The theme for National Reconciliation Week 2023 is Be a Voice for Generations and the aim is to encourage us all to be an authentic voice for reconciliation when we’re hanging out with family, friends and colleagues.
At CoAct we’re calling on the power of words to help create a better, more just Australia for all of us by passing the mic to our colleague Deeann Natividad, Regional Strategy Specialist, RAP (Reconciliation Action Plan) Working Group member, and proud Wakka Wakka woman.
Please read on as she takes her rightful place as a voice for her generation.
BE A VOICE FOR GENERATIONS: A Call to action
National Reconciliation Week is a time for all Australians to learn about and acknowledge the true history of Australia and explore the actions we can all take to contribute towards achieving Reconciliation in Australia.
It is a critical part of the reconciliation journey that we acknowledge the true history of Australia and the damaging effects colonisation had and continues to have on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and communities.
This is the only way to start moving forward and find a pathway to a better future.
This year’s Sorry Day and Reconciliation Week theme, ‘Be a Voice for Generations’, is a call to action to take real steps to support reconciliation as we honour the work of past generations of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who have stood up for justice for First Nations people and fought hard to pave a way forward.
A LEGACY OF STANDING UP FOR JUSTICE
First Nations Australians have been a voice for justice for many generations.
Did you know that during the invasion and colonisation of Australia, although not much is taught at school or written in our history books, First Nations resistance fighters attempted to defend their lands, their communities, and their families against an overwhelming force.
One such resistance fighter is Pemulwuy. Dubbed ‘the Aboriginal Ned Kelly’, Pemulwuy (1750–1802) was a Dharug warrior, born near Botany Bay on the northern side of the George’s River, Sydney, New South Wales. He strongly resisted the incursions of colonists into his people’s territory.
Pemulwuy began a valiant campaign against colonisation shortly after the arrival of the First Fleet in 1788, starting a 12-year guerilla war against the British in 1790. In December 1790, Pemulwuy speared convict and gamekeeper, John McIntyre. McIntyre was known for killing Aboriginal people and was feared and hated by the Eora. As a result, Governor Philip King ordered the killing of six Indigenous men from Pemulwuy’s tribe and the capture of two for execution.
Image source: https://redflag.org.au/node/6663
National Museum of Australia documents show that from 1792, settlers reported Pemulwuy as leading a series of Aboriginal raids on colonists, mainly to the west of Sydney at Prospect, Toongabbie, Georges River, Parramatta, Brickfield Hill and the Hawkesbury River.
Pemulwuy is described as “a most active enemy to the settlers, plundering them of their property and endangering their personal safety”. Documents state that “raids were made for food, particularly corn, or as ‘payback’ for atrocities: It has been suggested that most of the attacks led by Pemulwuy were the result of the settlers’ ‘own misconduct’, including the kidnapping of Aboriginal children.”
A measure of Pemulwuy’s success in raiding settlers can be seen in the Governor’s proclamation outlawing Pemulwuy and offering a reward for his capture or death.
In March 1797, Pemulwuy led a raid of 100 Aboriginal warriors on the Toongabbie government farm in what is known as “the battle of Parramatta”. A punitive party was formed by soldiers and settlers, and they followed Pemulwuy’s group to Parramatta. There they fired on them, killing some and seriously wounding Pemulwuy. As a sign of respect for him, the settlers took him to the hospital, where he recovered.
In May 1801, Governor King issued an order that Aborigines near Parramatta, Georges River and Prospect could be shot on sight. Later that year, he issued a proclamation outlawing Pemulwuy and offering a reward for his capture or death and on June 2, 1802, Pemulwuy was shot dead. Often dubbed “Australia’s oldest murder mystery”, it’s not known who shot the fatal blow.
Pemulwuy’s head was removed from his body and sent to Joseph Banks in London, accompanied by a letter from Governor King, who wrote: “Although a terrible pest to the colony, he was a brave and independent character.”
It was placed in the Museum of the Royal College of Surgeons. The whereabouts of Pemulwuy’s head remains unknown, but it is likely that it was disposed of in the 1830s. In 2015, Pemulwuy’s campaign of resistance was commemorated at the National Museum with the unveiling of a new plaque honouring his role in Australian history.
For many years Aboriginal people were absent or on the periphery of history, as told from the perspective of the coloniser, in the story of Australia’s invasion and colonisation. But it is important for all Australians to know about Pemulwuy’s role in leading the brave First Nations Resistance fighters against the settlers and fighting for his land.
You can read more about them here:
8 Heroes you didn’t learn about in school
Australian Frontier Conflicts – Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Warriors
Honouring Early Aboriginal Resistance
Continuing to tell stories like Pemulwuy’s can be seen as its own form of modern-day resistance. These stories are a voice for generations and recognising and acknowledging them can help pave the path for true reconciliation.
A LEGACY OF ADVOCATING FOR CHANGE
First Nations Australians have been a voice advocating for change for generations.
Did you know that during the Civil Rights movements in the United States, First Nations people were also fighting in Australia for equality and an end to segregation.
A group of First Nations Activists organised their own “Freedom Ride” in Australia to bring attention to their fight for an end to racism and poor living conditions in Aboriginal communities.
In 1965, a group of students from the University of Sydney drew national and international attention to the appalling living conditions and the racism that was rife in NSW country towns. This 15-day bus journey was known as the Freedom Ride and would become a defining moment in Australian activism.
Spurred on by anti-segregation activism in America, a group of students at the University of Sydney formed the Student Action For Aborigines (SAFA) group. Charles Perkins, one of only two Aboriginal students at the university at the time, was elected president.
The mission was to shine a light on the marginalisation of Aboriginal people in New South Wales towns. During their fifteen-day journey through regional New South Wales, the group would directly challenge a ban against Aboriginal ex-servicemen at the Walgett Returned Services League, and local laws barring Aboriginal children from the Moree and Kempsey swimming pools.
‘The Freedom Ride was probably the greatest and most exciting event I have ever been involved in.’ — Charles Perkins
Local reactions to the Freedom Rides
White Australians were infuriated by the Freedom Riders. Reactions included throwing rotten eggs, tomatoes and bottles and ramming the bus off the road. First Nations people supported and cheered the bus on when it entered their towns, often knowing that there would be consequences after the bus left.
After the Freedom Rides, Charles Perkins reported the events to a crowd of 200 people at the 1965 Federal Council for the Advancement of Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders (FCAATSI) conference in Canberra. ‘The problem is out in the open now’, he told them. He called for necessary follow-up work such as the building of relationships with local Aboriginal groups and improved services and access to education for Aboriginal residents in western New South Wales towns. Conference goers heard that one positive result of the students’ activities was that the NSW Aborigines Welfare Board publicly announced that it would spend sixty-five thousand pounds on housing in Moree.
Later in the year, Harry Hall, president of the Walgett Aborigines’ Progressive Association, appealed to Perkins and other Aboriginal activists to return to Walgett to assist in the fight against the colour bar being applied at the Oasis Hotel. Perkins and others returned to help.
The 1965 Freedom Ride through New South Wales towns and the publicity it gained in overseas newspapers such as the New York Times, highlighted to the world the racial discrimination happening in Australia. While the life of the SAFA was relatively short, the Ride had a lasting impact and served to strengthen the campaigns that followed to bring about greater equality and recognition for Aboriginal people.
Two years later the national referendum of 1967 was held, and the Australian people voted overwhelmingly in favour of removing individual state control over the way Indigenous people were governed and treated.
You can read about the Freedom Ride here.
The Freedom Riders and the bravery they showed encouraged and inspired change, making a lasting impact on dismantling the social and discriminatory barriers between First Nations people and white Australians in the 1960’s and beyond – a true voice for generations.
We’re grateful to Deeann for taking the time to share her culture and history with us and we hope you have her voice as she passes on the stories of her people. The 2023 theme for Reconciliation Week is a call to all Australians to use their power, their words and their vote to create a better, more just Australia for everyone so we would like to leave you with one simple question: what can you do to contribute?