I have the privilege of working with an Aboriginal Aunty. Much like my own culture, Aunty is a term of respect bestowed on elders in the community.
On Tuesday 18 June, Aunty Kathy invited me to a fancy Reconciliation High Tea at Baabayn Aboriginal Corporation, Mt Druitt. It was an event she helped coordinate. The organising team bought out the fine china and delicious food as a special treat to thank the elders in the area.
As we ate sandwiches and drank out of pretty cups under the Aboriginal, Torres Strait Islander and Australian flags, Aunty Kathy spoke of the true nature of reconciliation and encouraged others to speak.
It was the elders who spoke.
They told each other of the pain of disrespect and past wrongs by the authorities. The sorrow of their land, language and their children being taken away from them. The desperate need for Makarrata and a strong voice to call their mob together to make a stand for peace and justice.
Makarrata comes from the Yolngu people of north-east Arnhem land. More than just another word for a treaty, it describes the process of people coming together after a long conflict to make peace.
In that small room packed with people, the didgeridoo played and I glimpsed the pain and sorrow of two hundred years of colonisation from a people whose connection to this country goes back more than 60,000 years. You can’t just “get over” that kind of systemic dispossession.
But I also saw something else. I saw a deep love for each other in the room that day. A strength and courage that survived. A fierce hope for their next generation who will keep their knowledge and culture alive.
I was grateful for their truth telling and so thankful for Aunty Kathy for inviting me. As a migrant, my history in this country dates back only thirty or so years. I didn’t feel it was my place to say anything but to listen.
If I was asked to speak, I would have said sorry. Sorry for thoughts full of my own interests and ignorant ways; of not acknowledging that I am on this land at great cost. It was only through Aunty Kathy’s leadership that my eyes were opened and I began to learn the real and lasting consequences of this country’s history of which I am the beneficiary.
We were asked to write on a paper hand to plant in the rock garden outside. Just a simple phrase about what reconciliation meant to us.
I wrote Makarrata on my red paper hand. For all our sake and for our shared future, we need Makarrata.