NACCHO Aboriginal Health and #VOICE #ClosingtheGap : Read Minister @KenWyattMP ‘LOOKING FORWARD, LOOKING BACK’ – 19TH ANNUAL VINCENT LINGIARI MEMORIAL LECTURE Darwin 15 August 

” What are you going to do tomorrow, in three months’ time and in a year’s time? – good will, while important, will not allow us to complete this journey and positively shift the pendulum.

How can we elevate our successes?

How can we give voice to those who feel voiceless?

And, how can we make sure their voices are heard as loudly as those who come from Canberra and in the media?

I want you to remember these words from Vincent Lingiari:

“Let us live happily together as mates, let us not make it hard for each other… We want to live in a better way together, Aboriginals and white men, let us not fight over anything, let us be mates.”


The Hon Ken Wyatt AM MP

Kaya wangju – hello and welcome, in Noongar.

As a Noongar, Wongi and Yamatji man standing before you, I thank Bilawara for her warm welcome this evening.

I formally acknowledge the traditional custodians of the land on which we stand, the Larrakia people, and pay, my respects to Elders past, present and emerging.

Good evening to all of you who have joined us this evening and in particular, I want to acknowledge my brothers and sisters who, many that I’ve walked, the challenges of change with.

The words of a song that was sung by the much-loved Slim Dusty of Looking Back and Looking Forward was the basis for what I wanted to cover tonight because of several reasons but Slim in particular was loved by Indigenous Australians – Slim was a storyteller.

Since the beginning of our time our nation’s sacred knowledge and identity has been kept and shared in song and in transmission through our stories.

Song is important to our culture, and to Australian culture. Music and the stories presented through songs are understood and loved by all Australians.

In Slim’s case, his songs were heard drifting throughout Australia’s living rooms, pubs, town halls, on the old wireless radio and through the records we played.

Through his songs and storytelling, Slim brought Indigenous Australia into suburbia, into the minds and hearts of the nation and the wider Australian culture.

The words you would’ve heard in his song ‘Looking Forward, Looking Back’ – are very poignant – and help paint an image of modern-day Australia.

I won’t sing it to you, because that’ll sort of distract from the quality of the music, but as Slim says:

Looking Forward, Looking Back.

We’ve come a long way down the track.

We’ve got a long way left to go.

Indigenous Australians, in everything we do, draw on the insights of our journey, the knowledge and wisdom of the past, and use that to embrace our future generations.

As we look back, we see the tracks of those who’ve walked before us.

For each of us, looking back evokes different memories and experiences, but I want us to be able to Look Forward – together – with a united purpose and determination for our children and grandchildren. And whilst for us as well – we have lived our time.

That’s why I’m here, with you, at the 19th annual Lingiari Lecture.

Tonight I will outline how I see us walking together, to advance:

  • Local truth-telling;
  • Constitution Recognition of Indigenous Australians;
  • Giving voice to local communities; and
  • Addressing disadvantage in Indigenous Australia.

So why did I start with Slim?

I’m told that, back in the day, there were juke-boxes here in the Territory that had nothing but Slim Dusty records on them. And as a Slim Dusty and Country Western music fan, I can certainly understand that sentiment.

But the thing that I really admired about him was that he sang about the land, about country, about people and our Australian way of life.

He sang about us, and to us, travelling in the old purple with his caravan to many remote communities and country towns across Australia.

Slim once said the most valuable performance fee he ever received in his entire career was the fee paid by a young girl called Miriam from Daly River here in the Territory.

Miriam and the children of the Daly River Mission wanted to see Slim perform but they couldn’t travel to Darwin to see him.

So together they saved up some money and wrote to Slim offering him an attractive performance fee if he came to their town.

The performance fee they offered was five dollars. But that was good enough for Slim.

He came to Daly, accepted the fee, and put on a show.

Over the course of his life, he visited that community many times. He’d go out to the mustering camp for dinner and share their black tea and bully beef sandwiches.

He’d watch and learn as the women and children showed him how to look for minnamindi.

He learnt how to cook with the honey-bag the kids brought back from the wild bees.

He fished with them; he went shooting with them.

He was invited to corroborees and learned how to make ochre paint.

Knowing us – and really knowing us – meant he could sing about us. He could share our stories in ways we didn’t have the means to and he could tell us stories of other places and people that helped us to understand our neighbours around us.

He sang of Trumby the ringer who couldn’t read or write…he sang of The Tall Dark Man in the Saddle…and of the painter Albert Namatjira.

He sang of a man called Bundawaal, “a King without subjects or crown”; a tribal elder reflecting on past struggles and glories, who couldn’t stop “an alien race without pity or grace” eradicating his people.

The song was based on a story that the local Aboriginal people told Slim while he was on tour.

He was singing about this when hardly anyone else in Australia was talking about us in the same way that he sang.

Slim opened the door for Indigenous people themselves to share the stage in the Australian country music industry, some of these early Indigenous pioneers in the Country Music Industry were people like Auriel Andrew, Jimmy Little and Gus Williams, just to name a few.

Picture a time in Australia, and this is for all the young ones out there, because for many of us here tonight know what it’s like to be told:

Where we could – and could not – sit.

Where we could – and could not – go.

You couldn’t sit on a seat at the cinema – you had to sit on a milk crate at the front of the auditorium or the old chairs.

You couldn’t enter a pub.

But Slim Dusty’s concerts were open to all, and we could sit wherever we liked.

People like Slim helped shift the pendulum.

Throughout our history, advancements in Indigenous affairs have swung like a pendulum.

This pendulum has shifted, back and forth, sometimes bringing meaningful advancement for Indigenous Australians, through events and actions of our own people, such as:

  • Albert Namatjira becoming the first Indigenous Australian to be given restricted citizenship,
  • Charlie Perkins Freedom Ride,
  • The election of Neville Bonner in 1971 to our nation’s Parliament, the first Indigenous Australian to serve in the Australian parliament. If you ever get the opportunity, go to the old museum at the parliament, the Old Parliament, and read his diary entry. He has a pillow on display and the diary entry says “I was never invited to any event, any function. At the end of a day, I would leave my office, go home to my trusted friend, my pillow, and would lay my head down to rest.”
  • Eddie Mabo’s fight and victory for Native Title and land rights, and of course
  • Vincent Lingiari’s Wave Hill walk-off and a strike which led to the Native Land Rights Act in 1976.

These significant achievements shifted the pendulum positively, however this hasn’t always meant the pendulum stayed that way.

While we have succeeded in some areas, in others we have not.

Looking forward, we must address where we have failed.

Where we have failed to permanently shift the pendulum on fundamental disadvantage with Indigenous Australia, on factors such as;

  • The basic right to an education,
  • The value of a full-time job,
  • Access uniformly to health care – and the need to address alarming rates of suicide and mental illness in our community,
  • And much, much more.

As I stand here tonight, looking forward, I am optimistic about the opportunities that lie ahead for us – and equally as realistic about the challenges we must overcome.


As we embark on this journey – I am above all else wanting to have and encourage conversations across this nation – through these conversations we become more comfortable with each other, our shared past, present and future.

Truth-telling to me is not a contest of histories; it’s an understanding of history. It’s an acceptance that there can be shared stories around events in our nation’s history.

I recently spoke with an elderly woman who expressed her dismay that her childhood and education hadn’t featured the stories or history of Indigenous Australians.

In particular, she spoke about learning of massacres later in life and used the words to say that she had been lied to as a child.

I responded by saying that she wasn’t lied to, but she didn’t hear or have the opportunity to hear about our history through our eyes.

This is why we share and we need to share our history because it is important that the history of this nation is paralleled to the events that have occurred.

It is not about guilt. It is about acknowledging that there were events that occurred.

And we need to acknowledge that people will come to this debate from various angles, and perceptions of history – none of this is wrong, or should be dismissed or discouraged.

We cannot simply tell our truth through yelling.

It must be done through conversation.

For me, one of the most indelible moments that sparked a national conversation was that in December 1992 when the then Prime Minister Paul Keating delivered, what is now known as the Redfern Speech.

I had the fortune of being there.

The crowd was electrified and noisy, charged with energy and emotion.

I remember a bunch of balloons in the colours of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander flags bobbed on the roof above Keating’s head, and children dressed in red as they sat on the grass at the foot of the stage, trying to keep still but mostly failing.

Keating’s words that day have entered the history books, so has that speech.

The words most often quoted are his accounting of the deeds of non-Aboriginal Australians. He said:

We took the traditional lands and smashed the traditional way of life. We brought the diseases. The alcohol. We committed the murders.”

But it was the next line that caused the strongest reaction from the audience. You couldn’t miss it.

We took the children from their mothers.

Those seven words drew a loud outburst from the crowd.

It was raw emotion.

Yet, it was both positive and negative – but most of all it was a significant moment of truth-telling, by none other than our nation’s Prime Minister of the day.

That shifted the pendulum – and from that shift, in 2008 we saw Prime Minister Kevin Rudd issue an apology on behalf of the Commonwealth Government to the Stolen Generations.

And any one of us here tonight could probably remember where we were, who we were with and the way in which we watched that speech being delivered. But the reactions that were portrayed on the screens, the tears running down the faces of those who were most affected, and the sense of relief became a glaringly obvious moment based on the fact: the truth of the past had been acknowledged.

Whilst this was regarded by some as merely a symbolic gesture, as of 2015 the fact is that there are an estimated 13,800 surviving Indigenous Australians aged 50 and over who had been removed from their families and communities and considered part of the Stolen Generation.

The healing that resulted from this act of truth-telling cannot be quantified.

And while this took time, it does demonstrate that truth-telling today can lead to significant moments of reconciliation in the future.

If we walk together and acknowledge our shared history we can achieve permanent positive change.

Truth-telling is not best served by a national commission or similar interrogation of truth.

We all should know detailed stories of the areas in which we lived. All Australians – sharing the one history.

I personally would rather see an organic and evolving truth-telling, in which we share our stories, our acknowledgement of the events of the past, but the way in which we as a nation of people are melding together for a better future.

There has to be local storytelling of the history of the past. And it must be local, otherwise we gloss over those very elements that are important in country, within region, and we will only tend to focus on national stories.

Every story to do with our country is as equally important as the national stories.

Around kitchen tables, over the BBQ and in the backyard, down at the local football and netball clubs and in pubs – this is where permanent change will come from – not from loud voices in Canberra and the media.

The 2018 Joint Select Committee on Constitutional Recognition heard this first hand, and reported the following:

“A large number of stakeholders agreed that truth-telling is best implemented at local and regional levels.”

A key component of this local truth-telling is the fact that we must be comfortable having these conversations.

And comfortability is a two way street – for Indigenous Australians it means having the ability to speak our truth and have it heard; and for those seeking to understand, we must allow them to ask questions and contribute to the rigour of the conversation – whilst at all times maintaining respect for one another.

Until this happens, we won’t see the shift in the pendulum that we want to see and achieve.

Importantly, truth-telling is also an opportunity to celebrate the achievements of Indigenous Australians – we must stand proud and celebrate the progress we’ve made.

Too often the pictures painted are that of setback and failure, which simply reinforces the negative elements of our history.

I want us to lead in a positive manner – I want all of us to lead in a positive manner. And, I want to celebrate our successes and champion those who achieve and do great things. In sport we do that exceptionally well – we acknowledge Ash Barty, we acknowledge Cathy Freeman, and many of our high-level achieving sports men and women.

But we also need to do it for the things that we achieve personally, those matters that we achieve as a community, but as equally important is the success of a child at each stage of schooling. And I’m not talking about achieving significant reform here, which is certainly important.

What I’m referring to is the kid who didn’t finish school getting their first job, and keeping it, and finding themselves contributing member to their community.

We need to celebrate every child who goes to school and receives an education, the foundation of a more meaningful and purposeful life.

These quiet achievements are as much about what defines Indigenous Australia in 2019 as the differences, we all too often allow those differences to divide us.


Looking forward to our opportunity to shift the pendulum – let’s talk about Constitutional Recognition of Indigenous Australians.

Whilst the Constitution belongs to all Australians, it is important for the purpose of the conversations that I’ve spoken about tonight are so critical in achieving what we set out to do.

As I’ve said before – this is too important to rush, and it’s too important to get wrong.

On eight occasions, the Australian people have voted to change our founding document.

The Constitution is like the rule book for sport; it is the rule book of our nation.

On 36 other occasions they’ve been lost – and there 36 issues that have not come back to the Australian people to consider again in a referendum.

The most recent example of this being the 1999 Republic and Preamble Referendum – a campaign that saw a rift in our nation’s fabric – and result where not a single State carried a Yes vote – and often forgotten, is the fact that the vote on the Preamble was rejected by a greater margin than the question of the Republic.

This is not to say we can’t achieve Constitutional Recognition within the term of this Parliament.

But it is important that we learn from the 1999 Referendum, and reflect on how challenging it can be to translate good will into a positive outcome.

Looking back to 1967, and the Referendum put forward by the Coalition Holt Government, 90.77% of Australians voted to embrace our people as part of Australia.

Key to this was bi-partisan support, the simplicity of the question and a clear purpose for holding the Referendum.

I want to be very clear – the question we put to the Australian people will not result in what some desire, and that is a enshrined voice to the Parliament – on these two matters, whilst related, need to be treated separately.

This is about recognising Indigenous Australians on our Birth Certificate.

And I’ll talk about voice later on.

When I was elected in 2010, I was appointed to the Expert Panel on Constitutional Recognition of Indigenous Australians – we held public conversations in 84 urban, regional and remote locations and in every capital city – as well as the hundreds of meetings and around 3,500 submissions were received.

From this, the Panel reported to government in 2012, and subsequently we had three more reports to government on the same matter.

Each of these reports have looked at a set of words to put to the Australian people.

The words are there in those documents.

Our challenge now is finding a way forward that will result in the majority of Australians, in the majority of states, overwhelmingly supporting Constitutional Recognition. We must be pragmatic.

The Constitution belongs to all Australians, from those in Slim’s home town of Kempsey to those in my childhood town of Corrigin, no one of us can lay claim to the Constitution.

It belongs to us collectively, and it belongs to those who came before us, and most importantly, it will belong to our children and our grandchildren.

I’m not thinking about what I can achieve for myself, or concerned about my legacy, I’m focused on realising recognition for my children, your children and generations to come.

Let me challenge the loudest voices in this debate – now is our opportunity to do this, and it will require understanding and tolerance of all views.

If we don’t seize the opportunity now, it may be lost for all of time – we must not allow this to happen – so I invite you to walk with all Australians on this journey.

It’s not about walking with me, or walking the path of any one individual – it’s about walking in the footsteps of those who’ve come before us, to create a new path for all Australians.

This is not an issue that can be viewed through the prism of political ideologies and all Australian politics have a way to go.

I ask my colleagues, from all sides, to remember what is your first duty as a Member of Parliament – and that is to listen to and represent the views of your community.

There is a lot of work to do on this journey – we haven’t had a referendum since 1999 – and we must educate a new generation on the importance of the Constitution and the significance of the change we are asking for.

This will require all of us to lay the foundation through education and conversation – that is the first step.

I had a young Australian ask me the other day when to expect their ballot to arrive in the mail to post back and wanted to be part of this change.

I had to explain to her the difference between the recent postal plebiscite to recognise same-sex Marriage and the difference between what a referendum is and how it works.

Having these conversations are as important as the conversations we have about why we need to recognise Indigenous Australians in the Constitution and demonstrates the steps we need to consider to achieve this.

Let’s start these conversations, which may seem very basic to us, but are very important to realising success.

The pendulum will shift – but it’s up to us to determine which way.


Let me now turn to voice and being heard.

Having your voice heard is going to look very different to how your neighbour sees their voice being heard.

In Australia today, there are almost 800,000 Indigenous voices – all of equal importance and relevance.

Therein lies the complexity of defining ‘a voice’.

The voice is multi-layered and multi-dimensional.

I see rooted in our elders, who are the basis for our knowledge, culture and lore, and rooted in our communities, and extending through the ways in which all levels of government, service providers and corporations engage and work with our people.

Too often I visit communities and I’m told that their voice isn’t being heard because needs are not being met on the ground and we certainly heard that at Garma for those who were in attendance.

And others, who say that they want their local member of parliament to hear their voice.

How we give voice to these Australians is through conversation and understanding.

Knowing what is happening, knowing what needs to happen – and work with leaders and individuals within our communities to develop the practical solutions that see a shift in the pendulum at the most local of levels.

Having these voices heard is not only a matter for the Commonwealth government – it’s a matter for State and Territories, local governments and service providers.

That’s why I’ve tasked the National Indigenous Australians Agency with changing the way they engage – to ensure that the priority is meeting the needs of local communities first.

I’m often asked about the commitment of the Morrison Government but let me assure you that the Morrison Government is committed to a co-design process so we ensure we have the best possible framework in place to hear those voices at the local, regional and national level.

More will be said in the months to come, and much like Constitutional Recognition, it’s too important to rush, or to get wrong.

This is about ensuring Indigenous voices are heard as loudly as any other Australian voice is.

Again – this is a journey for all Australians to walk, and through conversations we must respect, understand and address all perspectives on this matter.

Giving voice to Indigenous Australians, and realising Constitutional Recognition are the greatest opportunities in our lifetime, but they are not mutually-exclusive.

This must be remembered if we are to shift the pendulum.


But what about shifting the pendulum tomorrow?

There are things that we can be doing, as individuals, as parts of organisations and as members of communities to positively shift the pendulum.

Don’t think that any one action you can take won’t lead to meaningful change – the individual actions of those here tonight, let alone all those across this nation, has the potential to improve lives and outcomes for our people.

We can all shift the pendulum.

And that’s what I’m focused on every single day.

I will be judged as equally on my ability and this government’s ability to create jobs, improve access to healthcare, have young people attend school and succeed, and reduce suicide rates as I will be on delivering Constitutional Recognition.

And this is what drives me.

Every Indigenous Australian who finds a job, every young person that gets to school in the morning, every prevented suicide and instances of Otitis Media for example being treated is what I will celebrate.

And that’s something you should celebrate too. It’s something you can have a direct impact upon.

How do you play a role in shifting the pendulum? Consider that proposition tonight and leave here motivated to shift the pendulum for one person, one family, one community or more.

Many of you will be doing that already, so the question becomes, how can we grow and share that? How can we celebrate that?

We must look at what we do and the good we have the potential for – and to then share these successes as loudly and widely as possible.

By celebrating success, we’re not blinding ourselves to the challenges at hand, or dismissing the levels of disadvantage within Australian Indigenous communities.

We know that people are dying earlier.

We know that our people are committing suicide.

We know that children are being born into a lifetime of poverty.

And, that’s on us as well.

I don’t discount or diminish this in any way.

We owe it to our children, and to future generations to come to create an environment and culture of opportunity and of positivity so that when an Indigenous Australian children is born, they see a world where their dreams can be realised, and where each day is filled with hope and optimism.

Where the face they see in the mirror, doesn’t limit their aspirations.

Where the face they see in the mirror is the face they see reading the 5 o’clock news, the face they see exploring space or one day the face they see leading our nation.

To achieve this future, we must change how we look at ourselves – and we must have others view Indigenous Australians through our successes and not our failings.

Just as disadvantage should not be viewed through colour – success should not be limited by colour.

I asked what we can do tomorrow to shift the pendulum – well, start by celebrating success, by sharing success and by ensuring that one person’s success today is the hope for someone else’s success tomorrow.

But to emphasise the importance of acting and listening at a local level, I want to take us back to the 1967 referendum.

As the referendum votes were being tallied and the nation’s ‘Yes’ vote was starting to emerge, Vincent Lingiari, a Gurindji man and his stockmen were several months into their famous Wave Hill walk-off and strike.

The strike although initially an employee rights action had soon become a national issue as the relationship between Indigenous Australians and the wider community and our national idioms were once again being challenged.

The strike lasted 8 years and that eventually led to the Native Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976.

This shifted the pendulum, legislating the right for Indigenous people of the Northern Territory to negotiate over any developments on their lands.


Lingiari’s actions at a local level, culminated in the Prime Minister Gough Whitlam’s pouring the red dirt of our land through the hands of Vincent.

While this act was symbolic, it put in train a series of events that defines the land rights movement to this day.

The courage shown by Lingiari was not only for him, but for future generations, as recognised by what Whitlam said. And I won’t repeat what Sue shared with us earlier but it was a sign of possession of our lands for our children forever.

I am truly humbled to be here in front of you, delivering the 19th annual Vincent Lingiari Memorial Lecture – and I thank Charles Darwin University for the opportunity to contribute to this series of lectures, which has helped in its own way, be a form of truth-telling and spark the conversations that we’ve needed since 1996.

To be in the company of such distinguished voices truly is an honour.

And, I don’t want tonight to be about me, but if I could take one moment to say that the significance of being appointed the first Indigenous Minister for Indigenous Australians is not lost on me.

And I thanks the Gurindji people for their faith and for their commitment and I will certainly walk with you to deliver on the things that are important to our people but I will walk with our people across this nation and other Australians.

For young Indigenous Australians out there, across this great nation, dreaming of a career in politics, I hope that my journey can give you hope.

Many of you here know my journey, but just let me share it again for that young person who’s hearing from me for the first time tonight.

I was born in 1952 and raised in Roelands Mission near Bunbury in Western Australia, and the oldest of 10 kids.

My father was a railway ganger. My mother was a member of the Stolen Generations.

And, we lived in a tiny place called Nannine, just west of Meekatharra.

My schooling at first was by correspondence – working a radio with a foot pedal, like an old sewing machine, for two hours at a time.

Soon afterwards, my parents moved to Corrigin.

Education was my turning point, and by going to school, my drive for knowledge and desire to learn is something that I retain and value today.

I have a few other fragments of memory from when I was a skinny-ankled kid running around Corrigin.

There was the time that some people in our town started circulating a petition to get the Aboriginal family that had just moved in kicked out.

The petition failed. The townspeople wanted us to stay and have a fair go.

I also remember a time when I was about ten years old and somebody said to me: you might end up being a politician one day.

And I thought “not in this country will I ever have that opportunity”.

As I grew into a teenager in the mid-60s, I became enterprising.

I worked on farms, I’d catch rabbits, sell the meat to the butcher (certainly not the ones I bruised; I’d cook those) and I’d sell the skins as well.

I used to work on farms too. I’d earn money by chopping wood, doing the fencing, driving tractors during harvesting.

But, it gave me money for myself. I’d keep half my earnings and buy a few things and put some away in the bank. The other half I’d give to mother to help put food on the table for all of us.

This is not a sob story.

To me it sort of felt like freedom.

It gave me a sense of personal responsibility and an attitude of enterprising thinking.

Those experiences living in a country town probably shaped me.

While I was busy skinning rabbits and making a buck, Australia was growing and changing.

I hope collectively we can fulfil the expectation I feel each day, to continue to grow and shape a better future for all Indigenous Australians, and continue the healing of our nation.

I know I don’t walk alone – but I also acknowledge there are many expectations placed on me. And I feel the weight of expectation.

But, I want to take this weight – and turn it into an optimism for what we can achieve – together when we swing the pendulum.


And, I’ll repeat again – everything I have spoken about tonight, from truth-telling to Constitutional Recognition is too important to rush, and too important to get wrong.

I need everyone in this room, and all of those out there who want us to succeed to ask yourselves – what can I do to help us realise our goals?

What are you going to do to shift that pendulum?

What are you going to do tomorrow, in three months’ time and in a year’s time? – good will, while important, will not allow us to complete this journey and positively shift the pendulum.

How can we elevate our successes?

How can we give voice to those who feel voiceless?

And, how can we make sure their voices are heard as loudly as those who come from Canberra and in the media?

I want you to remember these words from Vincent Lingiari:

“Let us live happily together as mates, let us not make it hard for each other… We want to live in a better way together, Aboriginals and white men, let us not fight over anything, let us be mates.”

Let this be the basis for conversations we have. And, remember these important words of Vincent Lingiari.

Take stock every so often and ask yourself – are your actions working for or against shifting the pendulum – on any of the measures we’ve discussed tonight, or on any other significant measures through which we define success and progress.

Let’s remember the importance of learning, listening and understanding when we look back – and through this, we will be able to look forward.

Look forward and work towards realising

  • Local truth-telling;
  • Constitution Recognition of Indigenous Australians;
  • Giving voice to our local communities; and
  • Addressing disadvantage in Indigenous Australia.

Together we can shift the pendulum, help every child out there realise their dreams, and leave a more unified, understanding and tolerant Australia for the generations to come.

Success for me, will be to look back, after all is said and done, and be able to say, as Slim once sang:

We’ve done us proud.

To come this far,

Down through the years,

To where we are,

Side by side,

Hand in hand,

We’ve lived and died for this great land,

We’ve done us proud.

Let us walk together.

Let us shift the pendulum together.

I thank you for the privilege of being here with you this evening.

Thank you.



NACCHO Aboriginal Health News : Read Barb Shaw AMSANT Chair keynote speeches at the inaugural Indigenous Health Justice Conference #NILCIHJC2019 Darwin 13 Aug and #AMSANT25Conf Alice Springs 7 Aug

” The conference represents the coming together of two strands of community endeavour—health and justice—that I think naturally belong together, and about which I have had a close association with, and passion for, since I was young.

From my sector’s perspective—the primary health care sector—you simply cannot talk about health without invoking the principles of justice.

It’s in our DNA as health professionals.

Even more so when we are talking about Aboriginal community controlled primary health care services.

For our services are—first and foremost—acts of self-determination. There is no stronger expression of our community’s desire and hunger for justice than the pursuit of our rights as First Nations peoples to be self-determining.

To have our people making the decisions about what we need and how we should do things.

And to have our people governing and being employed in the organisations that deliver programs and services to our communities.

And yet we have never accepted, and we will never accept, this imposed status quo.

Aboriginal community controlled health services embody this determination and resolve.” 

Barb Shaw keynote address delivered 13 August to the inaugural Indigenous Health Justice Conference held in Darwin in conjunction with the National Indigenous Legal Conference.

Read in full Part 1 Below

” AMSANT provides a strong and respected voice nationally, which is evidenced by the high regard that we are afforded by the politicians we seek to influence, the bureaucrats we spar with on a daily basis, and by our peers who we work with at the national level, including our national peak body, NACCHO. AMSANT has been a consistent and significant contributor to NACCHO.

I will finish by sounding a note of concern that we can’t take our achievements or position for granted. We need to be forever vigilant, for despite all our efforts, the system has not fundamentally changed and is still configured to marginalise and disempower Aboriginal people. We have to work harder and smarter.

And we know we can because AMSANT is all of us. When we work together, when we combine our voices, and when we share a vision, then nothing is going to stop us.

May the next 25 years of AMSANT be as wonderful as the first.

AMSANT Chair Barb Shaw Keynote address for AMSANT 25th Anniversary Conference
Alice Springs Convention Centre, 7th August 2019 

At the #AMSANT25Conf Dinner 25 years of Aboriginal health leadership cutting the 25 year celebratory cake Our Barb Shaw Chair and John Paterson CEO , Pat Anderson , June Oscar and Donna Ah Chee 

Read and or download 25 Anniversary address here 

Barb Shaw – Keynote address for AMSANT 25th Anniversary Conference_FINAL (2)

Good morning everyone.

I’d like to begin by acknowledging the Traditional Owners of the land on which we’re meeting, the Larrakia people, and particularly their elders, past, present and emerging, and to thank James Parfitt for his warm welcome to country.

My name is Barb Shaw.

I am the Chairperson of the Aboriginal Medical Services Alliance of the NT—or AMSANT—and also the Chief Executive Officer of Anyinginyi Health Service.

I would like especially thank David Woodroffe for his insightful words of introduction, and particularly his highlighting of the importance of the words hope, optimism and resilience. These are qualities that have always been strong in our communities.

I am very grateful to the Winkiku [Win-kee-koo] Rrumbangi NT Indigenous Lawyers Association for their invitation to AMSANT to partner with them in holding the inaugural Indigenous Health Justice Conference, being held in parallel with this year’s National Indigenous Legal Conference.

The conference represents the coming together of two strands of community endeavour—health and justice—that I think naturally belong together, and about which I have had a close association with, and passion for, since I was young.

From my sector’s perspective—the primary health care sector—you simply cannot talk about health without invoking the principles of justice.

It’s in our DNA as health professionals.

Even more so when we are talking about Aboriginal community controlled primary health care services.

For our services are—first and foremost—acts of self-determination. There is no stronger expression of our community’s desire and hunger for justice than the pursuit of our rights as First Nations peoples to be self-determining.

To have our people making the decisions about what we need and how we should do things.

And to have our people governing and being employed in the organisations that deliver programs and services to our communities.

When we take a long, hard look at the many, many injustices our people face today, we can trace the path of injustice back to the persistent and variously callous, arrogant, or ignorant denials of our rights to self-determination that is our lived experience as First Nations peoples in this country.

And yet we have never accepted, and we will never accept, this imposed status quo.

Aboriginal community controlled health services embody this determination and resolve.

In the NT, we have been around more than 45 years, since Congress was first established in Alice Springs in 1974.

It was a time when one out of every four of our babies died before their first birthday! Just think about that.

It was a time when the life expectancy for Aboriginal males was just 52 years and for Aboriginal females, 54 years.

The community rallied—literally. It was a turning point and a movement was born.

Other communities followed and new community controlled services emerged—Urapuntja in 1977, Wurli Wurlinjang in the early 1980s, Pintupi and Anyinginyi in 1984, with more joining over the years.

As a sector, we didn’t sit back and wait for the government to do to us—we actively drove the agenda, took a leadership role, and did the hard work to advocate and lobby—and importantly—to provide the evidence and substance to what we were asking for.

Last week AMSANT held our 25th Anniversary celebrations in Alice Springs. One of our strong and amazing leaders, Pat Anderson, reminded us of our sector’s leadership in the early years, including in the international arena.

When primary health care leaders from around the world met in Russia in 1978, to set out a vision for primary health care, resulting in the historic Alma Ata Declaration—we were there—making our contribution to the Declaration’s drafting.

And in 1996, when the United Nations Working Group on Indigenous Populations was drafting the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples—UNDRIP—we were there, advocating for community control.

Back in Australia, we led the campaign to remove health from ATSIC’s responsibilities—where it was chronically underfunded—and transfer it to the Commonwealth Department of Health, where Commonwealth bureaucrats were made accountable for our people’s health.

Importantly, this meant we were finally able to begin to access the mainstream resources and services due to us, that we were not receiving.

This brought significantly increased funding to our sector and transformed the Aboriginal health landscape.

Today, our services provide over 60% of all primary health care to our people in the Northern Territory.

And we do it better. In 2010, a major study concluded that when ACCHSs deliver health programs there is fifty percent more health gain or benefit than if those programs were delivered by mainstream primary care services.

The important point here is that this didn’t come from government. It came from us.

This history also illustrates two fundamental principles that our two disciplines, justice and health, also hold in common—Truth and Evidence.

For our sector, our truth existed in the history of disadvantage, neglect, exclusion and institutional racism that our communities were facing.

But in order to get action from government we needed to provide the evidence to support our case.

The battles we were fighting were, in fact, situated within a much longer history of struggle to establish and protect human rights.

Advances in public health achieved during the 19th century laid the foundations for a set of rights as citizens and communities that we now regard as standard entitlements and the responsibility of good government—if not to provide—then at least to regulate.

These advances depended on evidence.

For example, discovery of the causes of infectious diseases, such as cholera, provided crucial evidence for the need for public infrastructure for clean water supply and sewage disposal.

Evidence of the impacts on health caused by poor and overcrowded housing contributed to establishing a role for government in the provision of public housing and building standards—the concept of shelter as a basic human right.

Such advances in our knowledge of health determinants underpin the rights and laws that have developed around these issues, which we largely take for granted.

In stating this, it is also apparent to all of us here that these rights have not become automatic and universally available, and that those who most often lack them, come from the poorest and most marginalised sections of our society.

Here in the Northern Territory, particularly in remote communities, the lack of adequate housing, water and sewerage are major issues of concern.

For our people, connection to country and the ability to live on our ancestral lands are fundamental to our identity, to our cultural and spiritual wellbeing, and to our right to maintain our relationships and communities.

However, we cannot achieve this without basic infrastructure and services that are routinely provided in cities and towns, but which in many of our communities, are either inadequately provided or don’t exist.

Poor quality and inadequate sources of potable water have become issues of public health concern which in some cases are threatening community viability.

The significant shortfall in housing and high levels of overcrowding and homelessness experienced in Aboriginal communities are unacceptable in themselves, but all the more so, because the evidence tells us that inadequate housing and homelessness are determinants of poor health and wellbeing.

This includes transmitted diseases such as rheumatic heart disease, communicable diseases, effects on stress and wellbeing, family violence and even school attendance.

Whichever way you look at it, Indigenous housing is an area of significant government failure.

In a large part this is because government made a series of ill-considered decisions to cut us out of any significant or meaningful governance and decision-making role in housing.

Our Indigenous Community Housing Organisations were abolished.

The Commonwealth’s Strategic Indigenous Housing and Infrastructure Program or SIHIP, and National Partnership on Remote Indigenous Housing or NPARIH, burned through some $1.7 billion over 10 years without much troubling to get our input.

And the NT Intervention saw the Commonwealth take over responsibility for remote community leases and housing, with housing transferred to the NT Government.

The latter has been its own disaster, with evidence of incompetent management of residential tenancy leases and rents and an inadequate system for responding to repairs and maintenance, leading to significant hardship for residents.

Despite evidence of its own failures, it is perhaps unsurprising that the government is not happy that communities have recently exercised their rights to adequate housing by launching a class action against the NT Government in relation to rents and repairs.

This is a good example of a health justice partnership—the community partnering with a group of lawyers who provided the expertise to document and launch an action at the direction of the community.

It is hard to look at this example as anything other than a spectacular own goal by government.

They should have listened to us, perhaps!

In saying this, it needs to be acknowledged that there are encouraging developments in government policy on housing at both the NT and Commonwealth levels.

The NT Government’s Local Decision Making policy extends to Aboriginal housing and the new National Partnership Agreement on Indigenous housing struck between the NT and the Commonwealth, includes the four Northern Territory Land Councils in a significant role.

However, this falls well short of self-determination in Aboriginal housing.

Here, the leadership has once again come from the Aboriginal community. Four years’ work—supported by the Aboriginal Peak Organisations NT, or APO NT—has resulted in the development of a new Northern Territory Aboriginal peak housing body, Aboriginal Housing NT, or AHNT.

This was our initiative and our hard work—not government’s.

With in-principle agreement to support the new body, it is now a matter of negotiation about what formal role the new peak body will be afforded.

Occasionally an issue emerges that cuts like a knife through the national consciousness, requiring immediate and strong action.

Such was the situation when the 4-Corners program revealed the appalling abuse that was occurring inside the Don Dale youth detention centre. The revelations prompted the immediate establishment of the Royal Commission into the protection and detention of children in the Northern Territory.

This issue blew wide open the systemic failures that exist in the treatment of our young people, mostly Indigenous children, and provided a huge opportunity for reform.

Our sector’s response, alongside our APO NT partners, provided leadership to ensure an evidence-based, therapeutic, public health response was considered by the Royal Commission.

We also advocated for a new Tripartite Forum with an oversight role in relation to reforms in child protection and youth justice. AMSANT is represented on the Forum as one of three APO NT representatives.

The NT Government’s acceptance of the recommendations of the Royal Commission is commendable, however progress on the reforms is concerning and the lack of a commitment of funding from the Commonwealth is disappointing.

It is also disappointing to see the Northern Territory Government waver in the face of a recent campaign to water down the reforms.

We know only too well the politics that have long played out in the Northern Territory to scapegoat and demonise our people as problems to be managed, and punished.

We have seen the law and order and mandatory sentencing campaigns that have directly contributed to outcomes such as Don Dale.  We have suffered under the NT Intervention.

The low road of political opportunism dressed up as community concern.

Anything but focus on the neglect and structural racism that are key underlying determinants of the situation.

We can and must do better as a community.

This brings me to two other moments of national consciousness pricking that bring us—I believe—to a watershed moment in this nation’s history.

The first is Closing the Gap—a policy that was well-intentioned but also typically forged without our consent or input and delivered as a top-down initiative.

What could possibly go wrong?

Burdened with annual, very public demonstrations of its failure according to its own indices—only two of 10 targets achieving reasonable improvement—the Prime Minister sensibly called for a re-fresh of the policy.

Perhaps not so sensibly, the re-fresh consultations were centrally controlled and once again failed to engage us meaningfully.

However, this time, faced with concern expressed by a national Coalition of Peak Indigenous organisations, the Prime Minister asked for our solution.

The result is a formal Partnership Agreement on Closing the Gap with the Coalition of Peaks, and the establishment of a Joint Council on Closing the Gap with the Coalition of Peaks represented as a member—the first time that a non-governmental body has been represented within a COAG structure.

APO NT is a member of the Coalition of Peaks and the NACCHO CEO, our very own Pat Turner, is leading the Coalition.

Importantly, the central ask of the Coalition of Peaks, is not around the new indicators—although these are important tools to get right—but for a fundamental change in the way governments work with our people and the full involvement of our people in shared decision-making at all levels.

This includes the need for a commitment to building, strengthening and expanding the formal Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community controlled sector to deliver Closing the Gap services and programs.

The second watershed moment was the release of the Uluru Statement from the Heart.

That this considered and heart-felt gesture from our communities was summarily dismissed by the Prime Minister of the day—and that it continues to be undermined by baseless scaremongering—represents a moment of national shame.

But we have taken great heart from the many, many non-Indigenous organisations and individuals who have taken the Statement to their hearts.

This includes the AMA and the Australian Law Society.

And what did we ask for? We asked for:

  • a process of treaty-making to lay a firm basis for the future relationship of First Nations and those who came to this country later;
  • a process of truth telling about our shared past; and
  • a constitutionally enshrined voice to Parliament to ensure ongoing structures for our input into policy making and the life of the nation.

If we were to try to pinpoint the essence of what justice for our people means and what it will take to address the health disadvantage we face, then we would probably find it contained within the pregnant potential of these two initiatives—Closing the Gap and the Uluru Statement.

We are not going anywhere.

And we will not give up on our dreams.

All we ask is to be afforded the responsibility to make our own decisions about our own lives.

To have the opportunity to participate in decision-making over the policies that affect us; and to have our organisations and our people serve our communities.

To be afforded respect as equals, side-by-side, safe and secure in our cultures and identity.

To have the courage and the decency to face the truth of this nation.

Over the next two days, these and many other issues will be discussed and I know it will be done with passion and with goodwill.

I commend this conference to you.

Thank you.


NACCHO #ClosingTheGap Aboriginal Health and #UluruStatement #Makarrata : #NAIDOC2019 Week : #Voice #Treaty #Truth. Donna Ah Chee @CAACongress Let’s work together for a shared future

This NAIDOC Week we need to lift our gaze and consider the bigger picture reforms required to take the next step forward.

A Voice to Parliament; agreements or treaties; and a process to enable systematic truth telling.

All of this is achievable, and all requires deep listening from the Australian community and a commitment to action if we are to all move forward together as a single, unified nation.”

Donna Ah Chee CEO Congress ACCHO Alice Springs

Voice. Treaty. Truth. This is the theme for NADIOC Week 2019, and the words have never been more relevant; especially in Central Australia.

The movement for constitutional recognition culminated in 2017 in a National Constitutional Convention of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people at Uluru. From this convention rose the Uluru Statement from the Heart. Put simply, this statement sums up where Aboriginal people see ourselves standing now and what we believe needs to be done to move forward for social justice; Voice, Treaty, Truth.

As Professor Megan Davis recently wrote “The Uluru Statement from the Heart was tactically issued to the Australian people, not Australian politicians. It is the people who can unlock the Australian Constitution for Aboriginal people, as they did in 1967, and the descendants of the ancient polities can unlock what is sorely lacking in this country, a fuller expression of Australia’s nationhood.”

Co-chair of the Referendum Council, Alywarre woman Pat Anderson said powerfully: “We need real change, because we, First Peoples, have something unique to offer this country. Our peoples have been here 65,000 years or more. Over these immeasurable periods we have developed a profound wisdom about this land and about what it means practically and spiritually to live here. We know this place. This is our place, and there is no doubt about it.”

Despite the enormity of the demands that Aboriginal people could make as peoples who never ceded sovereignty over the lands on which we now all live, our major demand is simply the right to be consulted about the legislation, policies and programs that are meant to help us.

The experience that Aboriginal people have had having been on the ‘underside’ of Australian history places us in a unique position from which to consider the laws and policies before Parliament and make suggestions for improvements that could make Australia a better place for all of us.

Having a constitutionally enshrined Voice in parliament would mean that the people who have actually experienced real poverty and hardship would finally be able to use this lens to consider the laws and policy decisions proposed in Parliament.

Just this week we heard from Kerry O’Brien on being inducted into the Logies Hall of Famefor his outstanding contribution to journalism, that “the failure to reconcile Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australia remained one big glaring gap in this nation’s story.” While lamenting the “awful racism this country is capable of”, he said that the Uluru Statement— which endorsed a constitutionally enshrined Indigenous representative body — offered hope for the future. Why is this seen by so many to be so important?

Relative to their numbers, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are politically marginalised in Australia. The seventy years following Federation saw not a single First Nations representative elected to any Australian parliament, only changing in 1971 when Neville Bonner entered the Australian Senate.

Since then only 38 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have been elected to any of the State, Territory or Federal parliaments; 22 of these being in the Northern Territory. Even today, the unprecedented four Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people we have seated in our national parliament only reflects 1.8% of all representatives.

A small number already, made even smaller when compared to the fact that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people make up 3% of the Australian population, a number that is rising.

The systemic under-representation of Aboriginal people is mirrored in senior decision-making roles within public services across Australia. It is a powerful contributor to the lack of an accountable, informed, and sustained approach to Aboriginal issues, and the limited success in reaching the Closing the Gap targets.

Since the now famous Whitehall studies of the 1970s, ‘the control factor’ has been recognised as an important contributor to patterns of disease. The evidence shows that the less control people have over their lives and environment, the more likely they are to suffer ill health. Powerlessness is an identified risk factor for disease for Aboriginal Australians.

Aboriginal peoples’ lack of control of their lives is expressed at a national, systemic level through the absence of a national political representative institution; at a community level through their marginalisation from decision-making about programs that affect their own communities; and at an individual level through their experience of racism.

You only have to look at the poor implementation record of inquiry after inquiry into issues surrounding the health and wellbeing of the nation’s First Peoples for evidence of the absence of any real political influence.

Over the last three decades we have seen (most significantly) the National Aboriginal Health Strategy (1989), the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody (1991) and the Bringing Them Home report (1997). They are among numerous other Royal Commissions and parliamentary inquiries into issues surrounding Aboriginal disadvantage resulting in recommendations that have not been fully implemented. I often think there needs to be a Royal Commission into the failure to implement so many Royal Commissions.

A genuine commitment to ‘Closing the Gap’ must include the establishment of a national representative body for Australia’s First Nations, as was recommended by the Referendum Council after extensive consultation with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities across Australia.

This must come alongside a Makarrata Commission to supervise a process of agreement-making and truth-telling between governments and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Such changes, foreshadowed in the Uluru Statement from the Heart,have the support of the overwhelming majority of Aboriginal people and would provide the basis for substantive change in Aboriginal lives, as opposed to mere symbolic recognition.

This NAIDOC Week we need to lift our gaze and consider the bigger picture reforms required to take the next step forward. A Voice to Parliament; agreements or treaties; and a process to enable systematic truth telling. All of this is achievable, and all requires deep listening from the Australian community and a commitment to action if we are to all move forward together as a single, unified nation.

First published in the Centralian Advocate July 4 2019

NACCHO Aboriginal Health News: @KenWyattMP  #NAIDOC2019 Week 2019 kicks off with the National NAIDOC Awards ceremony showcasing the outstanding achievement of some of Australia’s finest Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders

“NAIDOC Week is a proud celebration of everything Australia’s First Nations’ people hold dear – our lands and waters, languages and stories that have been passed on from generation to generation in the oldest continuing culture on earth.

This year’s theme, Voice. Treaty. Truth – Let’s work together for a shared future, reflects the desires of Indigenous Australians to achieve concrete progress in having their voices and truths heard.

 By applying a ground-up approach through co-design, we will work to further our priorities including Closing the Gap, addressing the shocking rates of Indigenous youth suicide, working through a thoughtful process for Constitutional Recognition and a Voice for Indigenous Australians.”

Minister for Indigenous Australians, the Hon Ken Wyatt

NAIDOC Week 2019 has kicked off on the weekend  under the theme of Voice. Treaty. Truth – Let’s work together for a shared future echoing the call for constitutional recognition for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. See Part 1

The National NAIDOC Awards are the premier awards for Indigenous Australians and this year’s recipients are well-deserving of our praise and admiration

Their accomplishments in culture and community, sports, education and the arts stand as examples to which we can all aspire and commemorate the unique and precious place of Indigenous history, culture and achievement within the fabric of our nation.”

Minister for Indigenous Australians, the Hon Ken Wyatt

Picture above the winners with the NAIDOC Committee 

See full list of winners Part 2 below or HERE 

” Thelma Weston, a descendant of the Meriam people of the Torres Strait, is like no other. Her life is a story of survival, achievement, hope, love and celebration.

Despite only having a limited education, Aunty Thelma trained as a nurse and became a fully qualified health worker. At age 83, Aunty Thelma still works full time at Winnunga Aboriginal Health and Community Services in Canberra, using her skills to manage the needle exchange program.”

See Thelma’s full bio below Part 3

Part 1


Minister Wyatt, said this year’s NAIDOC Week celebrations, which provided Australians the opportunity to honour and respect the ongoing history, culture and achievements of our First Nations’ people, were even more significant given the recent commitment by both sides of government to work together to bring about change.

Minister Wyatt also said that the Morrison Government was committed to doing things differently by working in partnership and sitting down and talking with Indigenous communities.

NAIDOC Week features hundreds of events around the country to share stories and celebrate our rich heritage and uniquely Australian culture.”

The Morrison Government has committed $1.4 million in local community grants to support these events to ensure Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders can celebrate their culture and achievements.

NAIDOC Week events cover a wide range of activities such as family days with dancing, food markets and marches, Welcome to Country ceremonies, cultural performances, speakers, art workshops, BBQs and awards ceremonies.

“I encourage everyone to find an event near them and take the opportunity to deepen ties in

their communities and celebrate our culture and successes,” Minister Wyatt said.

NAIDOC Week runs from 7 – 14 July 2019. A full event listing can be found at

Part 2 : The 2019 Award recipients are:

Lifetime Achievement Award – David Gulpilil Ridjimiraril Dalaithngu, AM

Person of the Year – Dean Duncan

Female Elder of the Year – Thelma Weston

Male Elder of the Year – Greg Little

Caring for Country Award – Littlewell Working Group

Youth of the Year – Mi-kaisha Masella

Artist of the Year – Elma Gada Kris

Scholar of the Year – Professor Michael McDaniel

Apprentice of the Year – Ganur Maynard

Sportsperson of the Year – Shantelle Thompson

Read all profiles HERE

“I congratulate this year’s winners and commend each of them for their contributions to achieving a better shared future for all Australians and the wonderful role models they represent for the young members of our communities.”

“This better future is reflected in this year’s NAIDOC theme of Voice. Treaty. Truth. Let’s work together for a shared future.

“The Award winners embody this theme and represent the contributions all First Nations’ people make to our community – contributions we celebrate in NAIDOC Week,” Ministery Wyatt said.

For more information on these proud Indigenous Australians and other NAIDOC events please go to

Part 3 Thelma Weston Female Elder of the Year

Thelma Weston, a descendant of the Meriam people of the Torres Strait, is like no other. Her life is a story of survival, achievement, hope, love and celebration.

Despite only having a limited education, Aunty Thelma trained as a nurse and became a fully qualified health worker.At age 83, Aunty Thelma still works full time at Winnunga Aboriginal Health and Community Services in Canberra, using her skills to manage the needle exchange program.

She has a long history of outstanding involvement and achievements in the community and has sat on a number of local and national committees and boards.
Aunty Thelma is on the board of the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Worker Association (NATSIHWA) and regularly travels across Australia to attend board meetings.

As a breast cancer survivor, Aunty Thelma has worked with Breast Cancer Network Australia to encourage other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women to connect, seek support and information about the disease.

Aunty Thelma is much loved, admired and well respected, not only in her workplace and amongst her clients, but in the wider ACT community and across Australia.  She is a wonderful example of a wise and caring Torres Strait Islander woman who has achieved much for her family and community.

NACCHO Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health : On June 3 we celebrate #MaboDay , the life of Eddie Koiki Mabo and the role he had with other claimants abolishing the legal fiction of “terra nullius”

 ” Eddie Koiki Mabo, a Meriam man from the island of Mer in the Torres Straits, forever changed Australian law and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander land rights when he won his landmark case in The High Court.

The decision was handed down on this day in 1992, 11 years after the case began.

The momentous Mabo case finally acknowledged the history of Indigenous dispossession in Australia, abolished the legal fiction of “terra nullius”, and altered the foundation of Australian land law.”

Opening image from Nhulundu Health Service

From Here 

Terra Nullius

Terra nullius is a Latin term meaning “land belonging to no one”. British colonisation and subsequent Australian land laws were established on the claim that Australia was terra nullius, justifying acquisition by British occupation without treaty or payment. This effectively denied Indigenous people’s prior occupation of and connection to the land.

In the 1971 Gove land rights case, Justice Blackburn ruled that Australia was terra nullius prior European settlement.

This judgement was unsuccessfully challenged by subsequent cases in 1977, 1979 and 1982.

However, on the 20th May 1982, Eddie Koiki Mabo and 4 other Indigenous Meriam people began their legal claim for ownership of their traditional lands on the island of Mer in the Torres Strait.

Mabo and his companions claimed that the Meriam people had:

  • continuously inhabited and exclusively possessed these lands
  • lived in permanent settled communities
  • had their own political and social organisation [1]

On these grounds, the Mabo case sought recognition of the Meriam people’s rights to this land.

Mabo v. Queensland

The case was heard over ten years, progressing from the Queensland Supreme Court to the High Court of Australia.

On the 3rd of June 1992, the High Court ruled by a majority of six to one that the Meriam people were “entitled as against the whole world to possession, occupation, use and enjoyment of (most of) the lands of the Murray Islands”.

Three of the plaintiffs did not live to hear this ruling, including Eddie Mabo, who passed away just months before the decision was handed down.

The High Court’s judgement in the Mabo case resulted in the introduction of the doctrine of native title into Australian law, removing the myth of terra nullius and establishing a legal framework for native title claims by Indigenous Australians. The judgement ruled that the common law as it existed:

  • violated international human rights norms
  • denied the historical reality of Indigenous people’s dispossession [2]

Native title:

  • recognises that Indigenous Australians have a prior claim to land taken by the British Crown since 1770
  • replaces the “legal fiction” of terra nullius, which formed the foundation of British claims to land ownership in Australia [3]

“It is imperative in today’s world that the common law should neither be nor be seen to be frozen in an age of racial discrimination.” The High Court’s judgement on the Mabo Case, 1992.

Download Here 2015-Mabo-Oration-V 2

Eddie Koiki Mabo Early life


Eddie Mabo. Image courtesy of the Mabo family.

Eddie Koiki Mabo was born on 29 June, 1936, on the island of Mer (Murray Island) in the Torres Strait. His mother died giving birth and he was adopted by his uncle, Benny Mabo. His surname was changed from Sambo to Mabo and from an early age, Koiki was taught about his family’s land.

In 1959, he moved to Townsville in Queensland and held a variety of jobs including working on pearling boats, cutting cane and as a railway fettler.  He married Bonita Neehow, an Australian-born South Sea Islander, and they had ten children.

He was an activist in the 1967 Referendum campaign and helped found the Townsville Aboriginal and Islander Health Service. The issue of land rights became a focus for his energy in 1974, while working on campus as a gardener at James Cook University and meeting university historians Noel Loos and Henry Reynolds, who recalled:

…we were having lunch one day when Koiki was just speaking about his land back on Mer, or Murray Island. Henry and I realised that in his mind he thought he owned that land, so we sort of glanced at each other, and then had the difficult responsibility of telling him that he didn’t own that land, and that it was Crown land. Koiki was surprised, shocked… he said and I remember him saying ‘No way, it’s not theirs, it’s ours.’

The turning point

Today, one of Koiki and Bonita’s daughters, Gail is a cultural advisor in schools, an artist and dancer, and is the spokesperson for the Mabo family.

Gail Mabo, wrote:

In 1972 my family had planned to visit Mer. My father had hoped to visit his father, Benny Mabo, who was suffering from tuberculosis. Tuberculosis was a major killer of Torres Strait Islanders at the time. Our family travelled to Thursday Island but we were refused permission to travel to Mer.

My mother, Bonita, remembers;

“In those days you had to get permission to go across to Mer, but the Queensland authorities wouldn’t let us. They said Eddie was a non-Islander, because he hadn’t lived there for so long. They thought he was too political and would stir up trouble.” 

Our family returned to Townsville. Six weeks later my father received a telegram saying that his father had died. My father cried. We never had the chance to meet our grandfather.

My father never forgave the government authorities for this injustice. It fuelled his determination for recognition and equality in society. This began his ten-year battle for justice and political status.

Black community school

In 1973, Koiki became co-founder and director of the Townsville ‘black community school’ – one of the first in Australia. The school commenced with ten students, in an old Catholic school building in the heart of inner city Townsville. Disenchanted with the approach to Indigenous education within the Queensland State Education system, Eddie volunteered to work for half pay to help establish the school.

The School was regarded with open hostility within the general Townsville community including the Queensland education department, local newspaper and some local politicians. The then State Minister for Education denounced the motives of the student’s parents declaring their attitudes as racist and the school as ‘apartheid in reverse.’

At its peak in the late 1970s forty five students were enrolled at the school. In 1975, Koiki was asked to join the National Aboriginal Education Committee (NAEC), an advisory body to the Commonwealth Education Department and he served on the committee for three years.

And the rest the say is history

This discovery inspired Eddie to challenge land ownership laws in Australia.

At a Land Rights Conference in 1981, a lawyer suggested there should be a test case to claim land rights through the court system. Five Meriam men, Eddie Koiki Mabo, Sam Passi, Father Dave Passi, James Rice and Celuia Mapo Salee, decided to challenge for land rights in the High Court. [4]

In May 1982, led by Eddie Mabo, they began their legal claim for ownership of their lands.

Awards and recognition

Eddie Koiki Mabo has been rightfully recognised for his landmark work. Unfortunately this recognition only occurred after his death with a number of awards including:

  • 1992: the Australian Human Rights Medal as part of the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission Awards, along with his fellow plaintiffs ‘in recognition of their long and determined battle to gain justice for their people’.
  • 1993: The Australian newspaper voted Eddie Mabo as their 1992 Australian of the Year (not to be confused with the Australian Government’s Australian of the Year Awards).
  • 2008: The James Cook University named its library the Eddie Koiki Mabo Library.
  • 2012: the Australian Broadcasting Corporation aired a documentary drama based on his life.
  • Mabo day: named after Eddie, is celebrated on 3 June each year.
  • AIATSIS holds the Mabo lecture as part of the annual National Native Title Conference.

Further reading and sources 



NACCHO #ANZACday2019 tribute : Our black history: #LestWeForget Boer War , WW1, WW2 Vietnam etc Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men and women veterans.

” Over 1000 Indigenous Australians fought in the First World War. They came from a section of society with few rights, low wages, and poor living conditions. Most Indigenous Australians could not vote and none were counted in the census. But once in the AIF, they were treated as equals. They were paid the same as other soldiers and generally accepted without prejudice.”

From the Australian War Memorial Indigenous Defence Service Website

Private Miller Mack served in World War I from 1916-17 alongside fellow Australian troops among the 7th Reinforcements in France.

 ” Private Miller Mack’s image is iconic – frequently used as a symbol of Indigenous Australians’ important contribution to the ANZAC war effort. Yet for nearly a century, the soldier himself has lain forgotten, in an unmarked pauper’s grave. Now, says his grand-niece Michelle Lovegrove, he has finally been given the burial he deserves, as his body has been re-interred on Ngarrindjeri land. ”

Read full story here

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have served in every conflict and commitment involving Australian defence contingents since Federation, including both world wars and the intervals of peace since the Second World War.

Artwork via Lee Anthony Hampton from Koori Kicks Art.

Researching Indigenous service

Little was known publicly about the presence of Indigenous men and women in Australia’s armed forces prior to the 1970s. Subsequent research has established a record of Indigenous service dating back to the start of the Commonwealth era in 1901, and even a small number of individual enlistments in the colonial defence forces before that.

It is impossible to determine the exact number of Indigenous individuals who participated in each conflict, and this research is ongoing. New names are constantly emerging, while some have been removed after research identified them as non-Indigenous.

Before 1980, individuals enlisting in the defence forces were not asked whether or not they were of an Indigenous background.

While service records sometimes contain information which may suggest Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander heritage, many servicemen have been identified as Indigenous by their descendants.

RAAF Leading Aircraftman Brodie McIntyre is a proud Warlpiri man. On Anzac Day this year he will represent the Australian Defence Force at Gallipoli in Turkey.

Here you can find a list of known indigenous service people:

First World War

Over 1000 Indigenous Australians fought in the First World War. They came from a section of society with few rights, low wages, and poor living conditions. Most Indigenous Australians could not vote and none were counted in the census. But once in the AIF, they were treated as equals. They were paid the same as other soldiers and generally accepted without prejudice.

When war broke out in 1914, many Indigenous Australians who tried to enlist were rejected on the grounds of race; others slipped through the net. By October 1917, when recruits were harder to find and one conscription referendum had already been lost, restrictions were cautiously eased. A new Military Order stated: “Half-castes may be enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force provided that the examining Medical Officers are satisfied that one of the parents is of European origin.”

This was as far as Australia – officially – would go.

Why did they fight?

Loyalty and patriotism may have encouraged Indigenous Australians to enlist. Some saw it as a chance to prove themselves the equal of Europeans or to push for better treatment after the war.

For many Australians in 1914 the offer of 6 shillings a day for a trip overseas was simply too good to miss.

Indigenous Australians in the First World War served on equal terms but after the war, in areas such as education, employment, and civil liberties, Aboriginal ex-servicemen and women found that discrimination remained or, indeed, had worsened during the war period.

The post First World War Period

Only one Indigenous Australian is known to have received land in New South Wales under a “soldier settlement” scheme, despite the fact that much of the best farming land in Aboriginal reserves was confiscated for soldier settlement blocks.

The repression of Indigenous Australians increased between the wars, as protection acts gave government officials greater control over Indigenous Australians. As late as 1928 Indigenous Australians were being massacred in reprisal raids. A considerable Aboriginal political movement in the 1930s achieved little improvement in civil rights.

Second World War

Lieutenant (Lt) T.C. Derrick, VC DCM (right) with Lt R. W. Saunders

Hundreds of Indigenous Australians served in the 2nd AIF and the militia. Many were killed fighting and at least a dozen died as prisoners of war. As in the First World War, Indigenous Australians served under the same conditions as whites and, in most cases, with the promise of full citizenship rights after the war. Generally, there seems to have been little racism between soldiers.

In 1939 Indigenous Australians were divided over the issue of military service. Some Aboriginal organisations believed war service would help the push for full citizenship rights and proposed the formation of special Aboriginal battalions to maximise public visibility.

Others, such as William Cooper, the Secretary of the Australian Indigenous Australians’ League, argued that Indigenous Australians should not fight for white Australia. Cooper had lost his son in the First World War and was bitter that Aboriginal sacrifice had not brought any improvement in rights and conditions. He likened conditions in white-administered Aboriginal settlements to those suffered by Jews under Hitler. Cooper demanded improvements at home before taking up “the privilege of defending the land which was taken from him by the White race without compensation or even kindness”.

Enlistment Second World War

At the start of the Second World War Indigenous Australians and Torres Strait Islanders were allowed to enlist and many did so. But in 1940 the Defence Committee decided the enlistment of Indigenous Australians was “neither necessary not desirable”, partly because white Australians would object to serving with them. However, when Japan entered the war increased need for manpower forced the loosening of restrictions. Torres Strait Islanders were recruited in large numbers and Indigenous Australians increasingly enlisted as soldiers and were recruited or conscripted into labour corps.

In the front line

With the Japanese advance in 1942, Indigenous Australians and Torres Strait Islanders in the north found themselves in the front line against the attackers. There were fears that Aboriginal contact with Japanese pearlers before the war might lead to their giving assistance to the enemy. Like the peoples of South-East Asia under colonial regimes, Indigenous Australians might easily have seen the Japanese as liberators from white rule. Many did express bitterness at their treatment, but, overwhelmingly, Indigenous Australians supported the country’s defence.

The post Second World War period

Returned soldiers

Wartime service gave many Indigenous Australians pride and confidence in demanding their rights. Moreover, the army in northern Australia had been a benevolent employer compared to pre-war pastoralists and helped to change attitudes to Indigenous Australians as employees.

Nevertheless, Indigenous Australians who fought for their country came back to much the same discrimination as before. For example, many were barred from Returned and Services League clubs, except on Anzac Day. Many of them were not given the right to vote for another 17 years.

Enlistment after the war

Once the intense demands of the war were gone, the army re-imposed its restrictions on enlistment. But attitudes had changed and restrictions based on race were abandoned in 1949. Since then Indigenous Australians and Torres Strait Islanders have served in all conflicts in which Australia has participated.

Other services

Little is known about how many Indigenous Australians have served in the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) and the Royal Australian Navy (RAN). The numbers are likely lower than for the army but future research may tell a different story.


Throughout the Second World War the RAAF, with its huge need for manpower, was less restrictive in its recruiting than the army. However, little is known about Aboriginal aircrew. Indigenous Australians were employed for surveillance in northern Australia and to rescue downed pilots.

Leonard Waters

Leonard Waters, a childhood admirer of Charles Kingsford-Smith and Amy Johnson, joined the RAAF in 1942. After lengthy and highly competitve training he was selected as a pilot and assigned to 78 Squadron, stationed in Dutch New Guinea and later in Borneo. The squadron flew Kittyhawk fighters like the one on display inthe Memorial’s Aircraft Hall.

Waters named his Kittyhawk “Black Magic” and flew 95 operational sorties. After the war he hoped to find a career in civilian flying but bureaucratic delays and lack of financial backing forced him to go back to shearing. Like many others, he found civilian life did not allow him to use the skills that he had gained during the war.


As well as an unknown number of formally enlisted Indigenous Australians and Islanders, the RAN also employed some informal units. For example, John Gribble, a coastwatcher on Melville Island, formed a unit of 36 Indigenous Australians which patrolled a large area of coast and islands. The men were never formally enlisted and remained unpaid throughout the war, despite the promise of otherwise.

Kamuel Abednego

The United States Army recruited about 20 Torres Strait Islanders as crewmen on its small ships operating in the Torres Strait and around Papua New Guinea. Kamuel Abednego was given the rank of lieutenant, at a time when no Indigenous Australian or Islander had served as a commissioned officer with the Australian forces.

Life on the home front

The war brought greater contact than ever before between the whites of southern Australia and the Indigenous Australians and Torres Strait Islanders of the north. For the whites it was a chance to learn about Aboriginal culture and see the poor conditions imposed on Indigenous Australians. For the Indigenous Australians the war accelerated the process of cultural change and, in the long term, ensured a position of greater equality in Australian society.

Labour units

During the Second World War the army and RAAF depended heavily on Aboriginal labour in northern Australia. Indigenous Australians worked on construction sites, in army butcheries, and on army farms. They also drove trucks, handled cargo, and provided general labour around camps. The RAAF sited airfields and radar stations near missions that could provide Aboriginal labour. At a time when Australia was drawing on all its reserves of men and women to support the war effort, the contribution of Indigenous Australians was vital.

The army began to employ Indigenous Australians in the Northern Territory in 1933, on conditions similar to those endured by Aboriginal workers on pastoral stations: long hours, poor housing and diet, and low pay. But as the army took over control of settlements from the Native Affairs Branch during the war conditions improved greatly. For the first time Indigenous Australians were given adequate housing and sanitation, fixed working hours, proper rations, and access to medical treatment in army hospitals.

Pay rates remained low. The army tried to increase pay above the standard five shillings a week and at one stage the RAAF was paying Indigenous Australians five shillings a day. But pressure from the civilian administration and pastoralists forced pay back to the standard rate.

In some areas the war caused great hardship. In the islands of Torres Strait, the pearling luggers that provided most of the local income were confiscated in case they fell into Japanese hands. The Islanders enlisted in units such as the Torres Strait Light Infantry, in which their pay was much lower than whites and often not enough to send home to feed their families


Aboriginal women also played an important role. Many enlisted in the women’s services or worked in war industries. In northern Australia Aboriginal and Islander women worked hard to support isolated RAAF outposts and even helped to salvage crashed aircraft.


Oodgeroo Noonuccal (Kath Walker)

Oodgeroo Noonuccal joined the Australian Women’s Army Service in 1942, after her two brothers were captured by the Japanese at the fall of Singapore. Serving as a signaller in Brisbane she met many black American soldiers, as well as European Australians. These contacts helped to lay the foundations for her later advocacy of Aboriginal rights.

Torres Strait Islander units

Since early the early twentieth century proposals were made to train the Indigenous Australians of northern Australia as a defence force. In the Second World War these ideas were tried out.

In 1941 the Torres Strait Light Infantry Battalion was formed to defend the strategically-important Torres Strait area. Other Islander units were also created, especially for water transport and as coastal artillery. The battalion never had the chance to engage the enemy but some were sent on patrol into Japanese-controlled Dutch New Guinea.

By 1944 almost every able-bodied male Torres Strait Islander had enlisted. However, they never received the same rates of pay or conditions as white soldiers. At first their pay was one-third that of regular soldiers. After a two-day “mutiny” in December 1943 this was raised to two-thirds.

In proportion to population, no community in Australia contributed more to the war effort in the Second World War than the Torres Strait Islanders.

Donald Thomson and the Northern Territory Special Reconnaissance Unit

Donald Thomson was an anthropologist from Melbourne who had lived with the East Arnhem Land Indigenous Australians for two years in the 1930s. In 1941 he set up and led the Northern Territory Special Reconnaissance Unit, an irregular army unit consisting of 51 Indigenous Australians, five whites, and a number of Pacific and Torres Strait Islanders. Three of the men had been to gaol for killing the crews of two Japanese pearling luggers in 1932. Now they were told that it was their duty to kill Japanese.

The members of the unit were to use their traditional bushcraft and fighting skills to patrol the coastal area, establish coastwatchers, and fight a guerilla war against any Japanese who landed. Living off the country and using traditional weapons, they were mobile and had no supply line to protect. Thomson shared the group’s hardships and used his knowledge of Aboriginal custom to help deal with traditional rivalries. The unit was eventually disbanded, once the fear of a Japanese landing had disappeared.

The Indigenous Australians in the unit received no monetary pay until back pay and medals were finally awarded in 1992.

Kapiu Masai Gagai

Kapiu Gagai was a Torres Strait Islander from Badu Island. He was a skilled boatman and carpenter and was working on pearling luggers when he joined Donald Thomson in Arnhem Land during the 1930s. In 1941 he again joined Thomson, this time in the Northern Territory Special Reconnaissance Unit. As bosun of Thomson’s vessel, the Aroetta, he patrolled the coast to prevent Japanese infiltration. Later he accompanied Thomson on patrol into Japanese-held Dutch New Guinea, where he was badly wounded. Gagai never received equivalent pay to white soldiers, which was also difficult for his family during and after the war.

Indigenous personnel are known to have served in later conflicts and operations (including in Somalia, East Timor, Afghanistan, Iraq, and on peacekeeping operations) but no numbers are available.

In the 1980s the Department of Defence began collecting information about Indigenous heritage, and these figures show that the number of Indigenous men and women serving in the Australian Defence Force has been increasing since the 1990s.

The department claimed that in early 2014 there were 1,054 Indigenous service personnel (on both permanent and active reserve) in the Australian Defence Force, representing about 1.4 per cent of the ADF’s uniformed workforce.

Indigenous service women honoured in Canberra’s Anzac ceremony | NITV via @NITV

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NACCHO Aboriginal Health and #SelfDetermination : Our CEO Pat Turner pays tribute to her Uncle Charlie Perkins at opening of new Canberra building named in his honour

“ Even though Uncle Charlie is gone and I have left the Public Service, I can tell you that his vision of self-determination is what I have sought to achieve every day of my life.

I know that fulfilling that vision is what will Close the Gap more than anything else.

It has driven me to lead a Coalition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peak organisations to seek a partnership with the Commonwealth and State and Territory Governments to jointly decide the next phase of Closing the Gap.

If he was here, I know Uncle Charlie would be standing with me in making sure that our peoples have to be at the table and make decisions about Closing the Gap and take responsibility for them alongside Governments.

This is a very powerful legacy of Uncle Charlie.”

NACCHO CEO Pat Turner speaking at the opening of Charles Perkins House In Canberra : See Full Speech Part 2 Below

Read yesterday Closing the Gap announcement by Prime Minister Morrison 

In 1966, Dr Charles Nelson Perkins AO was the first Aboriginal man to graduate from a university in Australia.

 Importantly Aboriginal people should be aware of this false economy which forms the basis of Aboriginal affairs in this country.

The economic lifeline is maintained only at the discretion of politicians and a fickle public.

We must therefore develop and consolidate a viable economy for our various communities and organisations that will sustain us into the future.

We must create short and long-term economic strategies now and thus create a more independent and secure base for ourselves and our children. The reality is that Aboriginal people under utilise, to put it kindly, their current economic and personnel resources. The potential for economic viability for our people is available now if only we could awake to the opportunity and not be blinded largely by employment survival economics ”

Unless the approaches to Aboriginal health are broadened to include greater attention to the health problems of adults, and are matched by broad ranging strategies aimed at redressing Aboriginal social and economic disadvantages, it is likely that overall mortality will remain high.

Dr Charles Perkins opening the Australia’s First National /International Indigenous and Economic Conference (NIBEC 1993) Alice Springs. 1993 International Year of the World’s Indigenous Peoples and Paul Keating was Prime Minister :

Read his full speech here Aboriginal people and a healthy economy

In a fitting tribute, the building where Indigenous affairs policy is developed was renamed Charles Perkins House last week, in honour of the celebrated anti-discrimination campaigner and former Department of Aboriginal Affairs secretary.

From The Madarin 

The late Dr Charles Perkins  became the first Indigenous Commonwealth secretary in 1984, after being appointed to the top job at the department where he started as a research officer in 1969. Before, during and after his career as a public servant, however, Perkins remained an activist first and foremost.

He was a major figure in the struggle for equal rights, arguing powerfully and publicly on behalf of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and leaving a towering legacy.

If Perkins had a choice between playing the role of the mild-mannered public servant to stay in the good books or speaking his mind, he chose the latter. He was famously suspended from his government job after publicly labelling the Western Australian government racist rednecks, and countless other anecdotes tell of a man whose life’s work was speaking truth to power, and never giving up on a fair go for the first Australians, above all else.

Staff of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet’s Indigenous affairs group have long worked out of the south Canberra office block, described as “the home of Indigenous affairs” by PM&C, since prior to 2013 when they were brought together into a single structure within the central agency.

Charles Perkins House replaced the much blander “Centraplaza” at a ceremony last week, attended by relatives of Perkins and “other significant names in Indigenous Affairs” according to a brief report from the department.

A spokesperson said the new name would stand as “a reminder of his significant contribution to the Australian Public Service, Indigenous Affairs, and to Australia’s national identity”.

While it’s not a stand-alone department, the creation of the IA group marked a move back towards centralisaton from the arrangements it superseded. It has slightly more autonomy than most comparable groupings as it works under an associate secretary, the former vice-chief of the Australian Defence Force, Ray Griggs. This is one of only two such positions that currently exist in the Australian Public Service and has higher status than deputy secretaries.

Perkins’ niece Patricia Turner, a former APS deputy secretary herself and chief executive of the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation, did the honours with PM&C secretary Martin Parkinson and deputy secretary for Indigenous affairs, Ian Anderson.

“Dr Perkins was a proud Arrernte and Kalkadoon man and laid the foundation for the type of forward-thinking Indigenous Affairs policy we aspire to at PM&C,” Parkinson said in the statement.

Anderson said Perkins was “an inspiration to public servants and the Indigenous community alike” and noted he was one of the first Aboriginal people to receive a university degree, leader of the 1965 Australian Freedom Ride, and an influential advocate of the yes-vote in the 1967 referendum that essentially created the policy area where he would later become the chief administrator.

We’re told PM&C “worked closely with the owner of the building to secure its agreement” to rename the building and that no money changed hands with the owner, the evri group.

“The Department also engaged Dr Perkins’ family as well as key Indigenous stakeholders in the naming of the building and design of the tribute to Dr Perkins,” a spokesperson added.



I too want to thank Matilda for the warm welcome.  Of course I also want to pay my respects to the traditional owners and elders, past and present.

This is our national capital, which we are all proud of but it is also the traditional lands of Aboriginal people who lived here for many generations.  That they have survived and are here should also be a source of pride for all of us.

I should point out that Matilda and her family also lived in Pearce and became close personal lifetime friends with my aunty and uncle.

Can I also greet the Perkins family formally, and I am very proud that they are part of my family and that Charles Perkins was my uncle.

Uncle Charlie

My uncle Charlie was an extraordinary man.

He had many roles throughout his life and none more important than being a husband, a father, a son, a brother, an uncle, a grandfather and a part of the Arrente and Kalkadoon First Nations.

His family and his wider extended family and cultural responsibilities were at the essence of his life.

It’s important I think to say that because often the focus is on his career in the public service and the influence that he has brought to bear on Australia over the course of the 20th century.

However, he was an Aboriginal man first and foremost.  That he was so successful at that is obvious – just take a look at his family and his children.  They have been such a success and I take this opportunity to pay tribute to them.


Uncle Charlie had other family of course and I am referring to those who lived at St Frances House in Adelaide.

Soccer was the springboard for his international travel and the experiences of living in another country.

Going overseas and, after returning to Australia, playing soccer with teams of different ethnic backgrounds, opened Uncle Charlie’s eyes to how he was viewed as an Aboriginal man among equals in this setting.

But we know, sadly, that if he was treated as an equal when he was playing soccer and recognised for being an Aboriginal man, the society in which he lived discriminated against him.


We also know, however, that this Aboriginal man decided to do something about it.  Uncle Charlie was strong and proud.  He had many strengths

-a strong work ethic and was very disciplined in fulfilling all his roles and responsibilities.

-Because he worked hard, he expected everyone else around him to do the same.

-I also remember personally his generosity and acts of kindness to me and others.

-At work, he focused on meeting and talking directly with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples right around the country.

-He had the most extensive network of contacts that I have ever seen, from people living in the Central Australian desert through to the Prime Minister’s office and heads of corporate Australia.  He was never afraid to pick up the phone.

-Of course his leadership qualities were displayed in the Freedom Rides which others have referred to today.

Priorities for Uncle Charlie

Uncle Charlie was a successful kidney transplant recipient and it made him more driven to get a better deal for Aboriginal people throughout Australia.

In the 1960s as a University student he held a mirror up so that Australian people could see how racist they were and forced them to look at themselves.

Uncle Charlie forced our country to start taking a good hard look at itself.

Sure, many considered him controversial and a stirrer, but we loved him and applauded him for his leadership, his strength of character and his undying commitment to achieve a much better quality of life for First Nations peoples throughout this country and a full suite of our specific rights as First Nations peoples.

We know that his spirit guides us today, and that during his lifetime he taught us a great deal.

Today we all stand on his shoulder as a giant of a man whose legacy we must build upon and bring his vision into reality.


That vision more than anything else was self-determination for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

By self-determination, Uncle Charlie never meant that we should be able to decide if we are part of Australia or that our development ought to be separate.

I can assure you that Uncle Charlie was a proud Australian and also saw the benefits of mainstream economic development.

What Uncle Charlie meant by self-determination was that;

  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples had to be fully involved in decision making about the policies and programs of governments that affected them,
  • while we had to co-exist with non-Indigenous Australians, we had to have our own structures that allowed us the opportunity to make decisions about our priorities for development;
  • racism in all its forms against us had to be defeated; and
  • while we had to live and succeed in Australia we also had the right to have our culture and identity.

This vision became central to the outlook of a whole generation of public servants who worked in Indigenous Affairs including me.

Even though Uncle Charlie is gone and I have left the Public Service, I can tell you that his vision of self-determination is what I have sought to achieve every day of my life.

I know that fulfilling that vision is what will Close the Gap more than anything else.

It has driven me to lead a Coalition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peak organisations to seek a partnership with the Commonwealth and State and Territory Governments to jointly decide the next phase of Closing the Gap.

If he was here, I know Uncle Charlie would be standing with me in making sure that our peoples have to be at the table and make decisions about Closing the Gap and take responsibility for them alongside Governments.

This is a very powerful legacy of Uncle Charlie.

Burn Baby Burn!

Reflections on the life of my Uncle Charlie, however, should not end without some other significant moments which many seem to have forgotten.

He had a love/hate relationship with the media, and he certainly knew how and when to cause a storm.

In some cases, I can’t help but laugh even though they were very serious at the time.  Remember the threats of protests in the lead up to the Sydney 2000 Olympics.

Uncle Charlie made a highly controversial declaration in April 2000 that Sydney would “Burn Baby Burn” during the event.

Who can forget the nationwide ruckus this caused.  Funny that we should be naming a building after the Aboriginal man who said it.

As I was walking up the steps just now, I was looking at the new sign “Charles Perkins House” and thinking to myself that I would like to spray paint in brackets “Burn Baby Burn”.

Other anecdotes

My uncle would read the press coverage every morning, and the executive soon learnt we also had to. At times I would walk into his office if I was concerned about a particular emerging issue covered in the press and indicate high level briefing may need to be prepared, and he had a very keen sense of when that was necessary and when it wasn’t. He would often say to us “Today’s news – tomorrow’s fish and chips wrapping”.

One morning we walked into his office in the executive meeting and he exclaimed the headline “Woman crawls 500m to escape croc attack”. “Geez”, he said “fancy that, crawling 500 miles!” I replied “Can’t be, must be 500 metres because she would be dead from exhaustion if she crawled 500 miles!”

Before the age of the mobile, my uncle was addicted to the phone and at home the phone and his personal phone book were forever on his side. He would flick through the phone book to decide who to ring today, and when someone answered he would say “Hello mate, Charlie here, just touching base”. Of course we all knew he was just keeping his finger on the pulse.

He always had a fire in his belly and held is back bone straight, a determination he instilled in us all. I am so proud he was my uncle.

In closing, I want to thank you personally Ian Anderson for all the effort you put into bringing this event to fruition.

It’s fantastic that Australia’s headquarters for Indigenous Affairs has been named after Uncle Charlie and well done to the Australian Government and thank you very much.


NACCHO Deadly Good Members News : Aboriginal Health #InternationalWomensDay #IWD2019 : #MorePowerfulTogether  Our tribute to our 10 Women NACCHO Board of Directors and 71 #ACCHO CEO’s of our majority female workforce

1.National : Donnella Mills – Chair NACCHO and Wuchopperen Health Service   

2.NT: Donna Ah Chee Central Australian Aboriginal Congress

3.NSW: LaVerne Bellear Redfern Aboriginal Medical Service

4.TAS: Raylene Foster Tasmanian Aboriginal Corporation

5.NT: Olga Havnen Danila Dilba Health Service

6.VIC: Karen Heap Ballarat & District Aboriginal Co-operative

7.SA: Vicki Holmes Nunkuwarrin Yunti of South Australia

8.WA: Lesley Nelson South West Aboriginal Medical Service

9.ACT: Julie Tongs Winnunga Nimmityjah Health and Community Service

10. QLD: Gail Wason Mulungu Primary Health Care Service

Aboriginal women are the best advocates and leaders for health and wellbeing in their own families and in the broader community.

They are proving to be effective role models, mentors and influencers for the next generation of Aboriginal female leaders.

Recently NACCHO CEO Pat Turner told a women’s leadership summit

As mothers, aunts, grandmothers, sisters and daughters, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women have culturally and historically always played a pivotal role in supporting and caring for families in our communities so working in the health sector was a natural progression.

For over 47 years Indigenous health activists like Dr Naomi Mayers, Coleen Shirley (Mum Shirl) Smith AM MBE, Jill Gallagher AO, Vicki O’Donnell, Pamela Mam, and the late Mary Buckskin have been just some of our leaders who have successfully advocated for community controlled, culturally respectful, needs based approach to improving the health and wellbeing outcomes of our people.

See previous NACCHO #IWD Tribute HERE 

As a result of their leadership and years of commitment as role models they have now paved the way for 10 women to be on the NACCHO board, 71 Indigenous women promoted to CEO’s out of 145 Organisations who employ over 6,000 staff with a majority being Indigenous woman

Our ACCHO network has successfully provided a critical and practical pathway for the education, training and employment for many Indigenous women.But much more needs to be done to develop viable career pathways to graduate more Indigenous women doctors, nurses and allied health professionals.

Last year NACCHO, RANZCOG and other medical college Presidents met with the Minister for Indigenous Health and other ministers in Canberra who are all determined to do everything possible to Close the Gap in health outcomes.

Creating career pathways for Indigenous women in our workforce will be a good starting point to continue supporting the theme ” More powerful together ”

1.National : Donnella Mills – Chair NACCHO and Wuchopperen Health Service QLD 

Donnella is a Torres Strait Islander woman with ancestral and family links to Masig and Nagir in the Torres Strait.

She is a Cairns–based lawyer with LawRight, a Community Legal Centre which coordinates the provision of pro-bono civil legal services to disadvantaged and vulnerable members of the community. Donnella is currently the project lawyer for the Wuchopperen Health Justice Partnership through a partnership with LawRight. This innovative Health Justice Partnership is an exciting model of providing access to justice, where lawyers and health professionals collaborate to provide better health outcomes and access to justice for patients with legal issues.

Donnella said she was “very excited about the opportunity to contribute to working the new Chairperson, the new board and the NACCHO Executive to drive the national health debate, develop community led solution, and to champion why Community-Controlled is the pinnacle model in achieving greater autonomy and self-determination for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

Utilising a legal lens in which to view health, social justice, human rights, and access to justice, my commitment is to deliver expanded and enhanced innovative health services that are community driven and community led, addressing core systemic social determinant issues that have a direct impact on our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.”

2.NT: Donna Ah Chee CEO Central Australian Aboriginal Congress

Ms Ah Chee is the Chief Executive Officer of the Central Australian Aboriginal Congress Aboriginal Corporation, the Aboriginal community controlled primary health care service in Alice Springs.

Ms Ah Chee is a Bundgalung woman from the far north coast of New South Wales and has lived in Alice Springs for over 25 years.

She has been actively involved in Aboriginal affairs for many years, especially in the area of Aboriginal adult education and Aboriginal health. In June 2011, Ms Ah Chee moved to Canberra to take up the position of Chief Executive Officer of the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisation before returning to Congress in July 2012.

Ms Ah Chee convened the Workforce Working Party under the Northern Territory Aboriginal Health Forum, was Chairperson of the Central Australian Regional Indigenous Health Planning Committee, a member of the Northern Territory Child Protection External Monitoring Committee and jointly headed up the Northern Territory Government’s Alcohol Framework Project Team.

She currently sits on the National Drug and Alcohol Committee and at a local level, represents the Congress on the People’s Alcohol Action Coalition.

3.NSW: LaVerne Bellear CEO Redfern Aboriginal Medical Service

LaVerne Bellear a descendant from the Nunukle Tribe of south-eastern Queensland, grew up in the northern part of the Bundjalung Nation (north coast New South Wales).

LaVerne strongly believes that empowering Aboriginal people will create opportunity to make better informed decisions and choices regarding personal management of health care, ultimately resulting in better health outcomes. LaVerne has extensive experience in Aboriginal health, having worked in community health, Aboriginal controlled health services and as the Director, Aboriginal Health, Northern Sydney Local Health District.

Recently, LaVerne has taken up the position of CEO, Aboriginal Medical Service Cooperative at Redfern, New South Wales.

She has been a state representative on a number of working parties and committees concerning Aboriginal health. LaVerne has a Bachelor of Business, a Professional Certificate in Indigenous Research in Training and Practices and is studying a Master of Public Health at The University of New South Wales.

4.TAS: Raylene Foster Tasmanian Aboriginal Corporation

Raylene Foster is a palawa women from the Cygnet area. She commenced her career in hospitality, becoming a chef, and then moved into adult teaching within the TAFE institute.

Raylene took on a six-month secondment to Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre in 1995 and stayed; she has now been with the TAC for over 20 years

She’s had varying roles within the TAC, including the Director of the Aboriginal Community School, Workforce Development Officer, Emotional and Social Wellbeing Coordinator and over the past 15 years the Manager of the Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre in the South, which includes the Aboriginal Health Service.

Raylene has a Graduate Certificate in Administration and an Advanced Diploma in Human Resources, as well as Diploma of Alcohol and Other Drugs and Mental Health and a facilitator in the SMART Recovery program. Raylene is passionate about children’s wellbeing and keeping families connected to break the cycle of institutionalisation, separations and trauma-related illnesses.

Raylene’s Abstract For This Months Rural Health Conference in Hobart 

See Website 

The Aboriginal cultural camp was an initiative that commenced in 2016 for Tasmanian registrars, GPs and members of the Tasmanian Aboriginal community. We wanted to go beyond the basic requirements of attendance at cultural training, to offer an immersion in to Aboriginal culture, on Aboriginal country, with mutual benefit for the Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal communities.

The camp is held annually at trawtha makuminya, Aboriginal-owned land in the Central Highlands of Tasmania, from a Friday afternoon until a Sunday afternoon. Registrars, General Practitioners, Practice Staff and General Practice Training Tasmania staff and family members attend, in addition to the TAC staff Camp Organisers and Caterers, Cultural and Land Educators, Elders and community members.

The weekend involves an official welcome speech, dance and music, yarning around the campfire, guided walks with discussion about Aboriginal history, the land and stone tools, kayaking, basket weaving, hand stencilling, clap stick making, and a session of “You Can’t Ask That”. There is a medical education session and participants hear from an Aboriginal Health Worker and Aboriginal Enrolled Nurse about the services offered by the Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre.

There is a lot of informal discussion about culture and life stories shared by both the adults and the children.

The feedback given to date, both informally and through the evaluation forms, is overwhelmingly positive. Participants value the beautiful location, the opportunity to spend time with community members outside the clinical setting, the obvious connection to country displayed by the Aboriginal community and the sharing of stories in a cultural exchange.

5.NT: Olga Havnen CEO Danila Dilba Health Service Darwin 

Olga is of Western Arrente descent and grew up in Tennant Creek. Her great-grandfather was Ah Hong, a Chinese cook who worked on the Overland Telegraph Line[2] whose partner was an Aboriginal woman in Alice Springs.

Their daughter Gloria, Havnen’s grandmother, was the first Aboriginal woman to own a house in Alice Springs. Havnen’s father was a Norwegian sailor who jumped ship in Adelaide and her mother, Pegg lived in Tennant Creek. Havnen went to boarding school in TownsvilleQueensland.[3]

Olga Havnen has held positions as the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Programs Co-ordinator for the Australian Red Cross, Senior Policy Officer in the Northern Territory Government’s Indigenous Policy Unit, Indigenous Programs Director with the Fred Hollows Foundation, and Executive Officer with the National Indigenous Working Group.

And was the Coordinator General of Remote Service Provision from 2011 until October 2012, when the Northern Territory Government controversially abolished the position.[4]

She released one report which detailed deficiencies in Northern Territory and Commonwealth Government’s service provision to remote communities in the Northern Territory.[5]

She is currently the Chief Executive Officer of the Danila Dilba Health Service in Darwin, an Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Service.[1]

Havnen gave evidence at the Royal Commission into the Protection and Detention of Children in the Northern Territory critical of the outcomes and delivery of the Northern Territory National Emergency Response, commonly referred to as the Intervention stating “the experience of the Intervention was such a debacle you’d never want that repeated, but I do think that there is a role for the federal government in here in the Northern Territory”,

6.VIC: Karen Heap Ballarat & District Aboriginal Co-operative : Chair VACCHO 

Karen Heap, a Yorta Yorta woman, has been the CEO of Ballarat and District Aboriginal Cooperative for 12 years and brings with her a vast amount of knowledge and skillsets procured from extensive experience within the Aboriginal Service Sector.

Karen Heap was recently the winner of the Walda Blow Award ( pictured above )

This award was established by DHHS in partnership with the Victorian Commissioner for Aboriginal Children and Young People, in memory of Aunty Walda Blow – a proud Yorta

Yorta and Wemba Wemba Elder who lived her life in the pursuit of equality.

Aunty Walda was an early founder of the Dandenong and District Aboriginal Cooperative and worked for over 40 years improving the lives of the Aboriginal community. This award recognises contributions of an Aboriginal person in Victoria to the safety and wellbeing of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander children and young people.

Karen ensures the safety and wellbeing of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander children and young people are always front and centre.

Karen has personally committed her support to the Ballarat Community through establishing and continuously advocating for innovative prevention, intervention and reunification programs.

As the inaugural Chairperson of the Alliance, Karen contributions to establishing the identity and achieving multiple outcomes in the Alliance Strategic Plan is celebrated by her peers and recognised by the community service sector and DHHS.

Karen’s leadership in community but particularly for BADAC, has seen new ways of delivering cultural models of care to Aboriginal children, carers and their families, ensuring a holistic service is provided to best meet the needs of each individual and in turn benefit the community.

7.SA: Vicki Holmes Nunkuwarrin Yunti of South Australia

Vicki Holmes is an Aboriginal woman descended from the Tanganekald and Western Aranda clan. Vicki has been with Nunkuwarrin Yunti for 32 years where she has had many roles; her first position was the medical receptionist but she also did whatever was needed including home visits, transport and hospital visits.

In 1986, Vicki became the Health Coordinator and while in this role programs such as women’s health, HIV, diabetes, mental health and social/welfare support expanded and developed. In 2010, Vicki became the CEO of Nunkuwarrin Yunti of South Australia. As CEO of Nunkuwarrin Yunti, she holds positions on the Boards of NACCHO, the Aboriginal Health Council of South Australia, Research Excellence in Aboriginal Community Controlled Health (REACCH), and First Peoples National Congress.

Her vision for Nunkuwarrin Yunti is around what she calls the four Cs: Community, Communication, Caring, Consistency. Vicki has always been passionate about the social and emotional wellbeing of the Aboriginal community.

8.WA: Lesley Nelson CEO South West Aboriginal Medical Service

SWAMS are united by the drive and passion to provide culturally safe, accessible and holistic health care to the Aboriginal people of the South West. WA

As an organisation, they continue to attract and employ culturally appropriate and professional staff members. SWAMS employs over 70 staff members including specialist Aboriginal Health Practitioners, Dietitians, Nurses, Midwives, Mental Health workers and Social Workers and because of this, we are able to provide a large and diverse range of services to the community.

In addition to this, they strive to create Aboriginal career pathways and opportunities across the sector and maintain a positive percentage of ATSI employees

Last year as preparations got underway for the South West Aboriginal Medical Service’s 20th anniversary, centre chief executive officer Lesley Nelson has reflected on how far indigenous health has advanced in the South West in that time.

Ms Nelson said the centre started small with a handful of staff and a desire to improve Aboriginal health outcomes in the region.

Over the next 20 years, it expanded with clinics in Bunbury, Busselton, Manjimup, Collie and Brunswick.

“We started after local elders held discussions with a number of key groups about developing a culturally appropriate service to address the health-related issues of the South West’s Indigenous population,” she said.

“Since then we’ve gone from strength-to-strength, offering a number of employment opportunities in the sector, training programs and improved health outcomes.”

Ms Nelson said the local service played an important role in the community.

“Being based in a number of country towns ensured locals can access our services conveniently, especially if they lack transport options to the bigger cities,” she said.

“We offer an important service because we intervene and manage issues early on and slowly we are improving the health of the South West Noongar people.

“We are also standing out nationally when it comes to maternal and child health.”

Moving forward, SWAMS are keen to continue growing, participating in more research studies and working collaboratively with other similar services to offer a whole of community approach to improved health.

9.ACT: Julie Tongs Winnunga Nimmityjah Health and Community Service

Julie Tongs OAM has been the Chief Executive Officer of Winnunga Nimmityjah Aboriginal Health and Community Services since 1998.  Julie has more than 30 years experience working in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander affairs and in particular has extensive experience in advising, formulating, implementing and evaluating public health initiatives, programs and policy at a local, regional and national level.

Julie has been a national leader and strong advocate of quality improvement initiatives within the Aboriginal Community Controlled sector.

Julie is the recipient of a number of awards, including the ACT Governor General’s Centenary Medal and the ACT Indigenous Person of the Year. In 2011 Julie received the ACT Local Hero Award within the Australian of the Year Awards 2012, and in 2012 Julie was honoured with the Medal of the Order of Australia.

Julie’s vision is that Winnunga continues to build on its reputation as a national leader in the provision of holistic primary health care services delivered in a culturally appropriate environment that achieves improved health outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Julie is committed to ensuring that Winnunga offers services that are delivered consistent with best practice standards.

10 .QLD: Gail Wason Mulungu Primary Health Care Service

We see the best way to build capacity and capability within our corporation is by encouraging strong leaders, maintaining effective governance, ensuring strong systems, and keeping focused on accountable performance management.

Mulungu help our clients to make informed decisions. We work in health but we also work across education and job opportunities. Our model supports individuals who want to do the best for themselves, their family and their community.’

CEO Gail Wason.

Gail is the Chief Executive Officer of Mulungu Primary Health Care Service in Mareeba. She has over 25 years’ experience in Aboriginal affairs and health, and an unwavering commitment to improving the health and wellbeing of her community.

Gail strives to ensure that the community has access to the full range of high quality, culturally appropriate primary health care services that empowers clients to fully participate in the management of their own health.

She has served as QAIHC’s Far North Queensland Director and Chairperson of QAIHC’s Finance Committee and has worked closely with the Board for many years.

Mulungu Aboriginal Corporation Medical Centre is an Aboriginal community-controlled health organisation working to improve the lives of Indigenous people in and around Mareeba.

The centre was established in 1991 and incorporated under the CATSI Act in 1993.

The rural town of Mareeba—a word from local Aboriginal language meaning ‘meeting of the waters’—is located on the Atherton Tablelands where the Barron River meets Granite Creek. Traditionally Muluridji people inhabited this land.

‘Although the bright lights of Cairns are only 65 kilometres away we feel like a stand-alone, small country town,’ says chair of the Mulungu board of directors (and valued volunteer) Alan Wason. ‘We have a population of 10,000 and our own identity separate from Cairns.’

The town of Mareeba may be a little tucked away but it has much to offer, including Mulungu Aboriginal Corporation Medical Centre—a bright, open, modern building—which employs a large professional staff who work as a team and support each other. Everyone is passionate about providing top quality holistic health care to the community through Mulungu’s programs and services.

Mulungu’s mission is to provide comprehensive primary health care to the community in culturally, socially and emotionally appropriate ways. It’s about handing back power to the people to manage their own health, wellbeing and spiritual needs. So as well as providing clinical health care services Mulungu ‘auspices’ other important primary health care programs, including the Mareeba Children and Families Centre (CFC), Mareeba Parent and Community Engagement (PaCE) Program, and the Mareeba Young and Awesome Project (MY&A).

The MY&A Project tackles the problem of binge drinking in the community. Its aim is to motivate young people (aged 12 to 25) to get involved in constructive activities that they might enjoy—and to get them away from drinking alcohol. This two-year project is funded by the Australian Government.

‘We help our clients to make informed decisions,’ says Gail Wason. ‘We work in health but we also work across education and job opportunities. Our model supports individuals who want to do the best for themselves, their family and their community.’

It’s all about changing and improving lives.

To learn more about Mulungu Aboriginal Corporation Medical Service visit




NACCHO Aboriginal Health and #Referendum #Ulurustatement : Indigenous campaigners awarded Australia Day honours for role in 1967 referendum Ruth Hennings, Diana Travis, Alfred Neal and Dulcie Flower honoured for service to their communities

 ” Ruth Henning, Diana Travis, and Alfred Neal were awarded the medal of the order of Australia (OAM) on Saturday for their service to their communities and work on the 1967 referendum.

Aunty Dulcie Flower, who was granted the OAM in 1992, was made a member of the order of Australia (AM) for her work on the referendum, her role in the establishment of the Aboriginal Medical Service in Redfern, and her work as a nurse.

From the Guardian 26 January 2019

Alfie Neal and Ruth Wallace Hennings – brave the tropical rain at Yarrabah where they sat and planned the vote for Australia’s indigenous population. Picture: Brian Cassey

 ” More than 50 years ago, Ruth Hennings sat with Alfred Neal day after day under the “Tree of Knowledge” in Yarrabah, near Cairns, plotting the protest movement across Queensland’s conservative north that helped bring the beginnings of equality for ­Aboriginal Australians.

It was from there that the mission-raised pair led the local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Advancement League, in its struggle to win support for the successful 1967 referendum, enabling laws for indigenous people and including them in the census.

The only survivors of the league, Ms Hennings, 85, and Mr Neal, 94, reunited yesterday on the beach near where the tree stood after learning they — had been awarded Order of Australia Medals for services to the indigenous community.”

From the Australian 26 January 2019

Campaigners mark the 50th anniversary of the 1967 referendum on 24 May 2017, including Alfred Neal, left, and Dulcie Flower, second right, who have both been recognised in the 2019 Australia Day honours. Photograph: Mike Bowers for the Guardian

On the day of the 1967 referendum, Ruth Hennings was handing out “vote yes” flyers at a local school in Cairns.

It was the first sign she had that the campaign to ensure Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people were included in the census, and to give the federal government power to make laws specifically for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, had won the support of a majority of Australian citizens.

“Nearly everyone who was there, they all said good luck and hoped everything would turn out good,” Hennings said. “So they gave me a good feeling of ‘it will change’.”

When the votes were counted, that feeling was confirmed: 91% of Australians voted yes.

The next step, Hennings said, was a plan to ensure that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples were recognised in the constitution as the First Peoples of Australia.

See Ruths story Brisbane Times

Fifty-two years later that still has not happened and the Uluru Statement, which sets out a path forward, was rejected by the federal government.

Hennings is 85 now, a celebrated elder. On Saturday she was one of four Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people honoured for their role in the 1967 referendum, and for a lifetime of other community work.

She was a founding member of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Advancement League in Cairns, which began in 1958, and attended meetings while working as a cleaner around the town for 15 shillings a day.

She told Guardian Australia constitutional recognition was still badly needed.

“We really need to get a body together where we can talk in one voice,” she said. “All of these things have been happening, money is being thrown around, and there’s no result … the main thing is getting that constitution right and making sure that we are all one people, we are all one Australia.”

Travis was just 19 when her grandfather Sir Douglas Nicholls, one of the most revered figures in Victoria, drove her to Canberra to take part in the referendum alongside her heroes: Charlie Perkins, Chicka Dixon, Oodgeroo Noonuccal, and Faith Bandler.

“They were all wonderful leaders, wonderful workers, focused and aware, so I was just in my joy being there, mingling and being amongst them all in Canberra,” she said.

Travis is now involved in native title work as a Dja Dja Wurrung claimant and a member of the Dhuudora native title group, and is an active participant in the Victorian treaty process.

“It may be a different time now but I still believe that there’s good people out there,” Travis said. “Some of them may not understand, but I just say: listen please, listen to us, talk to us. We’re not targeting you, it’s all about the government.”

She said she was in “two or three minds” about accepting the Australia Day honour, both because she does not support the celebration of Australia Day on 26 January – she will spend the morning in protest in Melbourne, as she does every year – and because she was not sure she had done enough to earn it.

Both Hennings and Travis said the singular focus and united purpose behind the 1967 referendum campaign was absent from modern reform debates.

“At that time we all had that one goal,” Henning said. “We all knew what we wanted, we were focused and willing and happy and we had FCAATSI (Federal Council for the Advancement of Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders) … But today there’s nothing.”


NACCHO Aboriginal Health and #AustraliaDay2019 or #InvasionDay1788 Debate : With Editorial from PM @ScottMorrisonMP, Jeff Kennett and Marion Scrymgour : On #SurvivalDay 2019 we recognise the strength and resilience of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people

” Yesterday 25 January my family and I spent time with the Ngunnawal people — the first inhabitants of the Canberra region. We attended a smoking ceremony, an ancient cleansing ritual, in what I believe should become a prime ministerial tradition on the eve of Australia Day.

The timing, ahead of our national day, is entirely appropriate because the sacred custodianship of our indigenous people marked the first chapter in the story of our country.

Our First Australians walked here long before anyone else, loving and caring for these lands and waters. They still do. We honour their resilience and stewardship across 60,000 years. We pay respect to the world’s oldest continuous culture.

A culture that is alive; a culture that has survived. A culture that speaks to us no matter what our background as Australians because it is part of the living, breathing soul of our land.

Scott Morrison is the Prime Minister of Australia see full Text Published 26 January 2019 The Australian see Part 1 Below 

Watch video

 Minnie Tompkins ochreing the PM’s two Daughters at the event : Copyright Billy T.Tompkins

” We cannot celebrate 26 January when our children still face the devastating impacts of colonisation. Instead, on Survival Day we recognise the strength and resilience of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and the survival of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children.

If we are to celebrate the many great things about our nation, we need a new date that is inclusive of all Australians and ensures we can all participate in celebrations together.

For Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people 26 January and the colonisation of Australia is a reflection of the ongoing discrimination and violation of human rights that many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children face today.”

SNAICC Press Release 26 January 2019 

It was with profound sadness that I read two stories in The Australian this week: first was the front-page piece “Conservative MPs push to protect January 26”, published on Thursday, and then yesterday, “Dutton puts pressure on PM with support for Australia Day law”. This second story was accompanied by a report on an “invasion day” rally planned for the steps of Parliament House today.

In my column in Melbourne’s Herald Sun this week, I presented the case for changing the date from January 26.

I am the first to admit the issue of the date on which we celebrate Australia Day is not the top priority for Australians. Nor is the recalibration of the way in which Australia recognises its First Peoples. But changing the date is a start in building the recognition and trust I believe is necessary in an educated country

Stop this insult to our First Peoples in the Australian 26 January 2019

Jeff Kennett was the Liberal premier of Victoria, 1992-99 see Part 2 Below

” How can Australia possibly persist in celebrating as its national day the colonial acts of a foreign country? Without even touching on the sensitivities of Indigenous people, where does that leave the majority of Australians who came to or are descended from people who came to this country since Federation (including exponentially increasing numbers of Asian Australians)?

And finally, just to return to the issue of the stake of Indigenous people in this nation. Some have suggested that because there are pressing and immediate issues which are undermining our prospects for progress and wellbeing, it is inappropriate to spend time and energy participating in the debate about our national day.

Like many others who are committed to tackling domestic violence, drug and alcohol abuse, and unemployment amongst our people, I believe we can walk and chew gum at the same time.” 

Marion Scrymgour is currently the Chief Executive Officer of the Tiwi Islands Regional Council. Prior to this she was the Chief Executive Officer of the Wurli-Wurliinjang Health Service and was Chair of the Aboriginal Medical Services Alliance of the Northern Territory.

Part 4 Invasion Day rally 2019: where to find marches and protests across Australia

Part 1 January 26, 1788 marked the birth of today’s modern Australia Scott Morrison

Today we also remember the second chapter of our country’s history that began on January 26, 1788, with the arrival of the First Fleet.

Wooden convict ships came carrying men and women who were sick, poor and destitute. Those men and women, who included my own ancestors, persevered, endured and won their freedom. They braved hardship and built lives and families. Indeed, the wonder of our country is that out of such hardship would emerge a nation as decent, as fair and as prosperous as ours.

For along with the cruelties of empire came the ideas of the Enlightenment, and Australia was the great project. Notions of liberty, enterprise and human dignity became the foundation for modern Australia.

And we embrace, too, all those who’ve come since — to make us the happy, thriving, multicultural democracy that we are. That’s the third chapter of our story: the one we’re still writing.

Across Australia, 16,212 men, women and children will become citizens today in more than 365 ceremonies. They will be endowed with the same rights, opportunities and responsibilities as every other Australian. Australia’s great bounty is that she is now made up of people from every nation on earth. Together, all these chapters make us who we are.

They’re not unblemished. We don’t have a perfect history. We’ve made mistakes, but no nation is perfect. But we have so much to be grateful for and so much to be proud of.

We’re a free nation, with an elected parliament, an independent judiciary and a free press. We believe in the equality of men and women — of all citizens no matter their creed, race, sexuality or gender. We’ve worked to create a nation that is harmonious, prosperous and safe — one where every individual matters.

That’s what today is about. Gratitude for all we have. Pride in who we’ve become together.

Australia Day is the day we come together. It’s the day we celebrate all Australians, all their stories, all their journeys. And we do this on January 26 because this is the day that Australia changed — forever — and set us on the course of the modern Australia we are today.

Our nation’s story is of a good-hearted and fair people always striving to be better. We have a go. We take risks. Occasionally we fall flat on our faces. But we get up. We always get up. After all, we know how to have a laugh. And we know how to help how mates when they’re down. Today we remember our history, we celebrate our achievements and we re-dedicate ourselves to the land and the people we love.

Happy Australia Day.

Scott Morrison is the Prime Minister of Australia.

Part 2  Stop this insult to our First Peoples

It was with profound sadness that I read two stories in The Australian this week: first was the front-page piece “Conservative MPs push to protect January 26”, published on Thursday, and then yesterday, “Dutton puts pressure on PM with support for Australia Day law”. This second story was accompanied by a report on an “invasion day” rally planned for the steps of Parliament House today.

In my column in Melbourne’s Herald Sun this week, I presented the case for changing the date from January 26.

I am the first to admit the issue of the date on which we celebrate Australia Day is not the top priority for Australians. Nor is the recalibration of the way in which Australia recognises its First Peoples. But changing the date is a start in building the recognition and trust I believe is necessary in an educated country.

Let me start with the claims of “invasion day”. This is a term used by some in the indigenous community and by activists. It has gathered some mileage because its use has not been challenged regularly.

Australia was not invaded in 1788, it was settled. The country was occupied by a people from a different community and race to those who were already here, spread in tribes throughout the land.

As those settlers spread from Sydney Cove, the First Peoples were dispossessed of their lands and, yes, as that happened atrocities were committed.

Commodore Arthur Phillip did not arrive with a military force when he settled Port Jackson in 1788. There was no intent to wage a war against the local inhabitants. In fact, the opposite was true. Phillip was commissioned to work with the inhabitants of the country. Although that did not occur, nor did an invasion.

Let me turn to those so-called conservatives mentioned earlier. Probably the closest political grouping we have in Australia that claims to be conservative is the Nationals. Members of the Liberal Party are part of a broader church that I had always taken to mean economically conservative and socially generous.

Together in government the parties and their members discuss and find consensus on issues through policy development.

It is inconceivable to me that these so-called conservatives cannot see how celebrating Australia Day on January 26 every year reinforces a sense of loss among our First Peoples.

How can they not understand that passing legislation to enshrine January 26 as Australia Day would insult our First Peoples and defer any real hope of building the recognition they deserve?

Their action in pursuing such legislation indicates yet again how out of touch and inflexible some members of parliament have become. This is in the face of the demonstrated generosity of the community on social issues such as same-sex marriage and recognition of the challenges facing our disabled and their carers.

Why can’t they see that the same social generosity should be extended to our First Peoples?

Why do they argue that we should continue to discriminate against an important section of our community who are offended by January 26 as the date of national celebration?

The only reason these so-called conservatives are doing so is because some polls suggested that 75 per cent of Australians support January 26 as the day for the celebration.

This reasoning simply continues the cowardice of so many of our federal politicians over the past two decades.

They are elected to lead. Make bold decisions. Correct areas that cause pain to the community when bold action can easily resolve such pain.

Some in the community argue the government is not conservative enough. I disagree. The issues that were relevant in the 1960s and 70s have evolved through education and extraordinary advances in technology. There is a growing recognition of individual rights.

While I respect the right of all individuals in a broad church to hold differing views, I reserve the right to disagree with them, as I do on this issue. It is in my opinion a myopic view, outdated and based on wrong motives.

I will be interested in see which conservatives put their names to any motion to put back any real advance in the recognition of our First Peoples.

As for Peter Dutton. Leader of the band? Jumping on the so-called conservative bandwagon? He has already done considerable damage to his political reputation and must accept much of the blame for the position of the government, having been instigator of the events that led to the removal of Malcolm Turnbull.

Leadership is what is required, Peter, not weakness. Leadership is what the community respects.

By the way, happy Australia Day to all. I hope today provides an opportunity for people, including politicians, to reconsider their position so that we can continue to build the respect we should be showing to our First Peoples.

Part 3 Let’s park the issues relating to Aboriginal people to one side and look at what the 26th of January represents and symbolises for Australians generally, and at how patently incompatible with our modern national identity it is as a selected national day.

Marion Scrymgour first published 2018

The debate about whether Australia Day should be changed to a date other than the 26th of January has in recent times been focussed on the offensiveness to many Indigenous Australians of using the commemoration of the establishment of an English colony in New South Wales as the foundation narrative of our national identity. The objection articulated by advocates for change is that it ignores, marginalises or diminishes Indigenous history and culture, and fails to acknowledge past injustices (some still unresolved).

Personally I think the objection is valid, but I accept that there are differing views. However, it is not necessary to even get into that argument to be persuaded conclusively that there should be a change of date. Let’s park the issues relating to Aboriginal people to one side and look at what the 26th of January represents and symbolises for Australians generally, and at how patently incompatible with our modern national identity it is as a selected national day.

The 26th of January marks the beginning of what sort of enterprise? What sort of uplifting and inspirational human endeavour? The answer is that it was a penal settlement. A remote punishment farm to warehouse the overflow from Britain’s prisons. A place of brutality and despair conceived out of a desire to keep a problem out of sight and out of mind.

Modern Australia has its flaws. Some may want to argue the toss over Don Dale or Manus Island, but the reality is that we are a civilised, enlightened and fair people. We embrace those values in ourselves and in each other. We all recognise how lucky we are to live in a tolerant society where diversity and difference are accepted and mateship and hard work are encouraged. We cherish our autonomy and freedom. A national day should resonate with and reflect those values. The way it can do that is by reminding us of something in our past which either brought out the best in our national character, or else represented a step along the path to our unique Australian identity.

Potential examples are many, but might include these: Kokoda; the first Snowy River hydro scheme (with its harnessing of migrant workers from all over Europe coming to seek a better life after the second world war); the abolition of the white Australia policy in 1966; the passage of the Australia Act in 1986 (when Australia’s court system finally became fully independent).

One thing I know for sure is that when we look into history’s mirror for some event or occasion that allows us to see ourselves as we aspire to be, the last and most alien screen we would contemplate downloading and sharing as emblematic of ourselves as Australians would be Sydney Cove in 1788. You just have to pause and think about it for a moment to be able to reject the concept as ludicrous. And yet that is the status quo that has become entrenched in our national calendar, through a process which has been more recent and less considered than most would be aware of.

In my view it is a matter of historical logic that Australia’s national day cannot be one which commemorates something which happened before Australia itself was created. That happened in 1901 when the various colonies joined together in a single federation in which each of them was transformed into an entity called a “state”.

The new Australian states were modelling themselves on the American colonies which had joined together to become the United States of America. Many of those colonies already had a long prior history since they had been established by European settlers and in most cases they were much prouder of their origins than those new Australian states which had started off as penal settlements. But if anyone, then or since, had proposed that the national day for the USA should be some day commemorating the early history of some individual colony, they would have been howled down by Americans. The American national day celebrates the independence of the unified whole, not a way-station in the history of a pre-independence colony. It should be the same with us.

If any recent event should have served to underscore the lack of fit between the date on which our national day is currently celebrated and our contemporary political reality it is the disqualifying of Federal Parliamentarians who have belatedly discovered that they are British citizens.

Just think about that for a moment. The colony of New South Wales was established on behalf of the British Crown. Then when the country called Australia was created in 1901, its people were classed as British subjects. Stand-alone citizenship came later and things have been slowly and fundamentally changing. In 2018 Britain is a foreign country and if you are a citizen of that country you are excluded from being elected to our Australian parliament. That is because it is recognised that there are conflicting interests and allegiances.

How can Australia possibly persist in celebrating as its national day the colonial acts of a foreign country? Without even touching on the sensitivities of Indigenous people, where does that leave the majority of Australians who came to or are descended from people who came to this country since Federation (including exponentially increasing numbers of Asian Australians)?

And finally, just to return to the issue of the stake of Indigenous people in this nation. Some have suggested that because there are pressing and immediate issues which are undermining our prospects for progress and wellbeing, it is inappropriate to spend time and energy participating in the debate about our national day. Like many others who are committed to tackling domestic violence, drug and alcohol abuse, and unemployment amongst our people, I believe we can walk and chew gum at the same time.

Marion Scrymgour