Blake Griffith played the didgeridoo and Ethan Martin raised the flag. Then, the crowd listened intently as Travis Burns, followed by Tammie Neal, spoke. They eloquently articulated the significance of the occasion – Reconciliation Day.
A small but varied crowd gathered in the courtyard of the Singleton Youth Venue on Wednesday to commemorate the start of National Reconciliation Week.
It was an intimate affair, beginning with a formal flag raising ceremony, and followed by a relaxed morning tea.
From mayor John Martin and Singleton Council’s general manager Lindy Hyam to Glencore’s community relations manager Craig Strudwick and Wanaruah elder Uncle Warren Taggart, everyone in attendance acknowledged the enormity of the occasion.
Cr Martin welcomed the audience and, despite the late notice, Uncle Warren Taggart delivered the welcome to country.
But it was the words of two students that said it all.
Standing tall, Travis Burns, a descendant of the Arrernte people from Alice Springs, explained the history behind the week-long commemoration.
“Reconciliation Week follows National Sorry Day on May, 26 which is the anniversary of the tabling of the ‘Bringing Them Home’ report on the Stolen Generation in Federal parliament,” he said.
“If you say sorry you are making a commitment to insist the recommendations for the report will be implemented.”
The report acknowledged that indigenous children were forcibly separated from their families and communities since the early days of European occupation in Australia.
And that governments and missionaries were responsible for this forced separation.
It recommended a day be set aside each year “to commemorate the history of forcible removals and its effects”.
The first National Sorry Day was held in 1998, a year after the tabling of a report.
He said the week also encompasses a number of other important dates for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
“As well as Sorry Day preceding it, May 27 marks the anniversary of the successful 1967 referendum that lead to Aboriginal people being counted in the census.
“And the final day of Reconciliation Week, June 3, coincides with the anniversary of the handing down of the Mabo Decision by the High Court of Australia, in which the Meriam people challenged the legal fiction of ‘Terra Nullius’ or land belonging to no one, and won.”
According to Reconciliation Australia, Mabo was a turning point for the recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ rights, because it acknowledged their unique connection with the land. It also led to the Australian Parliament passing the Native Title Act 1993.
Native title is the legal recognition that some Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have rights to, and interests in, certain land because of their traditional laws and customs.
When asked about the importance of the day, council’s general manager said it is about “inclusiveness” and recognising the importance of creating positive relationships between different groups in the community.
Lindy said she loves the fact the council has a good relationship with the Aboriginal community and is pleased with the progress of the advisory committee.
“The involvement of both the elders and younger people is particularly pleasing,” she said.
“Council also works closely with the high school in this area which is a real plus for the community.”
But what does reconciliation mean to the students?
“It is about the necessity for mainstream Australia to honour their commitment to Aboriginal Australia through the reconciliation process by allowing us to have a place and space within society that is free from racism and discrimination,” Tammie said.
“Singleton High School (SHS) has shown its commitment to this process by allowing Aboriginal students to learn about their culture while studying academic subjects.”
She says it is a successful mix and is reflected in her cohorts NAPLAN results.
“The Aboriginal students at SHS have excelled in the state NAPLAN results proving that by allowing our culture to be practiced, combined with academic excellence, allows us to be as successful as any other group.”
Tammie is a descendant of the Burripi people and admits to not knowing a lot about Aboriginal culture until taking part in the many programs administered through the KaWul Aboriginal Education and Resource Centre at SHS.
“I don’t know of any other school that has this resource,” principal Jo Gray said.