NACCHO Aboriginal Health News: The Long Cry of Indigenous People’s to be heard – a defining moment in Australia

The Long Cry of Indigenous People’s to be heard!

Australia and the World Annual Lecture.

Pat Turner, AM CEO NACCHO and Lead Convenor of the Coalition of Peaks National Press Club Speech:        The Long Cry of Indigenous People’s to be heard -a defining moment in Australia.

I would like to start by acknowledging the country and traditional owners of the land we are meeting on today.

We are meeting on Ngunnawal country.

I pay my respects to the Elders past and present; and thank them for their continuing openness to have us live, work and meet on their land.

The Indigenous practice of acknowledging your place, and the place you are on, is something that has existed for thousands of generations. It is a way of being heard.

Acknowledgment of Country is about respecting and hearing the unwritten history of place. It is an assertion of our unceded sovereignty.

I would also like to thank Professors Sally Wheeler; Brian Schmidt; Paul Pickering and Mark Kenny of the Australian National University for inviting me to give this year’s ‘Australia and the World,’ annual lecture.

I also thank the National Press Club for supporting this important national conversation.

Our shared cry to be heard

Indigenous peoples across the globe share similar histories.

We share deep attachments to our land, our cultures, our languages, our kin, and families.

These attributes have developed over millennia to harmonise with the natural environment, manage and sustain natural resources, and to facilitate meaningful and healthy lives.

They reflect core values that have served us, and the wider world, remarkably well.

Indigenous peoples also share histories of colonisation, violent dispossession, overt and disguised racism, trauma, extraordinary levels of incarceration, and genocidal policies including child removal, assimilation, and cultural and linguistic destruction.

These histories were — and are — real and alive, both in the way we see the world and in the political and social structures that have been imposed upon us.

In last year’s Boyer Lectures, Rachel Perkins quoted the poet Oodgeroo Noonuccal: ‘Let no-one say the past is dead. The past is all around us’.

And Rachel cited her father, my uncle, Charles Perkins, who would say: ‘We cannot live in the past; the past lives in us’.

In other words, we cannot forget the past. We all must work to make sense of it, to come to terms with it.

We must work to overcome the inter-generational consequences that are all too real for so many Indigenous peoples.

In his 1968 Boyer Lectures, anthropologist, Bill Stanner, identified the propensity of non-Indigenous Australians to not see, to forget, and to actively disremember the consequences of colonisation.

He termed this ‘the Great Australian Silence’. What he didn’t say, but it was inferred, is that this structural silence necessarily means also shutting out Indigenous voices.

Four years later, Stanner quoted Dr Herbert Moran, surgeon, medical innovator, and first captain of the Wallabies, who wrote in 1939:

We are still afraid of our own past. The Aborigines we do not like to talk about. We took their land, but then we gave them in exchange the Bible and tuberculosis, with for special bonus alcohol and syphilis. Was it not a fair deal? Anyhow, nobody ever heard them complain about it.

Portrait of Patricia Turner, an Aboriginal health advocate who is CEO of NACCHO, in her office in Canberra. Picture by Sean Davey for The Australian

Nobody ever heard them complain about it!

Of course, we know now that there has been a long history of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander complaint, protestation, resistance, resolve and repudiation.

Two hundred and fifty years ago, Lieutenant James Cook ordered his sailors to open fire on two remonstrating Gweagal men as he came ashore.

From that day to the present day, courageous Indigenous men and women have sought to be heard regarding the ownership and meaning of this land and the rights of its First Peoples.

Pemulwuy, Yagan, Multeggerah, Truganini, William Cooper, Bill Ferguson, Eddie Mabo, Charles Perkins, Jack Davis, Lowitja O’Donoghue, and others confronted and broke through Stanner’s Great Australian Silence.

However, for the most part, our lived experience has been that we have not been heard.

Hearing us involves more than merely being allowed to speak.

It involves more than merely listening.

It requires respectful engagement, two-way communication, and ultimately action.

It requires the non-Indigenous majority — most importantly governments — to act on what they have been told, and to explain their actions in response.

It is the essential ingredient in shared decision-making of policies, of programs, and crucially it is the essential ingredient for our self-determination.

Download the full speech here: PAT TURNER – AUSTRALIA AND THE WORLD ANNUAL LECTURE – 30.09.20