This time, almost 20 years ago I was the Executive Officer for NSW Reconciliation, working for the Hon Linda Burney MP. At the time she was still the President of NSW AECG, and her political ambitions were only beginning to come clear, she taught me many lessons.
I was young and maybe somewhat naive, believing wholeheartedly in the concept of Reconciliation. The benefit of experience has taught me many things. I have grown and continued on my journey the more I don’t believe in reconciliation.
Firstly, I need to be clear this is my personal opinion as an Aboriginal man. I do not propose to speak for my people, nor do I speak on behalf of any community. I do not put forward myself as a leader. I’m just sharing my ideas, hoping to have a different conversation about this thing called ‘Reconciliation’.
It is very important as a nation that we come to terms, with the fact, that this was and always will be Aboriginal land. Secondly, we must accept that our history, since colonisation, has been devastating to Aboriginal people and our culture.
The pain and effects of this has had a negative effect which has been inter generational. Accepting this is not about blame, nor is it about guilting people about where Aboriginal people are today. It’s just a fact.
I won’t lie, it bothers me that in my lifetime there will still be an overwhelming ignorance of our history, our past and, in the extreme, the denial of what has really happened. While many nations come to terms with their past, Australia still struggles.
The first step to moving forward as a nation is education. Learning and sharing our history, warts and all and then embracing it. It’s wrong to just cling on to the successes we have had and ignore the wrongs. This can bring about a false sense of nationhood and, I believe, only continues to promote the division that exists between Aboriginal and non Aboriginal people.
Once we truly embrace the past, accept our journey as a country and as its people, the next step is for us to move forward and look to the future.
I worry for my people. So much has happened that we struggle to see the light at the end of the tunnel. We should never forget our past, nor our culture, yet it would be a mistake for us to stay there. Our survival as a people requires a different way of thinking because we cannot continue the same way we have.
There is a term which seems to have been forgotten over time, ‘Self Determination’. It saddens me, yet it is so empowering and positive. And the way to get there is through education and through creating opportunities for our people to move forward.
I have been fortunate in that I was educated and have had the opportunity to come back to the Aboriginal community here in Newcastle and eventually lead for a period of time the peak Aboriginal body of the region as CEO.
One of the many things I learned from this experience is that our young Aboriginal people are not engaged, and many organisations have failed to plan for the future. What happens when today’s decision makers in our community pass away? What will happen to the organisations that have been built? Who will run them?
There is a line in Marvel’s Black Panther movie where Prince T’Challa speaks with his father, T’Chaka, on the ancestral plain which sums this up best, “A man who has not prepared his children for his death has failed a father”.
I started Butter Fish Services to be a beacon of self determination, with the future in front of mind. Our focus is on delivering quality disability services to, not only Aboriginal people but to, all people. At the end of the day we are all one tribe. Reconciliation is not what you say, its what you do. It’s about actions. They don’t have to be big steps, after all, a lot of little steps eventually equal one big one.
The point is you need to be committed to taking those steps and not giving up when things are difficult. Here at Butter Fish Services we are proudly Aboriginal owned and operated. We employ Aboriginal staff and non Aboriginal staff. We respect and embrace diversity.
Our aim over the coming months is to work on creating more opportunities for Aboriginal people. We want to educated through scholarships and provide training and employment opportunities in disability. Its a beautiful thing seeing non Aboriginal people being supported by Aboriginal people and, equally, seeing Aboriginal people being supported by Aboriginal people. That’s reconciliation and its self determination in action.
Butter Fish Services may not be the biggest disability service provider.However, our commitment to improving the future of our community, our clients is unwavering. We are doing it, not just talking about it.