Nisa Schebella calls for respect for Australia's first people

Thirty years ago the Barunga Statement gave us great hope that potentially the single most significant moment in the Australian settlement story could be reached.

It gave great hope that finally, since the first fleet in 1788 and Federation in 1901, that we could reach a settling of matters around the colonisation of the Commonwealth of Australia under the British flag and the misnomer of Terra Nullius.

Australia was indeed a populated land with a rich and ancient culture, occupied for around 60,000 years. Former Prime Minister Hawke hoped to have it in place by 1990 and called it his greatest disappointment to not be able to bring a treaty into effect.

European settlement in Australia has had devastating effects on the country and its Indigenous people, especially in the past century.

One hundred years ago Victoria was covered with near 100 per cent wild grasslands but today only 1pc. Our major river systems are dying… the list goes on. Aboriginal people still struggle to survive let alone thrive.

Twenty years ago the Reconciliation movement hit a brick wall, dialogue began but lost federal political will. In any relationship breakdown an apology is the first step to healing. Ten years ago we said sorry and many of us sincerely meant it.

Now is the time for a formal treaty. Victoria and the Northern Territory are making steps in that direction. Disappointingly in SA we now head in the opposite direction. Maybe it’s time for local governments to take the lead and make treaties with local traditional owners and start the process from the bottom up.

We have not shown our land and its first peoples the due respect and care we owe. We need to slow down and listen to the wisdom of the ancient voices. We need to stop, look and listen to our Aboriginal elders.

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