Renewing the call for reconciliation after 20 years

Today marks the 20th year anniversy of the Sydney Harbour Bridge Walk for Reconciliation, which took place on the 28th of May 2000.

The event attracted more than 250,000 people, making it the largest peaceful political demonstration in Australia’s history, as a constant stream of people walked the bridge for six hours straight.

As defined by the Reconciliation Australia, National Reconciliation Week is a time for all Australians to learn about the shared stories, cultures and achievements and how they work to achieve reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people.

Despite the demonstration being a catalyst for change, the momentum of the movement has slowed down, with COVID-19 blanketing this year’s celebrations and publicity.

During this morning’s NRW panel discussion, MP Linda Burney spoke about how the Reconciliation Walk created a movement of support, but the momentum needs to be reignited.

“I am convinced that the groundswell is still out there, it might be not as prominent, it might be not as focused, but it is out there,” she says.

“We have the capacity for this country that’s getting better and better at owning its truth.

“I believe the goodwill is still there, I believe it can be tapped into again, I am also very hopeful for the future. Notwithstanding the fact there is still so much to do.”

National Reconciliation Week live panel discussion.

Active Community member and Yuwalaraay woman Kira Simpson says National Reconciliation Week brings up issues that should be addressed all year round.

“National Reconciliation Week, to me, means connection between Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities as well as building and maintaining a relationship,” she says.  

“But reconciliation for me isn’t just something that should be only focused on one week of the year, it is something we all should be focusing and working on every day of the year.”

This year’s National Reconciliation Week theme is ‘In this Together’, as it links to the impacts of COVID-19, calling on communities to work together in this time.

Ms Simpson says it’s not the first time Indigenous people have experienced restrictions such as those as a result of COVID-19.

“For many people now, this is their first time experiencing anything like this. Sadly, it’s no the first time for our people,” she says.

“Our way of living changed significantly because of rules and strict government policy that were enforced on our people, what we have gained from centuries of oppression and assimilation is the tools to cope with a traumatic life changing event like the outbreak of COVID 19,”

“It’s has been great seeing all people, black, white, brown, everyone coming together as a collective and creating the tools to help every single person in our society get through this challenging time.”

NITV reflects on whats changed in the 20 years since the Reconciliation Walk, with archival footage of the day.

Ms Simpson says it’s the education of young people that turns reconciliation into action.

“We have come a long way but there is still a lot of work that has to be done. I would say the most important thing that needs change and focus is education,” she says.

“Education within our schools and education at home. In order to move forward, there needs to be a full understanding of what happened. The mistreatment, the loss of knowledge and culture, denial of way, of being and knowing.”

National Reconciliation Week banner. Photo: Supplied.

Reconciliation Australia CEO Karen Mundine spoke on this morning’s panel, saying it’s vital young people are educated from a younger age.

“Education is so fundamental to reconciliation and we do have national curriculums and we do have some of those policies around the teaching of that,” she says.

“I think there is a broad recognition that indigenous history, indigenous culture and the teaching of that is really important.

“It’s an interesting point, in that with young people, they don’t see difference. They actually ask the hard questions that we as adults sometimes overlook or skate over. I think if that generation can be coming through, I think that starts to help address some of those harder issues.”

Indigenous elder at the Perth climate change protest 2020. Photo: Isabel Vieira.

Ms Simpson says she grew up in a community where Indigenous and non-Indigenous children were exposed to different cultures.

“I grew up in a remote community in north-west of NSW where a good 60% of the population were Aboriginal. We had many white kids at our school, they learnt our language, our dances, our Dreamtime stories,” she says.  

“They grew up being exposed to Aboriginal culture and educated and some, if not all those kids have grown into adults who are strong and supportive allies.

“As a child, you don’t see colour or race or religion. You see another kid whose family does different things to yours.

“It’s about getting kids educated and exposed at a young age and just really embracing and gaining hat knowledge.”

University of Wollongong Lecturer Summer May Finlay also spoke on this morning’s NRW panel, saying a reconciled Australia calls for the whole population to take action.

“I think about the symbolism of the bridge walk, we need those moments to really bring people together to start a dialogue, but it has to go beyond good intentions, and move towards actions,” she says.

“It really does require the 97% [non-Indigenous Australians] to start going and thinking about how they’re contributing to this situation even in small ways, and thinking about addressing that personally, and then we will see significant change.”

10 ways you can get involved in #NRW2020. Photo: Isabel Vieira.

Ms Simpson says despite restrictions, people have still been finding ways to come together and commemorate National Reconciliation Week.

“It’s about reaching out to Indigenous community organisations and asking what they are doing for their Elders, families and individuals and ask how we can help them, and also, inviting people from those communities and giving them a platform to share their stories and speak for their community. Keeping in regular contact with them to check if they are okay,” she says.

“For me, that’s what NRW is about. Creating, building and maintaining that relationship with the community.”