I give my respects to Indigenous Elders of the past, present, and future, and their endless wisdom and leadership. I also recognise the Traditional Owners of the Whadjuk boodja on which Curtin University is located, the Whadjuk Noongar people.
It’s been almost thirty years since the very first iteration of Reconciliation Week. In 1993, the Catholic, Anglican, and Uniting Churches introduced a Week of Prayer for Reconciliation, to respect the International Year of the World’s Indigenous Peoples. Its popularity meant that just three years later it evolved into Reconciliation Week, an event led by the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation (now known as Reconciliation Australia.)
Five years after the first Week of Prayer for Reconciliation, then Vice Chancellor of Curtin Professor Lance Twomey followed the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation in endorsing a Statement of Reconciliation and Commitment for the university. A decade later in 2008, Curtin paved the way for other Australian universities by being the first to implement a Reconciliation Action Plan.
Last month, the 26th of May marked Sorry Day, on which Curtin continued their efforts towards reconciliation. Veronica Goerke, Senior Advisor in the Inclusion and Engagement team, says that this year’s approach to Reconciliation Week was unique.
“This year for the first time (to my knowledge, and I have been around for a while!) students and staff sat together over several weeks to first and foremost, listen to what our local First Nation colleagues wanted to do acknowledge this time of the year. National Reconciliation has a messy history, and Curtin has been at the fore trying to work out what this means for a university – we started in 1998 with a Statement of Reconciliation and Commitment. We have often made mistakes working this out, but most of us I think, keep trying to do it better.”
This year’s Sorry Day was marked by a Welcome to Country and Smoking Ceremony by Elder Mr. Vaughn McGuire and his sons. Those in attendance were encouraged to “Be Brave and Make Change”—the theme for 2022’s Reconciliation Week. Jayde Conway, Elisha Jacobs-Smith, and Aldan Clinch then ran a reflective “Wanju Curtin Mia”, an On-Country immersive cultural experience that concluded at the garden by the Guild. Guild President Theodora Rohl gave an introductory speech for Vice Chancellor Professor Harlene Hayne’s Acknowledgement of Country. Lunch followed and consisted of food made of native ingredients grown on the Boorloo campus. As they ate, Jayde Conway and Elisha Jacobs-Smith offered stories about the Stolen Generations.
Reflecting on the day, Veronica Goerke continues, “May 26th was the result of a wonderful combination of [Centre for Aboriginal Studies] staff, our First Nation Cultural Capability staff, the Student Guild President and Vice president plus me who manages the [Reconciliation Action Plan], all sitting together over several weeks. Together, we were able to hear what our First Nation colleagues wanted in 2022 as Curtin’s way to mark dates that are integral to our Australian story connected to Truth-telling – and to also support the Uluru Statement from the Heart’s call for Voice, Treaty, Truth.”
On the collaboration behind the event, Guild President Theodora Rohl said, “As in any team, we all bring our strengths, knowledges and experiences to make the event the best it can be. … Further, reconciliation is all about coming together with mutual understandings, and working towards a better, more equitable future. Working as we did really demonstrated that sentiment.”
As for the future of reconciliation at Curtin, Theo hopes to “draw recognition to and raise awareness of Indigenous Australian culture, achievements and the issues they face in our society.” She also “aim[s] to strengthen the relationships between CAS, the Cultural Capability team and the Guild. … we are stronger when we work together towards our common goals of reconciliation and anti-racism.”
Veronica Goerke surmised Curtin’s involvement in Reconciliation Week, and where the future of reconciliation at Curtin might lead. “What we did on May 26 in a small way proved that together we can make the world a bit better. We can create truly good learning moments as staff and students by partnering together based on shared values On-Country. We need to find more opportunities to do this thinking and work together; to sit in dialogue and shape for the future.”
“For me the events on May 26th was simple evidence of the basic tenets of reconciliation – people being together On-Country – learning a bit more about what ‘Country ‘means here and thus who the First Peoples are of this place; getting to know each other a bit more – i.e. building respectful relationships with each other; and at this time especially, giving prominence to and listening to First People’s story – and especially on May 26th, the painful stories that are part of all our shared histories.”
“I believe the way the day played out, gave the strong message that reconciliation is everyone’s business – that we are all called to listen and connect with each other. However, there is now an extra aspect about reconciliation for non-Indigenous people to respectfully listen and support our First Nation communities as they unpack and translate Voice, Treaty, Truth.”