‘Everyone can do more’: Amplifying Indigenous voices beyond NAIDOC week

As NAIDOC celebrations come to a close, OTR reporter Simone Pickstock reviews whether Australia’s political and cultural institutions are doing enough to Heal Country. (Pictured: Gubbi Gubbi artist Maggie-Jean Douglas illustrates her view of country for NAIDOC Week. Image source: NAIDOC)

By Simone Pickstock | @SimonePickstock

Every year NAIDOC Week aims to amplify Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander voices.  

The 2021 NAIDOC theme Heal Country builds upon sentiments raised more than four years ago on Anangu land.  

A discussion paper produced by the Referendum Council in 2016 prompted leaders to meet and discuss constitutional reform.

In 2017, delegates from the 12 First Nations Regional Dialogues gathered to recommend solutions that could repair Indigenous wounds and acknowledge invasion.

Together, over four days, they wrote the Uluru Statement from the Heart.

It asks Australians to walk with First Nations people and demand a better future.  

In his opinion piece for The Conversation, Wiradjuri journalist Stan Grant described the Uluru Statement as a journey toward “voice, treaty [and] truth.”

On the June 3 2021 broadcast of ABC’s Q and A, University of Sydney Deputy Vice Chancellor Lisa Jackson Pulver said the Uluru Statement would heal centuries of abuse.

“It is a beautiful roadmap,” Professor Pulver said.

“It is superb, absolutely superb.”

Both the Turnbull and Morrison Coalition Governments have rejected the Uluru Statement.

The artwork framing the Uluru Statement was painted by the senior boss women of Uluru and captures the ancient connection between law and land (Supplied: Uluru Statement)

According to retired AFL player and proud Kaurna Ngarrindjeri Narungga man Michael O’Loughlin, such dismissal is nothing new.

“For Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people we call that a normal Thursday,” he said.  

Mr O’Loughlin said he has made it his mission to remedy Indigenous representation.

“We’re the oldest continuing living culture on the planet,” he said.

“Why wouldn’t all Australians be proud of that?”    

During his 14-year playing career at the Sydney Swans, O’Loughlin saw glimpses of progress but concedes there is still work to be done.

“When the AFL became the first professional sporting body to adopt a Racial and Religious Vilification Policy it was incredible,” he said.

“We knew that was never going to be the end of [racism] but it told us the AFL were prepared to take a stand.”

Where the AFL stands has been challenged in recent years.    

Allegations of systemic racism, most notably toward Adam Goodes, were documented in the 2019 film The Final Quarter.   

Mr O’Loughlin, who made Goodes godfather to his children, said he thinks the AFL is doing its best to heal the past.

“Do they have the right infrastructure and the right people doing it? Maybe not,” he said.

“A very good friend of mine, Tanya Hosch, is the first Aboriginal person to be on the AFL executive.

“She is a superstar.

“She was the ex-CEO of the Recognise Campaign.

“She’s done incredible work but she’s only one person and she needs help.

“I think the AFL could do more.

“Everyone can do more.”

Australians can help Heal Country by supporting calls for a Voice to Parliament and Makarrata Commission.

NAIDOC celebrations end on Sunday, July 11, 2021.

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