Senate debates

Tuesday, 5 July 2011



7:20 pm

Photo of Marise PayneMarise Payne (NSW, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for COAG) Share this | Hansard source

This is NAIDOC Week. As many senators will already be aware celebrations are held across Australia in July each year to celebrate and acknowledge the history, the culture and the achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. I particularly wanted to make some observations tonight in relation to NAIDOC Week in Western Sydney. NAIDOC is an acronym that stands these days for National Aboriginal and Islanders Day Observance Committee but it has been through more than one iteration along the way.

It is a concept that started in 1938 in harsher times, it would be fair to say, of protest and of discrimination when protesters first marched through the streets of Sydney against the discrimination and poor treatment of Aboriginal Australians. It in fact was known as a day of mourning. It was in 1955 that the day was moved to the first Sunday in July after it was decided that it should become a day of celebration of Aboriginal culture and not just a protest day. It was in 1974 that NAIDOC was composed entirely of Aboriginal members for the first time and then it was decided a year later that it should run for a week not just a day. I suspect they decided not to change the acronym on that occasion. In 1991 it was expanded to include Torres Strait Islander people and culture, and so the name changed on that occasion. Since 2005 the National NAIDOC Committee has made the key decisions on national celebrations each year. It has representatives from most states and territories. Each year there is a theme for NAIDOC. This year's theme is 'Change: the next step is ours'.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have made an extraordinary contribution to community life in Western Sydney—a point that I will come back to in a moment—including from the area where my office is in Parramatta through to Blacktown and Penrith and much, much further afield, but I just want to pick on a couple of those locations this evening. For those communities, NAIDOC Week is a chance to recognise that contribution and acknowledge the traditional owners of the land, the Dharug people. There are a few events on around various corners of Western Sydney which are pretty special acknowledgements and celebrations. There is the Burramatta Family Day this Saturday at Prince Alfred Park in Parramatta. That name is derived from the Burramattagal clan of the Dharug tribe that hunted and lived on the lands which now form the very urban, very busy second CBD of Sydney—that is, the city of Parramatta. The people of the community are represented in the emblem of the Parramatta City Council.

Burramatta Family Day includes activities such as traditional Aboriginal tree painting with artist Lex Dadd. There is Dreamtime storytelling with Wes Marne and both didgeridoo classes and boomerang painting, which end up being particularly popular with the kids. Boomerang painting, more than throwing, seems to be a safer activity in that regard. Burramatta Family Day also features rugby league workshops with 'Dream, Believe, Achieve' ambassadors, national rugby league player workshops and autograph signing. It does not take a genius to acknowledge the popularity of sport and the big role it plays in life in Greater Western Sydney, and Indigenous players have made and continue to make an enormous contribution to the game, both at grassroots and at elite levels. This is not just in rugby league, but as the new GWS Giants come to fruition and play a more important role in the community, the Indigenous contribution in that team will also become evident to all. Parramatta council is also holding a series of storytelling sessions for children, along with art classes and musical performances at its network of libraries across the Parramatta area—in Granville, in Guildford, in Ermington, in Dundas and in Parramatta city.

I also want to talk about one of the fastest-growing local government areas in Australia, which is Blacktown local government area. It will also hold a special NAIDOC Week celebration this Saturday, with a concert that features Casey Donovan at Doonside. Many of us here have had the absolutely amazing opportunity to hear Casey Donovan live here in Parliament House at an NITV event recently. I have also heard her sing at the National Centre of Indigenous Excellence at Redfern. I have seen her perform live in the Sapphires. For whoever is able to attend that event at Blacktown, it will be an absolutely spectacular experience. As well as Casey, the kids will also be entertained by workshops on weaving, traditional Aboriginal tree painting, banner painting and art displays.

It is not often realised or acknowledge but Blacktown council has the second-highest proportion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in its population in the Sydney metropolitan area. The city's links with Aboriginal communities go right back to 1823 and the NAIDOC Week celebrations are very much a continuation of Blacktown City Council's strong commitment to recognising its Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community and celebrating their very important culture. They complement the Blacktown City Reconciliation Action Plan—known colloquially as a RAP—that aims to build positive relationships between local Aboriginal residents and other community members in the Blacktown city.

In my own area of Penrith, slightly further along in Western Sydney, NAIDOC Week is also celebrated and acknowledged. Yesterday the Penrith City Council held its NAIDOC Week civic function. I had the opportunity to attend that function last year—it was not a sitting week, Mr President—and I was particularly struck by the pleasure that the local members of the community took in attending that civic reception, in having held it in honour of NAIDOC Week and in the acknowledgement that Penrith City Council gives to the Indigenous community members there. The council say, very formally, that they believe working in partnership with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations is the key to effective responses to the needs of local Indigenous people. They believe that the delivery of tangible and practical outcomes that have a local focus for Aboriginal people and are based on the principles of partnership and Aboriginal self-determination contribute enormously to meaningful and sustainable reconciliation. That is a pretty good standpoint for any local council.

What I will be able to get back for in time in Penrith this Friday, sitting hours notwithstanding, is the celebration of NAIDOC Week in Jamison Park. If the civic reception is important, the Jamison Park celebration goes even further. On the last occasion it was marked by more than 3,000 local people and kids attending with the most positive attitude. They just had the best time possible during that day. There is the mixed men and women's touch football, which brings together some Penrith identities playing touch football that perhaps it would be better not to see. There is the mixed men and women's netball and a lot of activities for kids—a barbecue, games, singers, care for the elderly and seniors and so on. It is a very important opportunity for this very special celebration.

One of the reasons I wanted to make these remarks about NAIDOC Week activities in Western Sydney tonight is that over the past couple of years I have formed a fairly strong view that if you came from another planet and tried to get an understanding of what happens in Australia in relation to Indigenous people through our local media, you would certainly get a very acute understanding of the challenges and privations for Indigenous Australians in remote and regional areas. But you might not always appreciate that two-thirds of Australia's Indigenous population live in the south-east corner of Australia. In fact, an overwhelming majority of that two-thirds lives in Western Sydney. I think there are more threads to the narrative about Indigenous Australia than just the former story to which I have referred. It is part of our job, I think, to make sure that the narrative is told in full—that the stories of people in places like Western Sydney who make an enormous contribution as part of their local Indigenous community, as part of a broader community, are able to be recognised as well. Sometimes that does not happen. Sometimes the story is a very negative one. I think there are a lot more positive stories that we can tell. When I see thousands and thousands of people in Jamison Park on Friday to celebrate NAIDOC Week in Penrith, that seems to me to be a very good start in telling the positive side of the story.


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