Even though he didn’t explain why we
were making the long detour to a remote sandy riverbed on the edge of the
Tanami Desert, the tone of Jupurrurla’s voice made clear it was
Hours later Jupurrurla directed us to pull up in the searing midday
heat. We spent the next few hours sitting in the dry riverbed under the
welcome shade of a patch of River Red Gums as Jupurrurla recounted an
earlier time he spent under these very trees.
The year was 1929 and a younger Jupurrurla and his family had fled here
in fear, seeking refuge from a posse of rampaging white stockmen from
nearby stations. The river had offered no refuge. Pointing above us to the
River Red Gums, Jupurrurla described how the stockmen had tied his father
to one of these very trees and shot him in front of his young eyes. As he
hid nearby he watched as his father’s body was later piled with others
and torched in an attempt to conceal evidence of the massacre. Jupurrurla
is part of another ‘stolen generation’ we are yet to come to terms
Recounting this story as we sat in the dry riverbed was Jupurrurla’s
approach to reconciliation. He wasn’t bitter or angry and didn’t
personally blame me for the massacre he saw with his then younger eyes.
But Jupurrurla was determined that I should understand and truthfully
acknowledge his history if we were going to work together for the future.
With Australia’s formal Reconciliation process now rapidly running
off the rails, perhaps Prime Minister Howard could learn a thing or two
about reconciliation from the likes of Jupurrurla.
Jupurrurla’s first lesson for the Prime Minister would be about
truth. The Prime Minister’s talk of Aboriginal ‘custodianship’ of
Australia in the failed preamble to the Constitution belied the truth of
prior Aboriginal ownership of Australia as acknowledged in the Mabo
and Wik cases. His politically expedient statement of ‘sincere
regret’ to victims of the stolen generation - on the basis that such
practices were a thing of the distant past not connected to the present
generation - was a profound insult to many indigenous Australians who
rightly demand a formal apology.
Jupurrurla’s second lesson for the Prime Minister would be about the
importance of rights to indigenous Australians - rights to land, rights to
self determination and rights not to suffer racial discrimination.
Reconciliation cannot be achieved without addressing the root cause of
much of the injustice faced by indigenous Australians - a lack of basic
The state of indigenous rights in Australia has now descended into a
truly international shambles. With the United Nations Committee on the
Elimination of Racial Discrimination damning the Howard Government’s
amendments to the Native Title Act and its failure to overturn
mandatory sentencing laws, the only real winner must be the airlines
ferrying the now regular procession of lame duck Ministers called to
Geneva to defend indefensible Government policies before the United
It is painfully clear that Reconciliation will not be achieved by the
Centenary of Federation in 2001, as was hoped for when the Council for
Aboriginal Reconciliation was formed in 1991. It is equally clear that the
single greatest barrier to the achievement of Reconciliation by the
Centenary of Federation has been the current Government’s failure to
understand and truthfully acknowledge our shared history and to address a
range of recent indigenous rights issues which are rooted in this shared
In what must be a bitter pill to swallow, the Council for Aboriginal
Reconciliation has acknowledged that reconciliation cannot be achieved in
the current Australian political environment where so many indigenous
rights issues remain unresolved. Due to disband on January 1 2001, one of
the final acts of the Council will be to present its Document
for Reconciliation to the Prime Minister at a major ceremony in
Sydney on 27th May 2000.
In acknowledging that Reconciliation will not be achieved before the
Centenary of Federation, the Document for Reconciliation will seek
Government endorsement of a series of National Strategies to Advance
Reconciliation beyond 2001, including a strategy to promote the
recognition of indigenous rights which calls for the Australian Government
to enter a framework agreement with indigenous Australians to resolve the
many currently unresolved indigenous rights’ issues.
The Council deserves our support for acknowledging that Reconciliation
will not be achieved with so many fundamental indigenous rights issues
unresolved. Lets hope the Prime Minister finally gets the message.
Discuss in our Forums
See what other readers are saying about this article!
Click here to read & post comments.