College gathers to mark Reconciliation Week

On Friday 31st May, the College gathered together to mark Reconciliation Week with a ceremony in the Quadrangle. The key feature of the ceremony was the planting of a native tree – one from our local region – in the school grounds while Paul Kelly’s ‘From Little Things Big Things Grow’ was played. The speech below was delivered by members of our Student Representative Council:

Today, we are here to mark National Reconciliation Week. This year’s theme is ‘grounded in truth, walk together with courage’.

A big part of Reconciliation is talking about and acknowledging the past. Without a shared understanding we can’t build a better future.

Reconciliation Week happens on the same dates each year, May 27 to June 3. This is because these days commemorate two significant milestones in Australia’s journey towards reconciliation; the successful 1967 referendum and the Mabo decision in the High Court.

Most of us have heard of ‘Mabo’ but many of us might not be sure exactly what it means.

When the First Fleet arrived in 1788, the British took possession of Australia by force. They declared the land to be Terrra Nullius, empty land, or land that belongs to nobody. They did not negotiate with the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples who had inhabited the land for at least 120,000 years. Have a think about that number for a minute. In Year 7 we study “Ancient Civilisations” – but those civilisations are less than 15,000 years old!

British colonisation was violent and thousands of Aboriginal people were killed in battles with the British or massacred by hunting parties. They were moved off their traditional lands. Thousands more died because of diseases like smallpox and influenza which the British brought with them.

In 1901, the Australian Constitution was created and the Commonwealth of Australia was formed. The Constitution classed Aboriginal people alongside plants and animals.

Throughout the 1900s, the Australian Government forcibly removed thousands of Aboriginal children from their families as part of what is known as the stolen generations. The trauma caused by this policy is still felt by Aboriginal communities today.

It was not until 1967 that Aboriginal people were recognized in the Australian Constitution. It is amazing to think that just over 50 years ago, during the lives of our parents and grandparents, that Aboriginal people were still not considered citizens of our nation.

And it was not until the historic Mabo High Court case in 1992, that the concept of terra nullius was overturned. The case, which was brought by a Murray Island man named Eddie Mabo, was the first time that aboriginal land rights, or native title, was legally recognized.

Reconciliation Week is a time for us to remember Australia’s violent colonial history and the racist and cruel policies which have had a devastating impact on Aboriginal communities throughout Australia. But it is also a time to recognise the work already done to achieve reconciliation. Reconciliation is a work in progress—generations of people have fought hard for change and now that journey is in our hands.

Today, we’d like to plant a native tree – a tree from this local area – as a symbol of the way we hope to grow in our understanding of Aboriginal cultures. As the tree thrives, we hope too that our Aboriginal and Torre Strait Islander peers can thrive in our school and beyond. Each time you step past this tree we want you to consider the steps we are taking towards reconciliation.

Reconciliation requires us all to make it a reality, and that might not always be easy. It might take courage to ask a question about Australian history or to call out racism when you hear or see it. But if we all take responsibility for acknowledging our shared past and making changes in the future, we can make reconciliation a reality.

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Bendigo South East College acknowledges the Jaara people of the Dja Dja Wurrung country, and pay our respects to Elders past, present and emerging. We also acknowledge all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people across our state and across the nation.