This year’s theme for Reconciliation Week is “Don’t Keep History A Mystery: Learn. Share. Grow”. It is an opportunity for all Australians to learn more about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and histories, to share that knowledge and help us grow as a nation.
(There will be many events during this week, including on Sorry Day, which remind and raise awareness among politicians, policy makers and the wider public about the significance of the Stolen Generations, and the profound and damaging impact that this has had, and continues to have, on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. It is also a time to celebrate their survival, culture, and community).
Reading Henry Reynold’s book, ‘Why weren’t we told:a personal search for the truth about our history‘, was a revelation – and an awakening. It describes the author’s own journey from ‘innocence’ in his Tasmanian childhood, to facing the realities of race when he moved to North Queensland. He recognised the glaring reality didn’t match the two myths generally accepted in Australia at the time – that Australia was settled peacefully, and terra nullius. Reynold’s named starkly the reality of massacres of Aboriginal communities and other uncomfortable and ‘inconvenient’ truths. In 1968, WEH Stanner offered a challenge in his Boyer lectures to break the ‘Great Australian silence’ about Australia’s Aboriginal past. Speaking truth is a pre-requisite to reconciliation, past and present.
The 2018 Reconciliation Theme, Don’t Keep History a Mystery: Learn.Grow.Share’ is an opportunity to ‘break the silence’. The future of our nation depends on it.
The Australian Reconciliation Barometer (the Barometer) is one of the tools to assist us to understand how the nation is performing on its reconciliation journey. The Barometer is a biennial, national research study, conducted by Reconciliation Australia since 2008. The Barometer measures attitudes and perceptions towards reconciliation, and maps our progress towards the five dimensions of reconciliation – race relations, equality and equity, institutional integrity, unity and historical acceptance. Australia can only achieve full reconciliation where there is substantive progress across all five areas.
The 2016 Barometer tells us that since 2014 an increasing number of Australians are proud of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and believe these cultures are important to Australia’s identity as a nation. Almost all Australians continue to view the relationship between each other as important and many believe that it is possible that all Australians can be united.
The Barometer findings reveal that the majority of Australians maintain positive attitudes towards reconciliation. However, disappointingly, there is significant evidence that these positive attitudes have yet to translate into improved behaviours across a wide range of sectors in Australian society, including the workplace, law-enforcement agencies, and the education and community sectors.
More Australians, both Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians and other Australians, now agree that Australia is a racist country. This racism is reflected in increasing incidents of prejudice experienced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians.
The Barometer also identifies continued misunderstandings between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians and other Australians. Both groups believe they offer more trust to the other than is returned. Reducing the perceived “trust gap” is critical to improving confidence in relationships between First Australians and the wider Australian community. Further, there is still misunderstandings within the wider Australian community about the causes of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander inequality.
It is encouraging to note that in relation to settlement in Australia, more Australians now accept key facts about Australia’s past institutional prejudices against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians and feel that the wrongs of the past must be rectified before all Australians can move forward.
In assessing perceptions, attitudes and behaviours within both Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and the general Australian community, there are some positive signs of progress. The findings also show us that there is still much to do to achieve our vision of a reconciled nation across the five dimensions.
(Read the full report of the 2016 Barometer’s findings here)