Martin Ballangarry, Brothablack, Professor John Maynard and Rachel Perkins, 10 September 2009
MICHAEL PICKERING: Welcome, everyone, to what promises to be a very enjoyable afternoon. I’m Michael Pickering. I head up the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Program.
This is a significant day for all of us in the program and in the Museum because we have, we think, achieved a breakthrough in exhibitions and in the delivery of histories. So we hope you enjoy it as well.
I would like to acknowledge the Ngunnawal people, the traditional owners of the lands on which the Museum is built. The Ngunnawal people, we greatly appreciate their contribution to the Museum’s operations and life. They have been active participants in the work we do.
I would also like to acknowledge all those people who were involved in the Civil Rights Movement in the past: the activists, the campaigners, the supporters and those people who, while not taking sides did at least have the courtesy to listen. I think what we see today is built upon their efforts.
I would also like to acknowledge you, the audience. By being here today you continue that tradition of engagement and collaboration that is so essential to achieving rights for all people.
We have some very eminent speakers here this afternoon, some participants. I’d first of all like to acknowledge Rachel Perkins, a leading Australian filmmaker, an Arrernte and Kalkadoon woman; Martin Ballangarry, a Gumbayngirr Elder from Bowraville in New South Wales, and Bowraville is a central place in the history of civil rights in Australia; Professor John Maynard, a Worimi man who is also our master of ceremonies for the day and head of the Wollotuka School of Aboriginal Studies at the University of Newcastle and an eminent author and speaker. And, of course, I would like to acknowledge Brothablack, who we’ll be hearing very shortly.
I won’t keep you long. I want to say that hopefully you’ve all seen the exhibition and will continue to revisit it. Hopefully, you will all go and look at the website. We’re proud of this exhibition because not only do we have that exhibition but we have the website and the devices to deliver the strong history.
It’s been a difficult exhibition to get up. We’ve gone through a difficult political period, where any mention of Indigenous, or civil or rights in the same sentence was frowned upon, so there’s been some careful maneuvering. Looking at the exhibition some people might see it as a leftist statement, a radical statement and it isn’t. The Museum is not being radical. The Museum is about staying true to history.
The stories that we tell we believe are true to history. They are impartial and true to history, and it’s the stories themselves that are significant. The passion you see is the passion of the story.
The exhibition will tour. It will tour nationally, again, accompanied by all that other information that’s often missing. Any exhibition is just ten percent of the story.
We hope you enjoy this afternoon. Thank you for coming to the Museum. A special preliminary thanks to our speakers. Once again, we hope you enjoy it. And now, I’d like to invite Brothablack to kick off the real proceedings. Thank you.
[music by Brothablack]
BROTHABLACK: All right. Thank you. That’s right. I’m Brothablack and before I go on, I want to pay my respects to the traditional land owners. And on behalf of the traditional land owners I want to welcome our non-Indigenous brothers and sisters to Aboriginal country.
[music by Brothablack]
BROTHABLACK: Thank you. OK, this next song I was lucky enough to, over 12 months ago, I was lucky enough through Reconciliation Australia, I was teamed up with a member from an Australian Hip Hop group, The Hilltop Hoods, Suffa MC, and it was basically to make a track with Indigenous and non-Indigenous artists making a statement about reconciliation. I was lucky enough to go down to Adelaide, record with the boys, I wrote the lyrics, he produced the beat. Check it out, here it is, ‘Keeping Integrity’.
[music by Brothablack]
JOHN MAYNARD: Thanks very much, Brotha. He has ducked out there. That was a great intro and a great way for us to start this session. The Brotha follows a very proud, long tradition of Aboriginal people using music as a medium, certainly to get a political voice out to wider Australia, and a very great way of doing it.
I guess this session is an informal one. I think we are here to just have a discussion, an informal discussion, our thoughts on where we are at today, as far as contemporary political issues, where Aboriginal people are. Where we come from, and where we’re at. I guess I am to start the session off, but I guess we can just exchange as we go along. Rachel can have input and then I will go there. I would like also like to begin by respectfully acknowledging the traditional custodians and their ancestral lands, within which I am most honoured to be a visitor.
For me, and I said I can only speak for my behalf and my thoughts, the exciting thing about being here yesterday and seeing the wonderful exhibition, ‘From Little Things, Big Things Grow,’ I think for me that’s where we’ve got to go back to. What our people were saying, what our people stood up for in the past.
There is so much message over there, there is great pride over there, there is great inspiration, and not just for Aboriginal people that were prepared to stand up over so many decades, and voice an opinion, and make a stand against the oppression, the prejudice, and the oppression in this country, but also the non-Indigenous people.
You saw pictures over there of Stan Davey, and also Jack and Jean Horner, and quite a number of other people that have stood up, been prepared to stand up along side our people, and show courage in that respect. There has been a long proud history of that. I have to say, today I think we’re at a crossroads, and I guess, again I can only speak for my own position, filled with slightly depressed and frustration of where we are as Aboriginal people today, and certainly, where we’re going politically.
I think that long proud tradition of Aboriginal people in politics and their connection to the grassroots community, I think, is all but disappeared into memory and history. In reality, that long history, you go out at that exhibition and see that. I think in recent decades, that is basically disappeared.
The Aboriginal political voice has been silenced and has been taken off of the street. I think we – again I’ll go back to the non-Indigenous involvement, I think that’s critical. Even back in the ‘20s my grandfather said, we need to get the message to the wider white populous, of what is happening in this country, and we need to gather their support. Mobilise that support.
We’ve followed that tradition with Rachel’s dad, Charlie Perkins, the white students on the bus, and the Gurindji walk-off at Wave Hill, when they managed to get a lot of trade unionists and the media on side, and the ‘67 Referendum. The Tent Embassy here, there were a lot of white students involved with that.
I think our swan song, as far as that movement was concerned and that interaction, was the 1988 Bicentennial. I think from that point down, we’ve sort of slid off the radar, if you like. As I said, in some sense been silenced, which is a tragedy in itself. Why has that happened?
I said, there’s frustration from my point of view. There are divisions, there are factions, and there’s infighting in Aboriginal communities. That is a given, and something that we have to look at and really get on top of. Rachel mentioned yesterday in her discussion at the opening of the exhibition, the sense of unity, and it’s something that I have been speaking about for quite some years now. We need to go back to go back to that national perspective, and that national front for Aboriginal people to all mobilise together to effect change.
The sad reality is today that’s not there. I don’t want to be too controversial, but last week Galarrwuy in a newspaper account in the Australian’ made the point that the problems he’s facing up in Cape York are because of the urban black fellows who are sitting in coffee shops sipping lattes and stirring up trouble basically for his community up there.
From my perspective, the brother – maybe he’s been taken out of context – but the reality is issues facing Aboriginal people right across this country and the destruction we face is widespread. It’s not just confined to remote communities. It’s in rural settings, and it’s in urban settings.
The health issues, the education issues, the unemployment issues, youth suicide, the drink, the alcohol, the domestic violence, that’s everywhere. That is everywhere across the country in urban, rural and remote settings. It’s not just confined to a certain space and that’s it. And I’m not saying all communities are like that. I have to say, because that is one misnomer. The way the press goes, that all Aboriginal communities are dysfunctional – that is not the case. What I’m saying is you can’t just confine it to the remote space.
So I think we really need to get on top of that stuff and show a sense of unity that we are all going to march together, pull together where we can get some strength and actually implement some change. Tom Calma’s recommendations are coming up, I think that’s one thing that we really do need is a national Indigenous body. Again, going back to the ‘20s, that was one of the pushes from my grandfather’s organisation. They said they needed a national Indigenous body to oversee Indigenous affairs.
Tom hasn’t been given a real lot of room to move with the body that he’s probably envisioned than he probably would hope to see. But, I think, again from my perspective if we do have a national indigenous body, it must have some power to do something.
Again, it might be wild dreams from my perspective, but I think we probably should have two representatives to that body to sit in Federal Parliament. I think that’s the same they do in New Zealand with the Maori. I also think that we need policy impacted by both parties, Labor and Liberal. We need to have a bipartisan approach to indigenous affairs, and I think the importance of that is that there has to be a ten-year plan that can be reviewed, reviewed in five years and reviewed in seven years.
What we’ve had is decades and decades and decades, governments come in and they put policy in place. They go out and the next mob come in and rip it all apart again. We’ve just started going up a path, and then we have to go back to square one again and follow up a different path. And it goes on and on and on, and we don’t get anywhere. The reality is we need long-term policy in place that we can actually measure what is successful, what is working. Again, I think that’s an important step to take.
What are the answers? As I said, I think all coming together is probably the most crucial thing for me and that we all do pull together and try to make some change in our communities and for our people. I might move along now and ask Rachel…
RACHEL PERKINS: Oh, respect for the elders, though. [laughs]
JOHN MAYNARD: You don’t even have to deal with that. I thought you were going to do a duet earlier with Brothablack, but that hasn’t happened.
MARTIN BALLANGARRY: Well, where do we start? You know, I take on board what you just said. I’ve looked at the government structure for a long time, the three tiers of government, state, federal and local government. I say, let’s get rid of state but you might mind, you know, just have the grassroots lot and the federal government. That’s just my own candid opinion.
We mentioned about the education. Where are we going with education? We’re no further ahead than we were 40 years ago, I guess. I grew up in Bowraville when the assimilation time was happening, I jumped the little black fence to go over into the mainstream. We were talking, is there anything much happening in the curricula now as it is? I’m not too sure where we’re at with the education. I’ve been around the education system for a long time, with TAFE as well, and I still feel we’re going nowhere. Now we’re taking one step forward and one or two back. And that is the general feeling with me.
I’m a councilor in the shire council in the local government level, and I see a lot of stuff that I’m not happy with. I’m not an angry person. I’m a happy person, I can be any person that you want me to be, and I can be a Brothablack, too, you know, radical. Because when this lady’s father came to Bowraville many years ago I was only a 13-year-old kid.
I got on the bus. I’ll go for a ride on the bus, the Freedom Ride bus down there, and went downtown to the theatre. Didn’t know where we were going. Just one of the kids. Yeah, go down to the pictures, you know.
Anyway, there was a 16-year-old girl with him and, of course, I needed another kid to go in. Charles said, ‘Come on, Martin. I’ll go and buy the tickets.’ So we went and bought our tickets and sat in the theatre. Sat at the back and sat in the white fellas’ seat – like, deadly, you know – with the cushion in it. That was the highlight of my life at the time. For a brief moment until the police came and ushered us out, politely, with the baton poking in the back. That was a long time ago.
I was looking at the film down in the exhibition, and I was trying to work out who that copper was. I don’t know if it was him. I’ve got a fair idea who it was. But anyway I feel that Aborigines in Australia – people say indigenous. I’m not akin to that word, I’m Aboriginal. My mother was Aboriginal, my father was Aboriginal. When I was born I was an Aboriginal. I believe I am native to this land without indigenous.
A lot of people got different things, even reconciliation was mentioned here. It’s a long hard road. Maybe, I’m rambling on too long.
RACHEL PERKINS: No, go on. Keep talking.
MARTIN BALLANGARRY: I was having a yarn last night about a lot of the deadly stuff we’d done back in the early days, some radical stuff, some not so radical, but a little bit good. It’s interesting how far we’ve come, you know? Not very far, I’m sorry to say. But we took one and a half steps forward. We’re still back here. We’re still living in the Dreaming, I’m afraid. That’s just my personal opinion.
I’ve seen a lot of our great leaders of this country, and I’ve seen what they went through, and I’ve done studies in the field of where they went and how they went. And now a lot of our own people out there knocks them for doing what they did. They got off their butt and done something for their people.
Well, look at me. I’m a tokenistic blackfella in a local government area. And of course, you know what I’m going to get called because I’m married to a white woman. It’s a black and white issue. It’s interesting that we’re matching the council, because there’s a lot of things that I just want to get out of it because it’s like I’m pushing uphill. But I’m going to hang in there for another three years. This is my second term. I’m a proud Aboriginal man, Gumbayngirr man for that fact. I was the first Indigenous Gumbayngirr person to be elected in the local government up home, in the Nambucca area.
I didn’t realise we were going to be in front of a lot of people. You see these things on TV, you know, on ABC. And I didn’t know what I was coming down – I got off the plane, freezing cold. Somebody was supposed to meet me out there, but they did, a bit later. They came. No name mentioned, Troy.
But anyway, getting back to how far the Aboriginals have come, as far as I’m concerned we’re no further than we were so many years ago. I don’t know what your feeling is on that, Rachel. Maybe you could iterate - you’ve been out there and done it more than me, I think. I’ve just got a bit greyer, that’s all.
JOHN MAYNARD: That’s amazing progress, from ‘65 and the Freedom Ride Bus to being a councilor. I mean, that’s an amazing achievement, just in Bowraville, alone. That really needs to be applauded, uh? Yeah.
MARTIN BALLANGARRY: Applaud?
[applause and laughter]
MARTIN BALLANGARRY: Thank you.
JOHN MAYNARD: Was that the theater seat that’s down there in the exhibition, that you were on?
MARTIN BALLANGARRY: Yeah, that’s the one. I’ll take these girls down there later. Come down and have a look at the Bowraville Theater. It’s pretty well straight now, but when I went down there it was sort of leaning one way.
MARTIN BALLANGARRY: And then I don’t know if it were broke on purpose or if we sat on it and broke it. We got blamed for it anyway.
RACHEL PERKINS: Well, I feel a bit unqualified, really, you know, to have a view on all of this, because I’m sort of a bit of a coward in a way. I’m sort of a filmmaker and sort of work in that area of media, I suppose, try and have influence.
You know, if you’re talking about protests, I suppose I’ve evolved that form of protest into what I feel I can do, which is to tell stories on behalf of our people. To them and to the wider Australian community. So that that great thing that often causes racism – ignorance – can somehow try and slowly be shifted.
And I think we’ve got a long way to go, but I think the education system is changing rapidly, and hopefully with the National Curriculum we’ll really achieve putting Indigenous Studies as part of the Australian history and cementing it in there. But I think that’s up to us to try and make sure that happens.
But in terms of the sort of subject of what we’re here to discuss, protest and its contemporary forms – that’s right, Jay, isn’t it? I mean, because I’m Charlie Perkins’ daughter, I’ve spent my entire life going to protests and loved it. There’s nothing more we loved than a demo. [laughter]
I’ve been to a lot of great ones, where we’ve done fantastic things. Or not me, not me done fantastic things, but I’ve looked at people do fantastic things. Like I remember Michael Nelson Jagamara threatening to take his, the centerpiece out of the big ceramic or stone painting that they’d made in Parliament House.
And he had a, some sort of axe tomahawk thing, and he didn’t actually – he was there with dad, because they were of course countrymen from Central Australia. Michael Nelson didn’t want to actually take the piece out, because it would have affected – it was a big dreaming, and to destroy a dreaming painting that he’d put in there ceremoniously would be very bad.
But they wanted to make a statement. It was something about – I don’t know whether it was the Land Rights Act at the time. Whatever it was, whatever we were there for, maybe it was the Bicentennial, I can’t remember. He just sort of pretended to do it, and then they hid the axe. But in the paper the next day, it was, ‘Aboriginal Vandalises Dreaming Thing at Parliament House.’ It got the front page, and it worked really well.
And so many other things I’ve been at and seen these great protests, storming the doors of Parliament House. A lot of it was often bluff and bluster and letting off steam, but it certainly attracted national media attention, and being part of it, you felt like that’s what you had to do to be heard in those days.
You had to yell and scream and be united and be strong and gather the people and get the numbers in and get the placards and work out what you would say and put the message across really strongly. And they did that, I think, very effectively, and I suppose today it’s very different.
We don’t have those street protest things in the way that we used to. There has been some return to that with the intervention, particularly in Sydney where I live in Redfern. I know there has been some in Central Australia and then of course in Canberra at the Sorry Day celebrations recently.
I feel, not being an expert but being someone who has been around a lot of those things, the mood has changed. Perhaps the mood has not only changed amongst our own people, but it’s changed amongst the people who are witnessing and supporting or reporting on our protest movement. It’s definitely a change but I think that’s a change that’s happened globally.
I think from the ‘60s through to the ‘80s – I’m no expert I’m just raving on. [laughs] So the ‘60s through the ‘80s it was quantified by that street protest movement. Globally we have seen that evolve to a different level where perhaps people have gone into the inside perhaps in a way and worked for change within bureaucracies and within the government and within organisations that they set up an try to enact change in very practical legislative ways in their communities or federally or however it is.
At the same time, I agree with you. I think that in recent times, for me I’m not a leader and I don’t have the guts to be one. But I want to follow someone. I think we need leadership now. The issues are complex, extremely complex. We need people who understand the system, who have a grasp of history, who have connection with their people in their communities, they are in touch with them, are sound thinkers and hopefully visionaries and can cut through the complexity and communicate to us what the shifts in policy and the shifts in politics are. We are in desperate need of that.
We have those people, some of them. I think the conflict that we now have since the intervention between our leadership is debilitating; idepressing for us as a people and it’s not doing us any good. Just on the net last night, I came home from the opening and two fantastic leaders, Sam Watson from Brisbane who was a Black Panther in the 1970s, was calling to people to go and protest at Noel Pearson’s opening of the Brisbane Writer’s Festival.
I just felt like here is these two Murries of great intellect, great capacity I believe, in conflict with each other in public. That was the protest. I watched. I know all of these people, so I’m going to say their names. I’m good friends with them. Larissa Behrendt and Noel arguing, two great minds. Marcia Langton arguing back.
These are the people I rely on to help me think about what we need to do in this country and there’s conflict. I think that as you say, the great thing about that period between the ‘60s and ‘70s – there was internal conflict in the ‘80s – but there was a national pan-indigenous agenda. People came from all across the company.
There were Murries, remote people, New South Wales mob, Central Australia, Torres Strait Islanders and at the FCAATSI table, and other organisational tables whether it be land councils.
So many meetings, they were all always flying off to. They manage to get some sort of cohesion. They fought with each other but at the end of the day, they had a common vision. I think our people still have a common vision. We want to improve the conditions of our people. We know that they are bad but I think the difference of purpose and egos are getting in the way. That’s a bit of a rant.
RACHEL PERKINS: I find it very frustrating because I think we have very talented people. That’s sort of getting off the subject. Really the subject is about protest. The thing that I feel is that protest in a way is activism. Activism and protest are very linked, obviously. To be an effective activist, you can’t be the Lone Ranger often, because you are not going to have much influence. If I went and chained myself to a tree outside Parliament House, no one would really care less.
Because I’m not a leader and I don’t have that following, I don’t have the status and the support and the leadership qualities that make an activist effective. I’ve seen effective activists draw people together from all around the country. Pick up the phone and bring the mob in. That’s what effective activism does. It moves the people with them. If you can’t bring the people with you, you are not going to succeed. You need power in numbers.
I think what we need is good leadership, because good leadership really means good activism and good activism means effecting change. I think those things are very linked. I know there are a lot of programs in place to encourage indigenous leadership and that’s a great thing. I think things have changed a lot and I think things have improved a lot, actually, but I think of course some fundamental things are still not progressed. That’s my thoughts on it.
JOHN MAYNARD: I think you’re selling yourself a little bit short on the activism, because things have changed and there are different mediums, certainly through film and documentary. You are making a statement in what you do. That’s probably a way that we have to look in to the future again. It may not be going and chaining yourself up to a tree although you never know how many people might turn up. [laughs]
RACHEL PERKINS: Hopefully you’ll turn up and Mum will turn up, but that’ll be it.
JOHN MAYNARD: You are right. But, so, what is the next step? What do we have to look at? Is it the internet? Is it film? Is it drama? I mentioned music before but I mean how do we heal these rifts of today? That’s the big question out there because hile we are just ripping each other apart we can not effect change. Exactly the same thing as all of us started with, the frustration. You feel so depressed looking at this stuff.
MARTIN BALLANGARRY: Brothablack, he was singing some songs. I think people need to hear what he is saying, reconcile with yourself first before you can venture on and become a leader or what you’re about.
You do video, movies, and stuff. I do it too. I do videography. I make movies just on a small scale, just showing the little bit of Aboriginals and the whitefella mixing up and issues at home. NAIDOC Day, a celebration we have once a year. Film is a good media to get out there. Mentorship. You’re talking mentorship.
We’ve got the leaders out there. There are a lot of leaders out there and I think they need shaking up. They need to start talking about what we need. They know what we need but all they have to do is get up, talk up, and meet up, anything.
Remember, I was surprised of the bit of footage of the Freedom Rides they had down here in the place and the person gave me a little bit of the background on how they obtained it. Apparently it was in the ASIO file I believe. [laughs] They are probably doing something on me now, somebody out there, guaranteed. [laughs]
I was just talking to Brothablack and I got this funny message, I don’t know what it means. [laughs] It’s not in my text, so maybe it’s something in this area. I don’t know – it’s on my mobile cellular. I don’t know, as you said, Rachel, we did come forward maybe one and a half, maybe a little bit more steps than I anticipated. But I’ve looked at a lot of stuff and I still say we are not where we should be at.
There are a lot of kids out there that want to take the lead, but they have got to start having confidence in themselves. Remember we are combating with drugs and alcohol. My mission up in Bowraville where I come from is pretty well. We are trying to work with the kids all of the time. I do work with them kids all of the time I have been doing it for the last 40 years. I have been working around them.
No sooner do you get them, they get shy or ashamed, the shame factor comes back. These are smart kids. These are very smart kids. They are very intelligent. And these are the kids that the kids ostracise for behaviour. We are talking about education. Education has to be looked at through the behaviour of Aboriginal kids.
Now there are a lot of smart kids. I have been around education system. I have seen a lot of smart kids that come from the behavioural school. I thought they were, you can’t say it on TV but they were naughty boys and girls but they come around and spin around and they have good jobs and they are leading in the mentorship with the program that I work with.
Then you have the other group that wants to tear that bit of work way down and this is the come back we have all of the time. It’s not only in Bowraville, it’s right throughout the country. We talked about that stuff that was happening in the Northern Territory. I think that was a big land grab in itself. I’ll speak out against the government. I still say we got this national anthem that says ‘Advance Australia Fair.’ Sorry. How fair is it to the first people of this country? That is the question.
You can be from another nation and you get treated better. I see what’s happening up in the streets of Bowraville. Who gets hassled by the cops? I made front page up home doing that, police not fulfilling their jobs, doing their jobs. What do they go do? They go and harass and hassle the kinds on the streets before they go to school or even after. The ones that go to school, and even some of the older ones, they go and get their grog and they sit there and then they go home.
Just to show me that they are doing their job. I say, ‘Come on boys, go away, leave them alone. They’re down there getting their grog and then going home.’ That’s all they are doing. They are not creating the problems. Anyway, that’s only just one aspect, one smidgen of aspect. I know we have a long way.
JOHN MAYNARD: I think that’s an important point. Certainly the future is the kids. That’s got to be our most important consideration on how we direct them, how we encourage them, and how we inspire them. Education obviously is a major thing. Being in university myself these days, and the head of an indigenous centre the reality is, most of the people in academia today, the indigenous people, haven’t come from privileged educational backgrounds. Most of us come in to education late in life.
For myself, I was 40. There are a lot of people like me. They don’t have fond memories of their school years. The Aboriginal people there fought to overcome the disadvantages we have come through in the educational system. Where we weren’t encouraged and there was nothing in the school curriculum about Aboriginal people, culture or history to really strive to get an education at a later stage.
I think the next generation coming is going to be where the big changes come through. I actually said to people, I think it was over lunch or dinner the other night, that Newcastle hosted the indigenous engineering summer school for the last two years. You have 27 indigenous kids from around the country coming down.
I’m really just blown away. They are so articulate, so eloquent speaking, so confident. You think, man, this is where the change is coming from. But we are still in this process at the moment of treading water, waiting for that revolution to happen.
MARTIN BALLANGARRY: I think we’ve tread water too long now. I think it’s time to stand up and start doing. Because I’m getting too old to be doing the stuff that I need to do, that I need to achieve in my life. I would like our young people to stand up and take the fight on.
As Auntie said, we were talking about it last night, how young kids need to stand up and take the fight onward. As is Rachel, she’s doing it in film and I do it in film, council, a bit of everything. So I’ve got my finger in all the pies, a little bit.
We’ve got, as you mentioned, the Tom Calma, whatever. How far he was given to move, with this portfolio – this is what we’ve got to work on, the terms. We’ve got to work on the terms about how to get that message out there. I mean, it’s already been mentioned about the – what’s that Yunupingu fella you said?
JOHN MAYNARD: Galarrwuy.
MARTIN BALLANGARRY: Galarrwuy. All that still needs to be addressed. All that kind of stuff.
JOHN MAYNARD: Yeah they all need to head in the same direction.
MARTIN BALLANGARRY: As Rachel said earlier, we are one jump up all the time. I’m not being rude but one person, they jump up. You’ve got to jump up unified together. I know, of course, you get results over this. It’s not protest, they don’t call it an official protest. You’d be in jail. But they call it ‘People Power’ today.
I know because you get things done by People Power. So people, if you are going to protest, call it People Power. So you get results. Maybe we could go that way, People Power.
JOHN MAYNARD: Any thoughts or ideas, Rachel? Where to from here, I mean, in that sense?
MARTIN BALLANGARRY: You’re the younger person here so…
RACHEL PERKINS: Yes, so I’m meant to know everything. I’m saying that all the leaders are meant to know everything. I’m abdicating responsibility. Yeah, look, I don’t know. I mean I think I’ve seen people, the older generation, work for so long.
There is a lot of discussion right now about how communities are so dysfunctional and that none of the policies of the ‘70s, ‘80s, or ‘90s have worked. Now that seems to be the theme of the moment.
When you look at history, you look at the change from protectionalism to assimilation, then from assimilation to self-determination and then from self-determination to reconciliation. And every, what is it, 30 years or something? The last policy is howled down as backward and not working and the next one is brought in and that’s taken for the next 30 years. And then that last one is howled down.
Look, there’s more people who are expert in this than me in the audience like Peter Read, who I’m hoping we’ll hear from you in a second, Peter. He’s actually studied this stuff. I’ve only just read his books and listened to it around the kitchen table.
So perhaps that’s a shift that’s happening. That we’re in that phase where there’s a lot of condemnation for what’s gone before. You can’t say that the people who protested for land rights didn’t also have in their mind health issues. Because they set up medical associations all around the country to deliver health services to Aboriginal communities and Torres Straight Islanders.
So it’s not like they were naive and thought land rights will solve everything. At the same time they were setting up Aboriginal hostels – I might sound like I’m defending my father’s generation and probably I am because I saw a lot of the hard work and success that’s come out of that.
So I think it’s quite easy for people to sit now and condemn those gone before them. People who did climb the gates in Brisbane and pull the bloody gates down when there was no land rights act in Queensland. And those people are people that have been condemned since Mick Miller and Clarrie Grogan and Joe McGinness. They spent their lives fighting for land rights and at the same time hostels, Aboriginal legal services, and a whole range of things.
I think it’s very easy to condemn what’s happened. At the same time, I agree with people like Noel [Pearson] who say that we cannot blame everybody else for our problems. We can’t blame the historical context. We’ve got to take responsibility for ourselves and our communities. A lot of people are probably going to disagree with me here, but I think that has a lot of weight as well.
I think there is evidence of that as well. Like in Yuendumu for instance, a lot of those Central Australian communities, they are dry communities and they’ve been dry because people have wanted them to be dry. Because they know the effects of alcohol and violence and they’ve been fighting against having these liquor licenses issued.
Look at Central Australia, the Women’s Night Patrol which started as a voluntary organisation and the women trying to do something about grog in their communities. At the same time we need to acknowledge what has been achieved and what has been done.
Rather than say ‘self-determination is a failure’ and things like that. Self-determination is very important and still important. It’s a very complex time I think for us. I don’t know, I don’t think there is an easy way forward. Like one question I was asked yesterday by a journalist: ‘What’s next for Aboriginal people?’ I don’t know.
That’s a bloody big question. How could I possibly answer it? I think things are complex. Like the intervention is complex. Central Land Council, for instance, has done a lot of research into what people who are the recipients of these intervention policies think about them. If you look at the data, they are in favour of a lot of the intervention programs.
You have to look at what the people are thinking on the ground as well. You look at what people actually say. If you read what Noel Pearson says, he says that he never agreed with the compulsory roll-out of it but people are saying that he does. That’s the thing about leadership isn’t it? You’ve got to put yourself out there and say what you think.
Your words will be misinterpreted, used by people like his words have been twisted by so many people and reapplied and reinterpreted. That’s what happens, that’s politics. Where am I getting to? I don’t know what the next answer is that’s why I’m not standing up saying things like people. Being like Noel and Larissa. That’s why I’m making films that educate. I’m doing what I can. My contribution is to educate and also entertain in these very grim times.
JOHN MAYNARD: I think you are right too. As I started with, we need to look to the past and take great pride in that as well, as I said. What people have achieved over a long period of time, particularly self-determination. That was a platform of my grandfather’s back in the ‘20s. The reality is – you mentioned education and health – at the Kempsey conference in 1925 where 700 hundred Aboriginal people were in attendance over three days.
All the papers presented by Aboriginal people – health and education were on the agenda and were papers delivered then. It just shows such a long history of this stuff. But still again, you have to look in the context of where we are. We’re still fighting for the same things in many respects. Maybe not at the same place. But we are still fighting for that sort of equality and that justice.
RACHEL PERKINS: I think a lot of the problem too is that the agenda is being led by –because the people aren’t on the streets and perhaps the leadership isn’t as vocal as it has previous been because we don’t have representative body for a whole range of reasons – we haven’t been leading the debate. In fact the media – journalists, non-indigenous journalists – have been leading the debate and running the debate on our behalf. And fairly young journalists with little experience in the indigenous community apart from perhaps living in Darwin or seeing things. Anyway, I don’t know. I was getting into different territory.
JOHN MAYNARD: I’m not sure, maybe we should open up to some questions now.
RACHEL PERKINS: Or comments?
JOHN MAYNARD: Or comments.
RACHEL Can I ask Peter what he thinks? I know that’s kind of like pointing at Peter and saying ‘Can you say something, Peter, because I think you have a view on this?’
MARTIN BALLANGARRY: Put your hand up, Peter. I don’t know who you are. Oh, that’s him. Now I know what you look like.
PETER READ: Thank you, Rachel. Speaking as a historian, I kind of wonder if Aboriginal leadership has matured sufficiently for there not to be a visionary leader any more. In other words, what we’ve arrived at is what the rest of Australia and in fact the rest of the world has arrived at. That is, that we are all arguing with each other.
Half of Australia thinks Mr Rudd is wonderful. He’s our visionary leader for those who want to follow him, the other half don’t agree at all. They would rather follow somebody else. If you a Green, you follow somebody else all together, so he’s our visionary leader.
It’d be too much to expect any one Australian leader to speak for all of us. You’re lucky if you get anyone to speak for most of us. That’s one point. Maybe the great days of great protest have gone and won’t come back.
MARTIN BALLANGARRY: People have no time.
PETER: Partly for that reason and partly because as we all now Aboriginal communities are not only accused of being dysfunctional, but everyone is rowing with each other. That’s much more apparent now than it was in 1970, but maybe what we got back to is what Aboriginal communities have always done. That is to say, rowed with each other.
That’s what’s emerging now. How do we get around that? Or as an observer, well you know first of all the Treaty Committee started about 1975 and then later on Reconciliation Australia really encouraged local aspects. Individual Treaty Committees set up all over the place.
And then, individual reconciliation groups, who did a hell of a lot of good work all over the place. That was the message coming through. It was, look, if you have a problem locally, we will fix it locally. That would mean that even if you’ve got three or four Aboriginal groups rowing in the same town, it doesn’t mean to say that they can’t combine for a common cause like, ‘In our town, there is not a single Aboriginal person in a front-of-house position talking to white people because that’s the local policy of the town.’
People can still combine at a local level for that kind of thing, in other words a local problem with a local solution. I think because we don’t hear about those things, we tend to underestimate how much has been achieved. It’s kind of Rachel’s point in a way. But I’d make it not just at a national level. I’d certainly agree with that. But a hell of a lot is being achieved locally.
As uncle would say, I’ve seen that picture of the smoking ceremony at the Bowraville theatre. It’s so exciting to see that picture. I’m not sure if it’s in the exhibition or not. It’s amazing considering what Bowraville used to be like at the time Rachel’s dad led the students there.
So there is two points to make, that maybe we can’t expect that leadership anymore, not because things have got bad but because Aboriginal leadership has matured. We now have our individual leaders and whoever we want to follow, we do follow. We can’t expect a unity anymore.
MARTIN BALLANGARRY: But we gotta. We do gotta try and get that unity.
JOHN MAYNARD: That’s a sad reflection, Peter, with the problems we face at community level. I think people have got to mobilise behind making change for health and certainly housing and unemployment. Certainly we’ve got common goals that we need people to mobilise behind. I think you did mention that in that respect. There are things that we have to overcome and we have to pull together on.
BARBARA PAULSON: Hi. My name is Barbara Paulson and I’m with the National Museum. One of the things I just wanted to ask, Rachel is sort of alluding to it but hasn’t quite said it yet. And that is, we are moving along, we are maturing as indigenous people and representing our voice. When we protest our ideas and issues, we are doing it in a more sophisticated way.
And Brothablack is an absolutely brilliant example of how that voice and how our issues are being expressed. We had to protest in the street. Our forefathers, our uncles and aunties everyone had to protest in the street because that’s where the voice could be heard and would be heard whereas nowadays we don’t have to, as indigenous people across Australia.
We don’t have to protest in the street to get our voice heard. We can actually write up a press release. We can actually make a film where these stories and the subtext and the complexities of these issues gets produced and then get put out there for people who are interested to go watch it and have an insight and an understanding of the difference in culture.
You’ve got even the art forum. You’ve got all kinds of places now. The protest and the issues that we want may be the same. All of the things that we need to achieve as individual communities and as people can still move forward with the same issues and we still want to say the same thing but we have to do it in a new way and we are doing it in a new way.
We are doing it through art, through song and through film – through these new medias. I just wanted to say that. Rachael was alluding to it but she hasn’t actually said that yet.
RACHEL PERKINS: I suppose I wonder whether that’s enough though. I don’t know whether that’s enough. It’s very intangible. Having people hang Aboriginal art in their house. It happens everywhere now. Yes that’s lovely, but does that make any difference to the level of education achievement in remote communities or the level of funding to housing, in wherever it is?
Yes there are all of these. I make films and people say that’s lovely and I speak to, probably, a converted audience who already agree pretty much with me who are learning a bit more. I would like to think that that’s enough because that’s what I do. That’s what a lot of people I know do. Bangarra does their dance at the Opera House, it’s beautiful, they tour round the world, it’s great. But is that actually enough? See I don’t think it is enough.
MARTIN BALLANGARRY: It’s not enough.
RACHEL PERKINS: Maybe we do have those people and maybe they are doing it. They probably are. Maybe they are doing it on a state and federal level, negotiating with senior ministiers. They just only decided that they are going to write a national language policy in the year 2009, when we have 50 languages that are expected to survive.
There are still these critical issues that I don’t think we are getting the traction on enough. I feel really inadequate that I’m not doing more about it and I don’t know who is. I’m a bit ignorant about it. I know that there used to be a department that worked on that and battled with ministers about budgets. Maybe Tom Calma’s in there doing it, but I don’t really know who is. Who is banging down Rudd’s door and who is arguing?
MARTIN BALLANGARRY: And how do you get to Rudd’s door?
RACHEL PERKINS: I don’t whether it’s enough. I think we could get a bit comfortable with things too. Maybe someone knows.
JOHN MAYNARD: It’s hard to see in the light, standing here. [laughs]
MAN: The exhibition has some great examples of both Aboriginal male and female leaders since the 1920s. The new Tom Calma model which hasn’t been accepted yet, but has positions for a male and female Aboriginal leader, a very difficult position to be in. Do any of the panel members have suggestions on who those leaders should be or is that putting you on the spot?
RACHEL PERKINS: Cathy Freeman, she’s great.
MAN: And Chuck.
RACHEL PERKINS: I don’t think that’s really our role, is it?
JOHN MAYNARD: It’s putting us on the spot a little bit. I think there is a whole host of people out there that you’d think would be suitable for such position.
MARTIN BALLANGARRY: Well, I put my hand up.
JOHN MAYNARD: Uncle’s already got the experience of the Bowraville council.
MARTIN BALLANGARRY: But the thing you were mentioning earlier, you’ve got to be squeaky clean before you can get registered, but aren’t we registered already with the government? We’re all getting income.
RACHEL PERKINS: I think there is a question.
JOHN MAYNARD: There is a question.
MARTIN BALLANGARRY: Where?
LEE: G’day, John, from Newcastle, my name is Lee. I currently work in government – won’t say where. Basically, first off, your dad is a massive role model for a lot of indigenous people who are going through university at the moment. A lot of us believe if it wasn’t for what he did at the Freedom Rides, probably the Referendum wouldn’t have happened, ‘cos it exposed racism in this country to the whole population.
About Noel Pearson, his name is mud in a lot of black eyes because John Howard went to him as the go-to man. But him and another fellow who’s involved in education in Queensland, Chris Sora, both of them, especially Chris, they reckoned the community needed to stand up. Every community is dysfunctional.
Chris Sora went to a town in Cherbourg in Queensland. The literacy rate was something like 26 percent. He got it up to 94 percent, and in something like five years, because he made the community stand up and realise that they’re accountable to their future generations. What’s your opinion of that?
JOHN MAYNARD: Yeah, now that’s a great step that Chris took. As I mentioned earlier when I first set off, when you look back at ATSIC and its destruction, the point was then, that ATSIC was failing right across the country.
That was not the case. I mean, I’ve worked in every state and territory, there are many areas where ATSIC was working. The same thing with our communities. I mean, the media focuses on, it’s always Aboriginal communities are dysfunctional. There’s many Aboriginal communities that have long histories of success, where people are prospering and they’re doing well. I mean, that’s the reality. It’s not that every Aboriginal community is dysfunctional. That really needs to be looked at.
But, again, the model that Chris has put up, and Chris is certainly a leader for the future, and is a person who’s making great strides, so I really support what he’s done there. And it just does go to show, if someone goes in there and does something like that, what can be done.
In regards to that, just look at what one person can do. I mean, years ago I was out and working in western New South Wales, in Wilcannia. And I was talking to the Aboriginal liaison officer of the school. And, well, actually when I drove into Wilcannia, and there was a big gathering of blackfellas out on the edge of town, and I said to the liaison officer the next day, I said, ‘What’s the big do at the edge of town yesterday?’
And he said, ‘Oh, a young schoolteacher got killed.’ He said, ‘The community’s devastated.’ The liaison officer told me, he said, like, ‘People go there…’ – this is 13–14 years ago.
Teachers used to go into Wilcannia, but they didn’t really want to be there, you know. They’d be living in at Broken Hill or somewhere else, and they’d come on Monday and they wouldn’t bring their families with them. They’d be there and they’d speak to the kids, teach the kids in a very sort of clinical manner, no connection with them, then they’d be in the car and back out of town.
This guy arrived, a young guy, did the same sort of thing for the first two weeks, and then went to the liaison officer and said, ‘Look. This is not working.’ Now the liaison officer said ‘I nearly fell over’ – that someone has that recognition.
He said, ‘Would it be all right if I went down to the Mish and speak to some of the families, the parents, about what we can do?’ He said, ‘Yes, you can.’ And he was going down there and having cups of tea with people.
It finished up the young guy had his wife and family there, they’d go out with families and spend the weekend camping together. The kids’ improvement in school was dramatic, and it’s just that recognition and the stance of one person to actually make a difference.
And that can happen very, very quickly. And sadly, this young guy was killed in a car accident. So, that was the devastating loss. But that does show indigenous and non-indigenous people who take that step can make a significant difference wherever they are. So, good point.
RACHEL PERKINS: Does that answer your question?
MARTIN BALLANGARRY: You’re happy with it.
CHRISTINE: My name is Christine and I work at the National Museum, with Barbara.
MARTIN BALLANGARRY: Speak up, I can’t hear you.
CHRISTINE: Sorry? Can you what?
MARTIN BALLANGARRY: I can’t hear you. I’m a bit deaf; you need to speak up.
CHRISTINE: Oh. Is that right?
MARTIN BALLANGARRY: Yeah.
CHRISTINE: So, I wanted to make a bit of a stand for history. I want to come back to something that Rachel said, because you know, I’m talking from the point of view of someone who went through the education system and knew absolutely nothing about Aboriginal people in this country at the end of my schooling.
And so, I know you guys are talking about sort of education of Aboriginal people, you know, in your own communities and your own young people, but also, one of the experiences that I had recently was when your series First Australians was on, Rachel – on television, and you know, us who sort of work in the field of history, were kind of getting together after each episode and going, ‘Oh, what did you think of last night’s? Oh yeah, you know…’
RACHEL PERKINS: God, how terrifying.
CHRISTINE: I know, I shouldn’t be telling you this. This is our secret.
RACHEL PERKINS: Thank God I didn’t know.
CHRISTINE: And we’re all saying, ‘But I already knew that.’
RACHEL PERKINS: It’s like having a movie show on every night: five stars, two stars…
CHRISTINE: Yeah, the historian’s review.
RACHEL PERKINS: Yeah, God.
CHRISTINE: And we were kind of going, ‘Doesn’t everybody know this?’ And then I had friends ringing me up from Melbourne going, ‘Oh, my God, did you see this thing on TV last night? Have you ever heard of a guy called Barak…’ And we’re sort of going – there’s an unbelievable level of ignorance in the community about our own histories.
I mean, I’m a Melbournian and I grew up near Hillsville and knew nothing about my own history of my own place and our very tangled communities because we’re kind of all in this together. And so I guess this exhibition here – I have to just sort of come back to that – is a really fantastic example of our own history and what a great celebration of the heroes within our own history.
And I’d really like to see that kind of history, biography and histories, that are located in places that kids and people can relate to very personally, finding its way into the curriculum. And what sort of processes are in place for that to happen?
JOHN MAYNARD: I can just comment on the fact that I’m currently co-editor of a new – this is New South Wales – with the Board of Studies and the new Aboriginal studies textbook aimed at year 11 and year 12, and it is exactly that. Contributors will be people like Larissa Behrendt and John Mundine and John Lester and Carl Watson, Peter Read, and Heather Goodall amongst others. It’s aimed at students and teachers, of course, but also I think we’d be looking at TAFEs and things like that.
But it’s a different history. I mean, we want to look at making history exciting and dynamic. And there’s so much Aboriginal history that’s basically still not known. We know there’s been incredible change since the ‘70s. I was saying earlier to someone that when I came through school in the ‘60s the only blackfella I read about was Jackie Jackie, and he was a good blackfella.
But the reality is that we have made incredible change since that time but, believe me, it’s just the tip of the iceberg of what’s still buried there as far as this is concerned, both in archives – in national and state archives — but more importantly, a lot of those little local historical societies and museums and every bloody town in this country. And also in people’s garages, wardrobes, suitcases. There’s that much stuff. And also, of course, in oral memory, which is a critical one for us. There is a lot of stuff there that still has to come out. So this is critical to getting that message out.
In this new textbook we’re looking at case studies so I’ll be looking at Newcastle, where I was born and grew up in. And people can actually relate to the area they’re in. They can learn about Aboriginal culture and the history of where they are and they can connect with that in a way that you don’t find in a lot of textbooks in that way.
And I think you’re right. I mean, certainly we’ve said this before at the meeting that Rachel’s in, for me, history in the future – the big way to get out the message, particularly to educate ignorance in wider white Australia, is that medium, is movies. I mean, Rabbit Proof Fence and even Australia made a massive impact, you know, whether you liked them or you didn’t. But the reality is that it got people talking.
And the same with First Australians. I mean, that’s the medium we’ve got to utilise now. Historians in the United States have been using that medium for a long time. And that’s something, the blackfella, we’ve just scratched the surface now. But that’s where we’ve got to go. And that’s the way you’ll get that message out there. So, I hope that answers it.
AUNTY: [inaudible 1:12:21]. My father’s side was South Sea Island, from Vanuatu. I grew up on the Tweed. I was born in Coolangatta and lived in Tweed Heads, but I’m a true blue. I follow the blues. But I’ve lived in Brisbane. I went to school with Lester Bostock in Tweed Heads but then 50 years ago went looking for work with some girls. And ended up in Brisbane and married Frank Pickwick, Troy’s father. And that’s my sister-in-law with me today. She’s a Pickwick too.
But I think we need a new leader like Charlie Perkins. We need someone like Obama we can look up to. We haven’t got that. We’re just fighting amongst ourselves. You talk to this fella, he’s fighting with that fella. I’ve got a white neighbour next to me and we’ve been fighting for 40 years.
AUNTY: The kids started it and I carried it on.
TROY: No, that’s all wrong. It’s all wrong.
AUNTY: It was Glynn, the other fella. Him and Troy, they used to play football in the front yard and back. Then I bought some rose bushes and planted them in the front yard. The next minute they’re planting them in the backyard. They said you don’t have rose flowers in the football field.
AUNTY: Troy wouldn’t get out when they were playing cricket.
TROY: That’s enough now. [laughs]
JOHN MAYNARD: Tell us some more about Troy, Auntie.
AUNTY: He and the brother, he’d chase him down the road with the bat. He should play for Australia.
JOHN MAYNARD: Any more questions?
TROY: This is my mother, actually. I studied for many years. I think that we have highlighted so much about indigenous people. There is so much more that we can do, really. I have looked at stuff in the museum down here. We have a whole swag of objects here that’s just – physics, engineering. It’s brilliant. It’s absolutely brilliant.
It’s something that Australia should actually look at and appreciate and so much more constructively. My mother here has been a wonderful woman. She’s been a woman here that I am exceptionally proud of. She raised a lot of kids and has done it under extreme duress and hardship. They’re the stories that we should be looking at. It’s something that’s not quite highlighted as well as it could be.
JOHN MAYNARD: Well said, brother. I think Aunty’s touched on an important point too. We see Barack Obama in the United States today and had the opportunity to look at lots of historical connections between African–Americans from the 1920s right through to the ‘60s and ‘70s for me, and even up to the present day.
My thoughts are that we’re probably about 70 or 80 years behind African–Americans with where they are today. I think there is an emerging middle class in Aboriginal Australia today. We are having people move into government positions. Into more high official positions and that sort of thing but I still think we are about 70-odd years behind.
RACHEL PERKINS: What about the Native Americans?
JOHN MAYNARD: This is an interesting thing. People actually always say that to me. I’ve done so much stuff in the US and looking at the African–American stuff. In the ‘20s, the Aboriginal political movement here connected with the African–Americans primarily because they are on the docks. They are meeting African–Americans. So they had conversations with people that come into contact with their ideology and they had access to their manifestos.
There was nothing in the Australian newspapers about Native Americans in the 1920s. There was an awful lot about Marcus Garvey, the baddest blackfella on the planet and the political group that he was leading in the United States at that time. Similarly in the 1960s when Charlie emulated Martin Luther King. Television made a massive impact in the country in the ‘60s.
If you think back and you see that image of that time it started to appear in people’s lounge rooms, you had the civil rights movement in the US. You had this enormous divisive war in Vietnam in your loungeroom. It wasn’t censored then. People were getting blown up and shot down and all that sort of stuff. So that made an impact.
The Black Panthers, Malcolm X, all of those connections – it was to the Black Panthers that Aboriginal people in Redfern and Sydney sort of related to. Again, the Native American experience wasn’t there. The connections weren’t there. Historically, there is a mirror image as far as Native Americans are concerned with Aboriginal Australia. The whole history of it, the dispossession, the invasion, the kids being taken away, the massacres, it’s just a mirror image.
RACHEL PERKINS: It still exists. It’s still there.
JOHN MAYNARD: It’s still there today. I’ve had the good fortune to travel quite a bit of the US in recent years. The Native American experience isn’t even covered by the press. We get a lot more press here than they get over there. A lot of our stuff might be bad, 90 per cent of it, but the reality is we do get a lot of coverage.
In the US they don’t. That is the difference there. I’m actually hoping to do a comparative study with early Aboriginal political movements and Native American movements which I have gathered a lot of material on. I’m still looking to try and uncover if there are any connections there. Believe me, if there are, I’ll find them. [laughs]
SAMANTHA: Hi, Samantha from Canberra. Thanks very much for all the number of issues that you have all covered previously. Two comments, if you just care to say something about them as well. One is that I think we are all leaders too in our own rights and there’s that diversity. Some of us might be leaders in health, education, and so on.
Some of us might just be plain moms and leaders and role models for our younger kids and the next generation to come through. We should be supporting others as well, our peers. But also supporting and mentoring the next generation at all levels and at all ages.
Secondly, not to forget the Torres Strait Islander stories and voices as well too. More often than not, the main focus, obviously is on the Aboriginal stories as well but the Torres Strait has had forms of protest such as the 1936 Maritime Strike and also 1992, the Mabo decision as well too.
RACHEL PERKINS: Yes, we are aware of that. I wouldn’t suggest that we’re overlooking the Torres Strait Islander movement at all and no one could forget what Mabo and his co-claimants, Dave Passey and others, achieved. Please don’t think that we are giving an Aboriginal-isolated view on that because that’s certainly not the intention.
I think we are all leaders and we all must take responsibility for our own lives and our own children. That doesn’t negate the fact that like any community we need leadership. And when it comes down to it, who is the person that you are going to walk after in the street? Who is the person that you are going to trust to go and speak to someone important on you behalf?
Are you going to allow someone – who are you going to follow? If someone rings you up and says, ‘Right, come on, Rachel, we’re going to go stand outside here and stand out there. We’re going to camp there for three months until we have achieved this thing not happening.’ You need people to motivate and unite and draw together a people and to create change. That’s what we need. We are all leaders, yes, but you need leadership to lead people.
JOHN MAYNARD: You need a rallying point that’s for sure.
RACHEL PERKINS: You can’t underestimate that, I don’t think.
JOHN MAYNARD: Yea that’s right.
RACHEL PERKINS: One more.
JOHN MAYNARD: Oh one more?
CON: I hate to say this, but I’m Con from Canberra. About 40 years ago, I had the honour of meeting what I thought at the time was a remarkable man, and still do, is Rachel’s father. We ran through the number of indigenous people who had post-secondary qualifications at that stage. I think Charlie knew them all, and the reason for that was because there weren’t very many at all. I believe today there are about 30,000 indigenous people who have secondary qualifications.
RACHEL PERKINS: 15,000. Fifteen thousand and 8,500 currently.
MAN: OK thanks. And, still, a many thousand percent improvement over what it was like in the very early 1970s. At that time, I think Aboriginal people owned zero percent of Australia. I think the figure round about now would be about 17 or 18 percent, a huge achievement.
I think I have to say personally, I don’t feel reconciled. I actually don’t expect to feel reconciled before I die. I think there are far too many issues that I feel terribly uncomfortable with but at the same time, I think that tremendous progress has been made in the face of almost indescribable obstacles and challenges. Really – in my mind –a magnificent achievement.
I’d like to just ask each of the panel members briefly: we’ve heard the road mentioned and I believe that a lot of the arguments between indigenous leaders at the moment are about different pathways to the end of the road. And I’m just wondering if each of you would mind, just briefly, saying what do you see? What would the end of the road be like? What would it be like?
RACHEL PERKINS: Ladies first. Well, I think the end of the road would be a society that understands its indigenous and settler history as a shared identity that represents the nation of people and that that is a shared Australian heritage. That there is a pride in that heritage.
I think that the end of the road would also be that indigenous people have equivalent standards of life expectancy, health, employment and standard of living that we still haven’t achieved.
And I think that the end of the road would be a society that embraces – I know I’m sort of repeating myself – but embraces indigenous culture. That you can be equal and distinct at the same time.
And there’s a whole other range of things. Like, I’d love indigenous language to be revitalised across the country. I’d love a whole range of things. I’d love an indigenous radio station, a television service in each town. But broadly speaking, those are the… to be socially equal with the same quality of life and to be accepting and embracing the dual indigenous and settler identities and heritage.
JOHN MAYNARD: There may be an Aboriginal prime minister and a full Cabinet. [laughter] But no, I certainly back up what Rachel has just said, which pretty much covered what I was going to say. But certainly, the equality and justice and those measurements of socioeconomic disadvantage really have to be set to and pushed back to where we’re at that level playing field.
And again I go back to my grandfather all those years ago, demanding enough land for each and every Aboriginal family in the country. And if his demands had been made 85 years ago, we would already be in an economic situation today, we would be already prospering from decades of being able to sustain ourselves and build upon.
So yeah, I think that’s the position for me.
MARTIN BALLANGARRY: Well, I agree in principle with both speakers. I still suggest we’ve got a long way with equality in this country. Realistically, we’ve still got to work with the undercurrent aspects out there.
There’s a lot of good people, good people that mean well in here. But there are a lot of people out there who want to destroy everything and every little bit of what Aboriginals have achieved and what Torres Straight Islanders have achieved.
You have that element out there, definitely there are, you know. I, for one, I’m in council. I’ve seen the remnants of the culture that we’ve got left. It’s not much. But is it enough? As far as I’m concerned, the culture has been stripped, realistically, in big ways.
My grandfather and my father, their dancing stopped between 1930 to ‘38. The dancing stopped. Why did the dancing stop? The dancing stopped because of the white man’s law. They weren’t allowed to talk or speak or sing or dance. I’m very hurt about that because that was taken from me by white man’s law.
But we’ve got to adhere to that law today. We’ve still got to sit back. We say we’ve come this far. Come on guys, are we kidding ourselves? I’m no kidder. I believe we’re still two steps back here. I can get emotional about this but I feel…
I gave an address, I was restricted on what I had to say on the 26th of January when I first got in council. So I got up there and spoke – they wanted me to do a welcome, do a dance and all that – so I got up and spoke in the first language of this land. Gave a welcome in this first language of this country. And then I gave an interpretation with the second language, which is English.
So, out of the fire we come. I’m sorry, but there are a lot of people that will be pulling the rugs out from us. As far as Mr Calma, how far has he got? In the last two years, five years, I’ve been looking at our leaders. Where are we? You said how many? 1500?
RACHEL PERKINS: 15,000.
MARTIN BALLANGARRY: 15,000 leaders out there?
RACHEL PERKINS: 15,000 university graduates.
MARTIN BALLANGARRY: University graduates, Ok. So are they classified as leaders or what?
RACHEL PERKINS: Well I don’t know. What do you think? Potential leaders.
MARTIN BALLANGARRY: Potential leaders, OK. If you can get them all to contact me and we can talk about how to help bring equality and justice to our people in this country. I guarantee you I’ll give this a fair go. Because I’m lobbying for the position to be the leader of our people. Because I’m fair and I’m just. I’m the most honest councilor in our local government level here. Why did you laugh?
MICHAEL: I think we’ve just gone a little bit over time.
MARTIN BALLANGARRY: Yeah, sorry about that. I get carried away. It’s my only opportunity – sorry.
RACHEL PERKINS: You should have your own TV show! You’d be like Oprah of Australia or something.
JOHN MAYNARD: But look, before we do finish, we’ve got an example of contemporary, if you like, Aboriginal political protest. We’ve got a resolution here of the ‘Get Up, Stand Up’ forum at the National Museum of Australia. And Rachel has actually written this up as we sat across at lunch together. It certainly comes from us and certainly with your backing, we hope. But here’s what it says:
The below speakers and those gathered at the National Museum of Australia’s forum ‘Get Up, Stand Up’, call upon Minister Garrett to exercise his discretionary powers and appoint an indigenous person with relevant expertise to the Board of National Museum of Australia.We further note with concern that since the opening of this institution, no indigenous person has held such a position, which is remiss in a national cultural institution.Agreed on behalf of those present, John Maynard, Rachel Perkins, Shannon Williams and Martin BallangarrySigned the 10th of September.
So we hope you may support our resolution. [applause]
JOHN MAYNARD: And look, just to close, I’d like to thank everyone for coming along and attending today and it’s been great to have you here today. And also I have to give some kudos to the National Museum of Australia for having us here for a couple of days and the wonderful exhibition they’ve put on.
And certainly Jay and Troy and Karen and all the staff have worked very, very hard. But hopefully they’ll be able to bang on some doors and make some noise as far as this is concerned. So thanks very much, everybody. [applause]
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Date published: 01 January 2018