Reconciliation is what you make it

My name is Merindah and I’m a proud Wiradjuri woman, born on my father’s country (Forbes) in central NSW. My Mum met my Dad on the bank of the Lachlan River, at Begerabong, where he was camped up in a humpy. I grew up most my life on Kamillaroi country (Tingha) North West NSW, running around the bush with my mob, chasing lizards, climbing rocks and swimming in the creek. 

15 years ago I moved to Gadigal land (Sydney) as a ballerina, then I became a university student, and now I have a ‘to die for’ job in market development for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists and arts organisations at the Australia Council for the Arts.

When I was asked to blog about reconciliation, I figured I may as well just say it how it is. The term ‘reconciliation’ is part of a long legacy of government policy, from assimilation, to integration, to self determination, to reconciliation, to shared responsibility and closing the gap. We’re now in a decade where we have seen, in the spirit of reconciliation, the Rudd apology.

But how reconciled are we if the government can apologise in one breath, whilst continue to maintain the racially discriminative laws of the Northern Territory Intervention in the next? Will we see another apology for past injustices of the Northern Territory Intervention/Stronger Futures legislation in the year 3008?

Let us never forget, reconciliation came about in response to treaty, back in the 80’s. But, the government of the time basically said that non-Indigenous Australians needed to be educated about Aboriginal culture and people before they would be ready for a treaty. This gives me hope that eventually a government will fulfill our wish for a treaty. But when will Australia ‘be ready’?

My take on ‘reconciliation’ is that reconciliation is what you make it – and as Australians in a lucky country, you have the ability to make it meaningful.

For it to be more than rhetoric, reconciliation needs to be about valuing our culture, our language and our custodianship. Grass roots issues caused by the disenfranchisement, dispossession and subsequent systemic poverty that affect our people (violence, child sexual abuse, lack of access to services, substance abuse, high youth suicide rates etc) are issues that need to be addressed as a priority. This needs to be done in conjunction with, and not in the absence of, a broader framework for institutional change.

How about an Australian national anthem that reflects our first peoples and cultural diversity? When will every Australian feel the need to learn how to introduce themselves and pay respect to country in the language of the Aboriginal nation of the area they are connected to?

But, because I’m always the optimist, and I have a tremendous amount of faith in our country, I truly believe that one day we will see a treaty and a just and equal society.

How incredible would it feel if in the near future, all Australians could locate our culture at the forefront of Australian identity? I’ll leave you with a quote from one of Australia’s greatest Prime Minister’s; In the words of Gough Whitlam- ‘Australia’s treatment of her Aboriginal people will be the thing upon which the rest of the world will judge Australia and Australians- not just now, but in the greater perspective of history.’

By NSW Young Australian of the Year, Merindah Donnelly

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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