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Reconciliation accepts indigenous Australians are unique

  • 06 February 2008
On the day the Native Title Amendment Bill passed through the Lower House, Patrick Dodson and Frank Brennan came together in Melbourne to talk reconciliation. The following excerpt from Dodson's speech appeared in Eureka Street in December 1997.

The Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation has been a unique opportunity in this country. The parties in Parliament unanimously agreed to the legislation that set up the Council some six or seven years ago and provided to the Australian nation an opportunity, over a ten-year period, to try to come to terms with those things that have been the cause of discord and division, that have been the cause of misinterpretation, that have been the cause of hurt and frustration, and injustice.

But [it is an opportunity] also to look to the future — how we might go forward into the next century as friends, as equals and as people with some pride in our effort at grappling with these complex, cross-cultural interpretations and understandings about each other. The Council also addresses the physical requirements, like health and housing, education and employment, so that the quality of life for indigenous people in this country is something about which we no longer cite reports highlighting the over-representation of the indigenous people on many of the social-indicator areas.

I think this country has responded well, generally, to the process of reconciliation. Cast your minds back to five or six years. Probably, for a lot of you here, the word 'reconciliation' has a Catholic resonance, but for those for whom it doesn't — and there are many in this country — it seemed a big type of concept, a concept that was about whether I, personally, wanted to do something in terms of reconciliation or not. It was a matter for me to make some choice.

That's still a strong view held by some of our political leaders — that this is just a matter of individual choice. That defies the history we are gradually understanding better: the history of dispossession of the Aboriginal people; those policies that have led to the denial of their full citizenship of this country, and the legislation that denied that; the bureaucratic activity that lorded over and determined the direction of life for many Aboriginal people, which has probably gone on unknown to most Australians; and those more heinous activities like the removal of children from their mothers, their families and