National Reconciliation Week (NRW) this year falls between Thursday the 27th of May and ends on 3rd of June and this year 2021 marks twenty years of Reconciliation Australia and almost three decades of Australia’s formal reconciliation process.
The powerful theme accompanying this year’s NRW urges Australian’s to engage; More than a word. Reconciliation takes action.
As compelling as taking action is, this week is also designed to educate Australians about our shared cultures, histories and achievements and a chance to explore how each of us can commit to attaining reconciliation in Australia. In order to do this we need to recognise that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders as the First Peoples of this land and rightful owners and acknowledge that as long as they are unable to equally contribute and be supported by this nation, Australia will never reach its full potential.
So why May 27th? It was on this date in 1967 the Australian Government held a referendum which was pivotal in Australian history and resulted in altering the Australian Constitution. Over 90% of Australians voted ‘Yes’ to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders to be included in the national census.
Before this referendum Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders did not have the same rights as other Australians under the constitution, including but not limited to:
-Vote in state elections.
-Marry whomever they choose.
-Own property wherever they choose.
-Be the legal guardians of their own children.
At its core, one of the most important outcomes of the referendum was to provide Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples with a symbol of recognition. The realisation of inequalities and by allowing the Australian Government the power to address them gave the 1967 referendum longstanding significance for all Australians.
So why June 3rd? It was on this date in 1992 the compelling legal decision was made by the High Court of Australia on the case of Mabo and others v Queensland.
When Eddie Mabo, a Torres Strait Islander, made a speech at James Cook University about his peoples ownership and inheritance of the land in 1981, a lawyer who listened to the speech asked if he wanted to challenge the Australian Government in court. This commenced the decade long case, and on the 3rd of June 1992, the High Court of Australia came to the decision that terra nullius (empty land or land that belongs to nobody) should not have been applied to Australia when the settlers from Britain arrived in 1788. This was a momentous conclusion as it established that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have rights to the land and that those rights that had existed 60,000 years before the British arrived and still exist today. This was an incredible turning point for the recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ rights, as it acknowledged their unique and eternal connection with the land. The case also led to the Australian Parliament passing the Native Title Act in 1993.
There are many ways you can show your support for NRW this year; each state will have activities and events as well as workplaces, schools, communities and families.
Melba proudly supports this week and acknowledges that the reconciliation process still has a long way to go, but we believe in justice and equality for all Australians.
Here at Melba this National Reconciliation Week, we acknowledge the Traditional Owners of the Land on which we stand. We acknowledge the Indigenous People of the Australia and pay our respects to Elders past and present.