A step forward for reconciliation

During National Reconciliation Week – on Thursday 29th of May in Macau, China – my son Adrian Andrews, was the first Aboriginal man to officially carry the Aboriginal flag as a member of an Australian sporting team at an International Sporting Event.

Myself, Adrian, and quite a few spectators were all tearing up and my heart was bursting with unashamed pride.

What an example of practical reconciliation by the Australian Dragon Boat Federation (ADBF).  Kel Watt the president of the ADBF is shown presenting the Aboriginal flag to Adrian.  It was so powerful to see an Australian team of elite athletes proudly displaying our flag along with the Australian Flag and the Torres Strait Islander flag after receiving their green and gold jerseys.

I was so proud to hear that Ade had taken Kel down to the Aboriginal Tent Embassy to introduce him to the Elders and chop wood for our Sacred Fire. A message of good wishes has even come from Uncle Harold Thomas who told a journalist he was proud of Ade and sent warm hugs.

Ade carrying our flag in Macau in May and then in the World Cup in June will be seen by future generations as a milestone and major step forward in Reconciliation. It seemed to me when listening to Ade’s story that Kel and the ADBF just wanted to do the decent and right thing. It all stemmed from their very simple respect and caring about a new “Auroras” team member.  The ADBF does this for every team member. 

This first step is followed by the next – seeing Ade as a person and an Aboriginal man and not just as part of the “engine room” of the Australian Auroras team. And the next – my son being a strong Aboriginal man and following our protocols and adding his story to one of intergenerational activism that comes from a long time ago. Before you know it each step creates a journey of reconciliation that has brought us all to an historic place.

Dragon boating is steeped in cultural traditions and spiritual significance from another place. Cultural sensitivity and acceptance of diversity resonates at its core. This way of thinking also resonates with our Aboriginal belief systems.  For this reason it was no surprise to me that it would be Australian Dragon Boating that would be the first Australian sport to take the initiative of approving and setting up a protocol for their Australian teams to carry the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander flags in opening ceremonies along with the Australian flag.

Adrian will be presenting the book, Great Queensland Women to the Australian Dragon Boating Federation. Adrian’s great-grandmother has been honoured in this publication for her outstanding contribution to the 1967 Referendum and to two great journeys of Reconciliation – gaining citizenship and suffrage. Aunty Celia’s son, my Uncle Stan Smith, is currently the president of the Brisbane Council of Elders.

I hope the book will be a permanent reminder of what this means to Ade, to us as a family, to our people, and to the old people who have gone before. They started our intergenerational journey of activism. Aunty Celia is  on the cover of the book with her sisters Rose and Miriam and Stolen Generation mother Dolly Hatton. Our journey’s steps started by the old people were continued by Aunty Celia and her children, and then her children’s children and then to my child – my son.

What may seem to the Australian Dragon Boat Federation a very simple and practical act of reconciliation and just doing the right thing will be seen as a major contribution to reconciliation by future generations.

It is for us adding Kel and the ADBF to Adrian’s contribution to this intergenerational history of activism and reconciliation.  The commitment and advocacy of the Smith/Hatton family to further Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander issues and Reconciliation is a story shared by many of our families. Ade’s story is also part of the steps made by Narissa Johnston and Brett Bartholomew who have worn the green and gold for the Australian Dragon Boat team before him.

My major celebration in National Reconciliation Week was to be there in Macau on Thursday 29th May – to watch.

Christine Andrews is a Jagera woman and dragon boat competitor Adrian Andrews’s mum. She is also the granddaughter of reconciliation trail-blazer Aunty Celia Smith. 

Paul House with gum leaves and smoke
Paul Girrawah House

Paul Girrawah House has multiple First Nation ancestries from the South-East Canberra region, including the Ngambri-Ngurmal (Walgalu), Pajong (Gundungurra), Wallabollooa (Ngunnawal) and Erambie/Brungle (Wiradyuri) family groups.

Paul acknowledges his diverse First Nation history, he particularly identifies as a descendant of Onyong aka Jindoomang from Weereewaa (Lake George) and Henry ‘Black Harry’ Williams from Namadgi who were both multilingual, essentially Walgalu-Ngunnawal-Wiradjuri speaking warriors and Ngunnawal–Wallaballooa man William Lane aka ‘Billy the Bull’ - Murrjinille.

Paul was born at the old Canberra hospital in the centre of his ancestral country and strongly acknowledges his First Nation matriarch ancestors, in particular his mother Dr Aunty Matilda House-Williams and grandmother, Ms Pearl Simpson-Wedge.

Paul completed a Bachelor of Community Management from Macquarie University, and Graduate Certificate in Wiradjuri Language, Culture and Heritage and Management from CSU.

Paul provided the Welcome to Country for the 47th Opening of Federal Parliament in 2022. Paul is Board Director, Ngambri Local Aboriginal Land Council, Member Indigenous Reference Group, National Museum of Australia and Australian Government Voice Referendum Engagement Group.  

Paul works on country with the ANU, First Nations Portfolio as a Senior Community Engagement Officer

Acknowledgement of Country

Reconciliation Australia acknowledges Traditional Owners of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing  connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures; and to Elders past and present. 

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples should be aware that this website contains images or names of people who have passed away.

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