desire by mainstream Australia to understand Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures.
In short, there have been some very positive steps taken towards reconciliation in this country in the last 10 years. However, it is important to recognise that reconciliation is a big process, requiring commitment and hard work, and as such it will take time.
Key findings and full details of the report can be found on our website: http://www.reconciliation.org.au/home/reconciliation-resources/facts--figures/australian-reconciliation-barometer
7. What is the future for reconciliation in Australia?
When we talk about reconciliation, we are talking about a process of building relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians that enables us to work together to close the gaps and to achieve a shared sense of fairness and justice. There’s no single strand to reconciliation—and it can be a frustrating process.
Reconciliation Australia has produced a position paper which explains the crucial connection between reconciliation and closing the gap and the potential for meaningful, lasting progress. It identifies three key elements of reconciliation; working together to close the gaps, improving relationships and achieving a shared sense of fairness and justice. To view the report visit: http://www.reconciliation.org.au/home/about-ra/ra-position-paper
As the leading national reconciliation body, Reconciliation Australia has a number of ongoing projects aimed at ensuring that reconciliation continues to be a successful movement into the future. One such project which stands out for its growth and success is the RAP program. Even though it is relatively new, the program has already demonstrated that it is making a positive impact on the broader Australian community. We also continue our existing work on financial management, governance, policy and public education programs—enabling Australians at all levels to participate practically in reconciliation.
Reconciliation Australia is leading the way in developing new programs that foster improved relationships and bring people together. This is a very promising sign for the future of reconciliation in Australia, as is the commitment by governments to close the gap in life expectancy between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians by 2030.
While there’s still a long way to go, respect, trust and the knowledge to turn good intentions into actions pave the way forward. The anniversary of the Bridge Walks for Reconciliation is an ideal time for Australians to think about where reconciliation stands a decade on and how each and every one of us can become more involved. As a proactive first step, schools, businesses, councils, government offices or community groups might like to follow one or more of the following suggestions: hold a BBQ or morning tea and share conversations about reconciliation; learn about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures; celebrate local Indigenous history, people and culture; or see a movie or read a book about Indigenous history and culture.