Reflecting on Sorry Day and ‘Be Brave. Make Change.’​

L-R: Marjorie Woodrow, Bob Carr, Barrie Unsworth, Dianne Decker (Long Time Coming Home, 2001)
L-R: Marjorie Woodrow, Bob Carr, Barrie Unsworth, Dianne Decker (Long Time Coming Home, 2001)

National Sorry Day commenced after the release of the 1997 Bringing Them Home Report which documented the policy of forced separation and removal of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children from their families – the Stolen Generations. My Grandmother, Marjorie Woodrow (passed away in 2016), was stolen from her family as she recounted in her book “Long Time Coming Home”, and I recalled some of her influence on my life in “The Bright Sides of Assimilation”.

Studying committees? Really?

It’s actually her story that got me into studying committees because it was invisible people on secret committees that made those decisions that affected her life. Committees like the 1937 Commonwealth-State Native Welfare Conference where ‘assimilation’ was adopted as the official policy of the Australian State.

Nan worked tirelesss in raising awareness about the Stolen Generations. She had incredible drive to speak out about her treatment. That drive passed to me and is critical to my mission of interrogating decision-making processes (i.e., committees) – do they include cultural voice, do they consider our point of view, are resource allocations made fairly, and are decisions made equitably and morally?

In the photo, below, I am holding a small silver trophy given to me by Nan as an award for academic excellence. Now, in 2022, I have a BSc (Hons), MPH, and PhD – stimulated by Nan’s resilience and passion for change.

Committees as ‘spaces’ of cultural danger

Thinking about Nan’s recollection of childhood days, she always spoke with a sense of danger, of how everything that she did was scrutinised by authorities, about how the rules and resources were dedicated to erasing her Aboriginal identity. As a child I did not have the capacity to understand what she was talking about but now, because of her words and writing, and that of many other First Peoples, I can get a glimpse into what they experienced.

Upon reflection, I am reminded of this quote by Ramsden (1990), ‘As long as Maori people perceive the health service as alien and not meeting our needs in service, treatment, or attitude, it is culturally unsafe. A dangerous place to be’ (see this article for the reference).

I think about how dangerous it was for Nan to voice her opposition to racist dogma. The story that sticks with me is her being caught speaking her Ngiyampaa language at Parramatta Girls Home and being flogged, made to wear a hessian sack dress, and placed in solitary confinement on a diet of bread and water. As a result, the power of her native language voice was stolen.

Changing Australia’s Terms of Reference with Allies

However, in her later years, she did have contacts with influential non-Aboriginal politicians, policy makers, and allies who listened to her and respected her viewpoint. But still her voice was filtered through secret government committees. As I show in 2008 my PhD research, First Nations Australians were located in sub-sub-sub-sub committees but never in the executive decision making committees. I want to see this change.

Now, in 2022, there are a record number of Indigenous Australians in Federal Parliament, and new Prime Minister Anthony Albanese recommitted to the Uluru Statement from the Heart, and Labor has promised to hold a referendum (likely mid-2024) on the voice to parliament.

Thanks to Nan, and thousands of First Nations peoples and our allies, I hope to see tremendous changes to Australia’s Terms of Reference so that our cultural voices influence every committee decision making process. What will you do to ‘Be Brave. Make Change.’?

By drlockediting

I apply my academic and cultural skills to editing your important writing. With a Doctor of Philosophy (Public Health), Master of Public Health, Honours in Nutrition, and a Bachelor of Science, I bring strong educational skills to my editing. As a First Nations Australia (Ngiyampaa), with First Fleet heritage (The Lucas Clan) and growing up in country NSW, I bring a unique cultural lens to my practice. My editing will empower your cultural safety - respecting your cultural identity, heritage, and values - so that your cultural voice shines through in your writing. If you need editing of your creative writing, academic writing, or report writing, then contact Cultural Safety Editing Service.

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