NACCHO National Apology 6th anniversary : Why the Apology, Reconciliation, Healing and Recognition Matter’

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“We need to get back to the basics of our culture and allow a diversity of opinions in a respectful and supportive manner.

This is the vital element for reconciliation, healing and recognition to become a reality in our great country.”

Speech by Josie Cashman – A member of  the Prime Minister’s Indigenous Advisory Council

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I am humbled and proud to be asked to speak to you on the 6th anniversary of the National Apology. This year at the opening of Parliament the Prime Minister, Mr Tony Abbott acknowledged  the damage done to the Stolen Generations. The Apology, Reconciliation, Healing and Recognition are so important to enable all Australians to come together. Many leaders have outlined the effects of the removal of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and the need for reconciliation, healing and forgiveness. In this speech, I want to use this opportunity to highlight why these things matter and what is the biggest threat to moving forward as one country.

What is the greatest challenge? My answer may surprise you! To frame this I will look back in history to 1938, to an event that was not a sad occasion for our people but a show of strength, pride and hope. I will also talk about one of my Indigenous heroes, the Phillips family of Redfern.

Firstly, I want to pay my respect to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders and high achievers past and present. Our modern Indigenous leaders are very, very courageous. They are often attacked for having a view.

Recent examples include on social media where our Australian of the Year was described as ‘Captain Coconut’, the reference to a coconut is a racial slur meaning dark on the outside and white on the inside.  And last year the Chair of the Indigenous Advisory Council was subject to a much-publicised raft of racial slurs on social media, including being called “Uncle Tom”, for his willingness to advise a Coalition government on solving the problems that face our people. This behavior should not be tolerated in any culture. Leaders suffer a personal toll with both them and sometimes their families attacked with disgraceful sniping and lateral violence at the hands of their own people. This is fuelled by the far Left for its own agenda.

These groups promote and encourage conspiracy theories that the Government and Australian people are against Aboriginal people and that we continue to be victims of this society. Under this world view, every problem faced by Indigenous people is the result of bad things done by European colonists and assimilation into western cultures. The value of so called “western” influences to Indigenous people – like mainstream education and economic development – is questioned.

Disadvantage and suffering have become the defining characteristics of the far left. Institutionalised welfare is a key policy platform for them. Any suggestion that welfare dependence has had negative impacts on Indigenous people is not tolerated. Underpinning all of this is an idealised concept of traditional Indigenous people not “corrupted” by civilization or development. There is an old expression to describe this – the “noble savage”.

How can we build mutual respect in an environment where fear and distrust of government and the Australian people is encouraged? How can we move on to healing when there are people who want to define us as damaged? This is a cancerous philosophy.

This is the most destructive form of racism and is promoted by the far Left to feed into their ideology that western free market democracy is wrong and we have to keep Indigenous Australians as noble savages. It is this ideology that is stopping Indigenous Australians coming into the economic mainstream. Labelling Aboriginal and Torres Strait People as disadvantaged and victims sets extremely low expectations in terms of employment, business capacity and education. The welfare mentality is the greatest challenge inhibiting our people to rise up. This ideology is the height of discrimination and it is destroying our cultural values which embraced hard work, taking responsibility and contributing to community. This threat from the far Left is what I call intellectual racism.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities are sick of being used as a political football for only radicals’ political and ideological purposes. Enough is enough!

This ideology is also totally disrespectful to the Indigenous leaders who had a dream for their families and communities of coming together with all Australians. We need to remember the passion and conviction of our past leaders. They were hopeful and never victims. These leaders were dignified and capable of galvanizing their community as they dreamt for a better life.

An example of this is the historic meeting of the Australian Aborigines’ League at the Day of Mourning Conference on 26 January 1938.  Over 100 people attended from all around the Eastern Seaboard. With little money travelling from far and wide, they were strongly committed and came together to fight for a better life at their own personal risk.  All were well dressed in suits and were well-spoken. Many delegates entered through the back entrance to avoid being identified, afraid they would be victimised by police for attending.

The conference endorsed the following statement:

WE, representing THE ABORIGINES OF AUSTRALIA, assembled in Conference at the Australian Hall, Sydney, on the 26th day of January, 1938, this being the 150th Anniversary of the whitemen’s seizure of our country, HEREBY MAKE PROTEST against the callous treatment of our people by the whitemen during the past 150 years, AND WE APPEAL to the Australian Nation of today to make new laws for the education and care of Aborigines, and we ask for a new policy which will raise our people to FULL CITIZEN STATUS and EQUALITY WITHIN THE COMMUNITY.

Many of our Aboriginal leaders today are direct descendants of this group and I am privileged to acknowledge the contributions their ancestors made.

African-American scholar and economist Dr Thomas Sowell argues that the most damaging results of the welfare state mentality, is the teaching of victimhood. If African-Americans in the 1930s and 40s had been taught that they were victims, then the Civil Rights movement may have never happened. African-Americans survived through centuries of slavery, then their society began to fall apart with the introduction of the welfare state.

In the 1990s Dr Sowell gave a lecture at a university, a young African-American man who was about to graduate, got up from the audience and said ‘What hope is there for me?’. Dr Sowell took off his glasses and said to this young man, ‘you have four-times the hope of your grandparents and twice that of your parents’. This is equally true for Indigenous families. Why then are we not advancing when we have strong political, business and community support including the National Apology and the reconciliation movement?

Like African-Americans, Indigenous Australians are marred by the disadvantage label. A label that teaches us that there is no hope, so what is the point of participation in society?

This is not a phenomena necessarily related to race. It is reflected in the UK amongst whites in the housing commission areas.  Teenagers there can’t multiply six times nine. This country produced people such as Shakespeare and Issac Newton and now a significant proportion of its society can’t do simple maths and cannot read.

In the worst affected areas of Australia, only 18% of remote and rural Indigenous kids attend school 80% of the time, and that 80% is the minimum required to attend to learn the basics. These are the alarming statistics. In 2014 despite being full citizens with equality in the community and access to education we are now faced with the lowest Indigenous school attendance rates.  Most of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders dreamt of being treated as full citizens of this country with full access to education. Here we are now. But if we allow Indigenous people to think they can’t do anything or think the system is against us, what is the point of learning? No if or buts, every Indigenous child need to attend school! One day, I dream of many Aboriginal doctors, accountants and public servants.

If we believe maybe even an Indigenous astronaut to shoot to the moon, because we now live in a world full of possibilities.

We need to get back to the basics of our culture and allow a diversity of opinions in a respectful and supportive manner. This is the vital element for reconciliation, healing and recognition to become a reality in our great country.

I am pleased to say that there are many examples of modern day Indigenous leaders who are victorious. They do not accept the Left’s intellectual racism and the disadvantaged label. They are the Aussie battlers working hard in the community to lift their people, create hope and to let them believe that anything is possible.

An example of this is Mr Shane Phillips, a community leader in Redfern, Sydney. Shane works day and night with Aboriginal kids picking up troubled teenagers up so they can attend early morning sessions of boxing with the local police officers, which brings both groups together to promote citizenship and harmony. Shane also runs and established the Tribal Warrior Association, these wide-sailed ships, glide gracefully on our glorious Sydney Harbour, providing meaningful employment for Aboriginal people as tourist guides and ship operators. Shane engages with the Aboriginal community, promotes kids going to school and helps Aboriginal people gain self-esteem.

Shane’s parents Richard ‘Dickie’ and Yvonne Philips are also my heroes. These pastors gave endless service to the community. Every year they took in up to 200 Indigenous and non-Indigenous street children, some of whom were forced to sell their bodies to survive. They huddled on the floor in the leaky cold, old church that used to be a factory, on the ‘Block at Redfern’. Sometimes over 50 or more foam beds littered the floor. Smiling, the children lay their heads down, with full bellies entertained by Uncle Richard playing the ukulele and praising the Lord while slowly hushing them into a gentle slumber with his soft lullaby. These kids were given a safe place and hope for their future.

This couple never gave up with limited funds, if any Government funding.  They instead had a strong conviction that good would prevail. Since this time, we have as a nation benefited from the most historical events to bring us together including the apology, movement towards reconciliation, healing and recognition. I am sure Mr and Mrs Philips would be looking down on us from heaven, not only very proud of their children, but of how far all Australians have come.

I feel so privileged to have spent time with these Preachers. I will never forget when I was feeling down when dear Pastor Philips slowly turned his head around to face me, opened his soft dark eyes with the widest smile and gently said to me ‘never give up on the edge of a miracle’.

The appeal by the Australian Aborigines’ League on 26 January 1938 has in fact, been answered. Australia has made new laws for the education and care of Indigenous people, it has raised our people to full citizen status and has introduced a policy to raise our people to equality within the community. Australia has gone even further than our leaders in 1938 would have imagined. Governments and the private sector have been willing to spend billions in pursuit of real equality for Indigenous people. A formal reconciliation process has been in place for over 20 years and governments have apologised for the policies of the forced removal of children. And now our Parliament is preparing to champion a constitutional amendment to recognise Indigenous people in Australia’s constitution. These symbolic steps demonstrate the goodwill of Australia towards its first peoples and their descendants. On the other hand the victimhood label is wrong and harmful for our futures.

It is time for each of us, black, white or brindle to seize the day and galvanize like never before to finally solve the gap. Let us now rewrite wrongs and recognize the first Australians in the best country in the world. We immediately need to support the Prime Minister’s historic push for the recognition of Indigenous peoples in the Australian constitution.  We need to walk the talk in our professional roles and communities. We need now for every Australian to participate in this, every single Australian’s effort counts.

When I was originally selected on the Prime Minister’s Indigenous Advisory Council our Prime Minister, Mr Tony Abbott phoned me and I was so nervous it took me three hours to phone him back after receiving my call at 6AM. I will never forget the Prime Minister’s powerful words that are now cemented in my mind. ‘Josephine, Indigenous People are the first class citizens of their own country’.  It dawned on me then how much hope Mr Abbott has today with this historic opportunity for healing, coming together to showcase our talent and diversity in Indigenous Australia through constitutional recognition. We have a rich culture of respect and family values are the cornerstone. We need to get back to basics and that is back to the start.

Today you have an opportunity to make a real difference. You have a choice to reinstate hope in your professional capacity as an Australian Public Servant and as a member of the Australian community. You have the opportunity to bring everyone together as never before and recognize the first peoples of this beautiful country. My task for you is to function on hope.

Everyday all of us, make choices as to whether we live in hope or disadvantage. My own story shows that we have positive choices to make. From deciding to live hopeless in a drain at 12 to now today, I am standing here, my heart is so full I can’t explain. With that faith, now, maybe today, All Australians, are on the edge of a miracle.

NACCHO Aboriginal health news alert: Our Survival is a process of living, whereas victory is a choice


” This Survival Day I would like all of us make a decision – in our communities, our families, our businesses and in the way we speak to people – to live in victory. To complete the survival process and reach that better place.”

Josephine Cashman BIO and her ‘Mother’ Margaret Brown pictured above The STRINGER

Josephine is also member of the Prime Minister’s Indigenous Advisory Council.

From Bungaree

Please note: All NACCHO Aboriginal media alerts are provided to members and stakeholders for information sharing and “healthy debate” purposes only and are not endorsed by the NACCHO board .

Speech Chapel by the Sea, Bondi 26th January 2014

Today is Australia Day, a day that many Indigenous people call Survival Day. The title for my speech tonight is ‘Survival is a process of living, whereas Victory is a choice’. The inspiration for this title came from our Prime Minister, Mr Tony Abbott and in a few minutes I’ll tell you why.

Firstly, I want to acknowledge all the Elders past and present who fought so hard to ensure this day would provide a platform for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander voices. I feel honoured to be one of those voices this evening.

In Indigenous affairs, we talk a lot about disadvantage and survival. I find these words uninspiring. I don’t believe they portray the resilience of our people or our people’s successes. And they certainly don’t portray the potential for all Australians to come together.

Indigenous people are more than just survivors. Tonight I want to tell you the stories of two people who exemplify what I am talking about. I will also tell you a bit about my own story.

I’ll start with a young woman called Lani Brennan. Lani is of Aboriginal and Maori descent and was raised in an urban Aboriginal community in Sydney. She grew up in a world where alcoholism and violence was part of life. At 18, she began a relationship with a young Aboriginal man from her community, a relationship she nearly didn’t survive, after he raped, battered and tortured her over many years.

I first met Lani in 2006 when I was assigned as her ex-partner’s prosecutor. To this day Lani bears the scars of her abuse – chisel marks in her back, a massive gash on her leg, a large indent in her head. We took photos of her scars as evidence for the trial … 6 years after they were inflicted.

Lani made a complaint to police in 2002 at the urging of her current partner, John Duckett. It took three and a half years for the police to execute the warrant. They just didn’t do it. During that time, her ex-de facto was arrested at least 42 times and imprisoned for firearms offences amongst other things.

However, John and Lani never gave up. They demanded justice in an environment where justice was not offered to them.

At the trial Lani went through months of gruelling cross-examination during which she was attacked with appalling accusations – that she likes being hit, that she was a drug addict. However, Lani stood strong.

Lani was heavily pregnant during the trial and one day she went to hospital for a caesarean. The judge offered her 2 weeks leave. However, she was back by Monday morning. She told the judge she wanted to continue giving evidence – he just had to stop when she needed to breastfeed.

Lani’s ex-partner was convicted and sentenced to 33 years. Then he appealed. So she he had to go through it all again.

Today Lani and John are still together and they have six children. She works at a drop- in centre supporting Aboriginal women. Last year she told the Sydney Morning Herald “Going through the beatings and escaping death so many times has made me a stronger person. I voice my opinion and I don’t care what anyone says.”

Lani’s voice came out loud and strong last year in her book Lani’s Story published by Harper Collins and a documentary  produced by Blackfella Films.

I offered to help organise a book launch. I decided I would ask Mr Tony Abbott, then Opposition Leader, to launch the book. I’d never met him before but it couldn’t hurt to ask. I was so pleased when Mr Abbott agreed to host the launch at Parliament House in Canberra.

Mr Abbott arrived at the launch with his copy of the book. It was extensively tabbed and highlighted and we could tell he had spent time reading it.

When he stepped up to the lectern he cast his eyes across the room filled with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and senior members of the Coalition. Then he turned and looked directly at Lani. The room was full but it felt like there was no one else there. He said, “Lani you are not just a survivor, you are in victory”.

At that point, it struck me. Survival is not the end goal. Surviving is a process we go through to get somewhere much better. On that day, Mr Abbott described that place as being “in victory”.

I want every Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander person to make that choice to move past survival and into victory, whatever that is for them.

The second person I want to tell you is about William Brian Butler. Uncle Brian was born in 1938 at Bagot Reserve Detention Centre in Darwin but his people come from east of Alice Springs.


Uncle Brian’s grandmother, Eliza, was removed from her family by police troopers when she was only 9 years old. She wasn’t taken to an institution. Instead, the troopers took her with them as they rode through the camps around Alice Springs and used her to help them find all the “half caste” children. They also used her for sex. She was forced to smother her first-born baby at birth. Eliza travelled with the troopers for years. Nobody knows how many other children she had or what happened to them.

Eliza lived to her nineties. She carried this burden alone until she was on her deathbed. Then she finally broke down and shared her story with her family.

Eliza had two known children who lived to adulthood – Emily and Mavis. Emily, Uncle Brian’s mother, was born to her and her Luritja husband. Sadly, he was killed by the “kadaicha men” from the Aranda people amid tribal conflict. Mavis’ father was a local pastoralist.

Emily and Mavis were taken away from their mother and separated from each other in the mid 1920’s. Emily went to Bagot Reserve and trained to work as a domestic in Government House. She married Brian’s father, Jim Butler, a non-Aboriginal man who worked as the cook at Bagot Reserve. After the Japanese bombing of Darwin, the family relocated back to Alice Springs and were reunited with Eliza and the extended family.

Butler subjected the family to ongoing abuse. Uncle Brian clearly remembers his father swinging his mother around by her long dark hair and sinking his steel-capped boots deep into her sides. He did the same thing to Eliza.

Jim Butler eventually sent Uncle Brian to board at Sacred Heart College in Adelaide. He was the only Aboriginal boarder amongst 500 students. There he received an education, but a brutal one. Racism forced him to fight every day whilst grieving for his mother and grandmother.

On his return trips during school holidays, he often sat with the old people in the communities around Alice Springs. He would listen to the cries of the women wanting to find their children. He decided to devote his life to searching for the children and reuniting families. He joined the Merchant Navy so he could travel around the country. And that was the beginning of his work to bring families and communities back together.

There is so much more to Uncle Brian’s story. With other Indigenous leaders, he established some of the first Aboriginal child protection mechanisms in Australia. These institutions were pivotal in lobbying in 1978 for the Inquiry into the Forced Removal of Aboriginal Children, which in turn formed the basis for The Bringing Them Home Report in 1997. In time, this led to the National Apology.

And that is how Uncle Brian became victorious.

These two stories illustrate that not all of the hardships our people suffer have been at the hands of white people. We have also suffered at the hands of each other. People don’t always treat their families or neighbours well in ordinary circumstances, but when a people are oppressed they can often be more harmful to each other. We call this phenomenon “lateral violence”. It happens when members of oppressed groups turn on each other, fuelled by the anger they actually feel for their oppressors. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities have been terribly damaged by lateral violence.

Indigenous people hurting each other, whether through violence, put-downs, jealousy or even abuse on social media, is a big problem in our communities today. Whether it is caused by inter-generational grief or past oppression or drugs & alcohol or abuse or rage about the past isn’t the point. The point is that it is hurting our people and we need to address it. Part of our healing process as Indigenous people means looking inwards: at ourselves, our own families and our own communities.

The current chapter in Uncle Brian’s amazing story has been to co-found the organisation Lateral Love. The organisation has grown rapidly in a short time with interest from around the world. Essentially, Lateral Love promotes mutual respect as the way forward for Indigenous people. This is also essential for all Australians as we seek reconciliation.

Lastly, I would like to tell you a little of my story.

People’s stories are not just about what happens to them. The more interesting part of a person’s story is the choices they make. So I am going to tell my story as a series of choices.

I first ran away from home when I was 12. I wanted to escape a childhood scarred by domestic violence, alcoholism and inter-generational trauma. I spent the first night in a drain and I decided I was going to live there for the rest of my life. The police put an end to that ambition when they pulled me out the next day and sent me home. I left home for good when I was 14.

I could have made a decision to become a street kid, but I didn’t. I found a family who let me live with them, finished Year 10 and then left school to get a job.

Eventually I finished my schooling in a roundabout way and was accepted into University. In between, I had my son Joseph just after my 19th birthday. I split from his father when he was 3 years old and moved into a women’s refuge.

I could have made the decision to live the rest of my life on a pension, but I didn’t. I decided to go to University and change my life.

I stayed in that women’s refuge for the first 18 months of University. I now have two degrees, Law and Communications & Journalism. I was behind the eight ball when I started University and I could have made all sorts of excuses to fail, but I didn’t. Instead, I decided I was going to pass everything at University. And I did.

At University, my son attended day care and I worked to support us. I felt like an outsider, different from everybody else. I wasn’t like the other students and I wasn’t like the mothers who were at home looking after their babies. I didn’t fit in anywhere.

I could have been resentful and miserable, but I wasn’t. Instead, I remembered something my grandmother used to say to me, “You are not better than anyone else but no one is better than you.” I decided to just be the best I could be, focus on my own goals and stop being jealous of other people. I decided to treat anyone who had hurt me, or whom I had lost my trust and faith in, as blessings in my life. I decided to play the hand that I had been dealt.

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For Lani, living in victory meant dealing with her past and building her life with John and their children. For Uncle Brian, living in victory meant devoting his life to putting families and communities back together. For me, living in victory meant focusing on the things I can change – myself – and not on the things I can’t – other people.

People talk about “empowerment” of Indigenous people. Power is not given. It is taken. Lani and Uncle Brian made a choice to break away from the past and exercise the power they actually already had. They didn’t wait for someone to give it to them, and nobody would have.

We need to stop telling Indigenous people that they are disadvantaged. And Indigenous people need to stop telling each other, especially their children, that they’re victims of a racist system.

Imagine the impact on a child to hear from the time they are born that they are disadvantaged, that everyone is racist and that the country is against them. Imagine growing up looking at life through that prism.

It’s time to change the music. Let’s decide to tell our children that they live in a world of possibilities, that they can try their hand at whatever they want to, that this country wants them to succeed (because actually it does) and that they can go as far as they want if they try hard enough.

This Survival Day I would like all of us make a decision – in our communities, our families, our businesses and in the way be speak to people – to live in victory. To complete the survival process and reach that better place.

Disadvantage is something that happens to us. Survival is a process we go through to move past disadvantage. Victory is a choice. Let’s all make a decision to be victorious and reach that better place.