What reconciliation means to me

I’ve been living in Beijing for three years and London for two before that. The great thing about living elsewhere is that you find yourself being asked big questions about your home country. How does preferential voting work? Who wrote the Australian National Anthem? Why do you still have a foreign head of state?

I’ve been to many a dinner party at which, when these questions are asked, Aussies at the table excuse themselves for a loo break or to clear the plates so that the sole remaining compatriot is left to provide explanations about as learned as, ‘to keep the rabbits out.’ It can be embarrassing.

Last year, at a book event, I was asked a question that stumped me. I’m almost too ashamed to tell you about it. The question was: which Aboriginal language is the most widely spoken in Australia?

Why don’t I know the answer to that question? I mean, I can prattle on about dialectic diversity in China. I can almost tell the difference between Québécois and mainstream French. Swahili and English are the official languages of Kenya.

But in my own country, I can’t tell you anything about Indigenous languages—what they’re called, how many there are, where they are spoken. Worse, I don’t know a single phrase.

National Reconciliation Week 2012 gives us an opportunity to do that. It’s about sharing cultures, histories, listening and trading stories about things such as marrying traditions.

I can’t wait to learn more about Australia’s First Peoples and to finally be able to answer those tricky questions my international friends have asked me. And a supporter of this year’s National Reconciliation Week I encourage everyone to also take those steps to learn more about our amazing First Australians.

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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