Looking at history as a window to reconciliation

The Reconciliation Week 2018 (May 27-June 3) theme ‘Don’t Keep History A Mystery’, is a time for reflection on how each of us perceive our own place in history and to join with other Tasmanians to celebrate our shared past. 

Rock art deep within wilderness, west coast petroglyphs, shell middens and a mosaic of fire managed landscapes are reminders of the Tasmanian Aborigines who walked this land for a thousand generations.

Tasmania also holds a rich history of new arrivals such as the convicts, refugees, and migrants, each of whom feel a strong affinity to this beautiful isle.

Stolen generations, dispossession of sovereign lands and the harsh treatment of our convict forebears all leave scars which must be healed.

Richard Flanagan recently stated at a National Press Club speech ‘For Australia to find out what freedom means, it has to face up to the truths of its past…because only in truth can we finally be free as a people” Flanagan suggested that for all the people who have come to Tasmania, such as the settlers and convicts, were indigenised “and in the mash up, Indigenous values of land, of country, of time, of family, of space and story became strong also among non-Indigenous Australians”.

Our history in Tasmania must be viewed not just with European eyes but also through the eyes of our Aboriginal countrymen and women who nurtured and managed these lands before European ‘settlement’.

Pascoe (Dark Emu) and Gammage (Biggest Estate on Earth) extensively document the land management technology, food and water harvesting and housing methods used by Aboriginal people in Tasmania, which has been recorded by historians and artists as a rich mosaic of pastures where horses sank to their bellies in grasslands and where local leaders such as Mannalargenna and Woureddy led spirited and determined resistance against the army of settlers and sheep.

Our future prosperity as modern Australians relies on sharing our past, creating opportunity for trust and friendship between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people and accepting the gift being offered by Aboriginal leaders through the Referendum Council recommendation for Constitutional Recognition – A Voice to Parliament, and through the establishment of the Truth Telling Commission - a Makarrata. 

The challenge of responding respectfully to the Uluru Statement from the Heart remains for our national leadership, as another ‘petition’, along with past petitions such as the 1846 Petition to Queen Victoria from Wybalena, Flinders Island, the 1937 Petition from William Cooper seeking representation in Parliament, the 1963 Yirrkala bark petitions and the 1972 Larrakia Petition for a treaty.

Locally, we have 27 Aboriginal organisations across Tasmania representing diverse, strong, regional communities.

Reconciliation Week can be a time for healing, coming together and acknowledging that our history has the taint of persecution, marginalization and loss just under the surface.

Tasmanians are invited to attend a number of Reconciliation Week activities organized by Reconciliation Tasmania, including On Country Field Days and Reconciliation Week Breakfasts in Launceston and Burnie featuring guest speaker Mick Gooda. See Reconciliation Tasmania website for more information - www.rectas.com.au

  • Mark Redmond is chief executive of Reconciliation Tasmania