Recently I had the honour of witnessing the unveiling of a truly inspiring sculpture of Bunjil, the Koori Creator Spirit at the local Aboriginal Gathering Place, Willum Warrain, in Hastings. I have never seen a more arresting or fierce depiction of Bunjil. It spoke of how Bunjil carefully watches over his people.
The atmosphere at the opening was one of reverence, pride and welcome. The sacred smoking ceremony cleansed the attendees. Bunurong / Boon Wurrung elder Chris West revealed the statue. Ever since I was invited as a non-indigenous person to become an associate member of my local Aboriginal association, these emotions have been present.
For a number of years I have been an avid reader of much literature about how the first nations people in Australia really cared for and cultivated the land, and the unspeakable violence and injustice done to them by my forebears. I felt such a sense of shame and trepidation in trying to get to know and honour the Aboriginal people where I have worked and where I live. I also felt such awe in discovering the incredibly sustainable care for the land that predated European colonisation, such as described by Aboriginal author Bruce Pascoe in “Dark Emu” (see link below).
And I have been encouraged by the welcome and openness of many Aboriginal people I have met. I remember an Aboriginal Liaison officer saying the only way to start to get to know is to ask questions, to approach with humility, but not to be silent. Being silent, not acknowledging, ignoring will never bridge the gap. Even if what I say might be the wrong thing, if I approach sincerely and genuinely, the Aboriginal people I meet will let me know!
In different parts of Australia that I have visited, the curiosity to know how different first nations have developed (and been treated in past times, or are treated now) has opened an encylopaedia of stories.
I encourage all Australians to not be silent, but to get to know the wonderful history and culture of the first nations. Enquire at your local Aboriginal information centres. Melbourne Museum is a good place to start (see link below). Approach local Aboriginal associations. I did, and was not disappointed.
So much of the reconciliation between non-indigenous people and first nations people will be enabled by finding out, individual relationships starting. After the shameful past, there is a lot of healing and mending to be done, but we can all start with small steps.