Tuesday, 2 August 2022
Gilmore Electorate: NAIDOC Week, Gilmore Electorate: Community Events, Australian Constitution: First Nations Voice
On the week of 3 to 10 July we celebrated NAIDOC Week. I want to take the opportunity to tell the House about a couple of fantastic events I attended recently to celebrate NAIDOC Week and our local Indigenous community and why they were so important.
The Mogo Aboriginal community in my electorate of Gilmore has been through a lot. Mogo was absolutely devastated by the bushfires that ripped through the South Coast on New Year's Eve 2019. So much of the village was destroyed by fire, including the Mogo Local Aboriginal Land Council office. The site has only recently been cleaned enough to look at rebuilding, and that work is slowly starting. Many local Aboriginal people lost their homes and were forced to relocate for some time while they rebuilt. Many chose to stay and live however they could because they just couldn't face moving away from their community support. Then came COVID-19 and things got worse for a lot of people.
So it was really wonderful to come together with the local community to celebrate the Mogo NAIDOC Big Day Out event during NAIDOC Week. This was the first time the community had been able to celebrate a big day out since the bushfires, so it's fair to say it was a really special occasion and very much needed. It was truly heartwarming to see the community come together to celebrate culture in the greatest of ways. There was a traditional smoking ceremony and a welcome to country performed by Walbunja elder Aunty Gloria Nye; cultural dancing by Muladha Gamara, which was a real hit with the community; live music; and community stalls. There were even free native plants for people to take home. There was fun for the whole family, complete with carnival rides, a jumping castle and lots of kids activities. It was truly beautiful to see local families enjoying their time together, enjoying the local arts and crafts, chatting to local services and just coming back together to enjoy and celebrate cultural heritage, to celebrate community. I would like to sincerely thank the Mogo NAIDOC committee for organising and hosting the day, as well as all the local government and community services and contributors—far too many to name here. Thank you, everyone, and thank you to the community for supporting this most wonderful day. I know, like many others, we certainly thoroughly enjoyed it.
I have been really humbled to help the Mogo community rebuild after the bushfires in as many ways as I can, and cultural heritage is such an important part of that. Before the bushfires destroyed much of the Mogo Public School's grounds, I secured the school a $15,000 grant to build a yarning circle. I was really pleased in the months after the bushfires to see the amazing work being done by volunteers, like The Block crewmembers and suppliers from local businesses, who joined together to rebuild the school's outdoor area with the support of Westpac bank and selfless donations from the Mogo community. When the yarning circle was finally complete, in April 2021, after not only the bushfires but also the floods and then COVID-19, it was another really special moment to celebrate its opening with the school community. Thank you again to everyone who made that possible. I can't wait to celebrate so many more beautiful community days with this wonderful community as we continue working together to rebuild.
This Sunday I had the absolute honour of attending the Boongaree Reconciliation Garden tree-planting day at Bundewallah Creek, near Berry. The event was to mark National Tree Day and to start the building of a reconciliation garden on Jerrinja tribal country. This is a joint venture with the community, Boongaree Bush Care, the Jerrinja tribe, Berry Landcare, sponsors, government, the Jerrinja Local Aboriginal Land Council and the Nowra Local Aboriginal Land Council. Even the local Berry Public School's plant propagation unit helped grow many of the trees so that we can preserve our local biodiversity. At the event, there was a traditional Jerrinja tribal welcome to country by Aunty Grace Crossley—thank you, Aunty Grace—and the planting of a ceremonial tree, followed by the planting of 600 trees and by a wonderful community barbecue.
The purpose of the Boongaree Reconciliation Garden is to provide an inspiring space for the community to connect with our local Indigenous culture. The garden is just the latest stage in the Boongaree development, which has been transforming this part of Berry, making it a wonderful community space. Shoalhaven City Council has been working with the local community to develop the concept design, and that work is ongoing. I truly cannot wait to see how this garden develops. I just know it is going to be an absolutely spectacular and special place. I'd like to thank Boongaree Bush Care and, in particular, the site coordinator, Hugh; the Jerrinja Local Aboriginal Land Council and the Jerrinja community—in particular Jerrinja tribal elder Ron Carberry, for his instrumental work on the garden; Nowra Local Aboriginal Land Council; Berry Landcare; Shoalhaven City Council; and all of the partners that made this day such a beautiful celebration of culture, reconciliation and understanding.
You see, wonderful community events like Boongaree's National Tree Day and Mogo's Big Day Out have so many special purposes. Of course, they are a chance for the local Indigenous community to join together and create that cultural connection and sense of belonging. I know separation was something the community really struggled with during COVID-19. These events give these communities the chance to celebrate heritage, to see their traditions live on and to pass them down to the next generation. Cultural ceremony is such an important thing for our Indigenous communities. But there is another purpose as well. It also gives the broader community a chance to celebrate with our Indigenous brothers and sisters. It gives us a chance to learn about their heritage and traditions. Our understanding can grow. Our tolerance and our acceptance can grow too so we can all truly feel like one community. We can move together in kindness, in unity and in the same spirit, working towards the same goals and building a better future.
This is why we need to have an Indigenous voice to our nation's parliament: not to create difference or a divide but to create unity, to bring us together in understanding and in love. Our Indigenous communities deserve to have a say—a real say—in policies that impact them, because there is so much between us that is the same but there is so much between us that is different and so much that we still need to learn. We can continue along this same path, where we as a government try to tell Indigenous communities what is good for them and what they need, and, as often happens, we will get it wrong. We will do more harm, and we will then have to come along and undo it, scrap the script and try again. We've seen this before. We've been here before, and we know it doesn't work. So it is time for a reset—time to shift gears. Instead of telling, we need to listen, drop the divide and bring us all together, just as we did at Mogo's Big Day Out and just as we did at Boongaree's tree-planting day.
This past weekend, I was incredibly proud, excited and humbled to see our Prime Minister stand up at the Garma Festival and set out our way forward on the Uluru Statement from the Heart by enshrining a First Nations Voice to parliament. The question is simple—do you support it?—but it is so absolutely important. There isn't anything radical here—nothing crazy. It is just a chance for us to move forward together as a country for a better future. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples deserve to be in our founding document. They deserve that recognition, that symbol. Even now, there is still a lot of hurt in Indigenous communities. No one symbol will undo the wrongs of the past, but it is a good start. But, more than a symbol, our Indigenous people deserve a say in the laws that impact them. There has been no mechanism for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to provide advice to the Australian parliament, and I truly believe now is the time to change that. So let's have the conversation. Let's get the referendum moving. We want to build consensus on this, and that is the next step that an Albanese Labor government will take.
I think it's really important, though, to ask one thing of all sides of this conversation: please, from the bottom of my heart—please—let's conduct this conversation respectfully. Let's keep in mind how much hurt there is. Let's keep in mind how tough the past few years have been for everyone but that the last 100 years have been tough for our Indigenous communities. And let's all make a genuine effort not to create more harm or more hurt. Let's be kind to each other and kind to our neighbours. Let's take the time to learn to understand and to really think about what it means, not just to us but to others and to our country.
We should move forward with this conversation—with that spirit, with that sense of community and of belonging together. We can build a better future together, so let's get on with it.