By Greg Johnson, CEO of the Toowoomba Chamber of Commerce & Industry

Photo of Greg Johnson

I had the great pleasure of meeting and listening to Leah Armstrong, Chief Executive Officer at Reconciliation Australia, at the 30 May 2013 “no free lunch “ reconciliation meeting and found her presentation to be quite inspirational.

The lunch was convened by the local branch of the Australian Pensioners and Superannuants League (APSL) who wanted to host a learning workshop to discuss changes needed in our constitution to finally recognise the First Australians. Jack Lloyd, local APSL president was keen to host the event and said that “required change is everybody’s business.”

Jack is a mate of mine, though our politics are somewhat different, and I thought I owed it to him to accept his kind invitation to attend and to publicise the event on our website, by email to our 4,000 member database and in various free media opportunities the Chamber receives.

The big day came, it was cold. I helped some older ladies up the stairs with their boxes of various publications, thinking all the time that I wouldn’t know anyone there. Wrong! The room was full of lots of passionate locals, Indigenous experts and quite a few Indigenous folk, many of whom I knew.

It was a wonderful day, beautifully orchestrated by Jack and his loyal band of followers. I failed miserably in the quiz on Indigenous history – couldn’t remember who the first Indigenous woman was to win a gold medal at the Olympics (Nova Peris) and only got one right (Senator Neville Bonner) of two Indigenous federal politicians, the other being Senator Aden Ridgeway.

Mackay (Queensland) born Leah was irrestible as a presenter – charming, confident, knowledgeable. She gave us a comprehensive lesson in history as well as the key chapters in the evolution of Australia’s Constitution as it relates to Indigenous people. She spoke about a potential referendum to change the Constitution to ensure recognition of Australia’s first peoples and remove clauses which deal with racial discrimination. Her presentation provided details of the Journey to Recognition campaign to inform the Australian public on why constitutional recognition is an essential step on the reconciliation journey.

I couldn’t resist, I cornered Leah, grabbed a business card and determined that I would write to her upon her return to Newcastle and invite her back to Toowoomba to present at one of our regular Business at Breakfast sessions. And indeed I did and indeed she agreed immediately. And so the date was set at 3 September at Toowoomba’s iconic Picnic Point Function Centre.

The date came, one hundred concerned business leaders turned up, the Master of Ceremonies became unavailable, I became the Master of Ceremonies and not very well prepared at that!

I “preambled” a bit with some Indigenous historic observations (my history) like Albert Namatjira was pretty handy with a brush, Lionel Rose could handle himself reasonably well in the ring, Neville Bonner was up to the debate in parliament, Cathy Freeman wasn’t too bad on the track, and if Indigenous players quit the National Rugby League there would be no National Rugby League.

Welcome to Country was delivered by my Grandmother’s favourite all-time jockey Uncle Darby McCarthy so I gave him a hug for her, had she been alive she would have been very jealous.

Leah spoke brilliantly and remained for an hour to talk to guests who wanted to meet her or just wanted to add something to the constitutional debate.

It was our pleasure to have her back in Toowoomba and we hope to keep in touch. Since she left my President Andrew Wielandt and I have resolved to develop our own Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP) and hope to get many of our member businesses to do likewise.

All the very best Reconciliation Australia.