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“Let your spirits rejoice in the mercy of God, and be not ashamed to give Him praise. Work at your tasks in due season, and in His own time
Issue 3, June 2009, Highlights:
Respect - Walking the fine lines
Kimberley Community Profile
Respect… Walking the fine lines
Reconciliation between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and non-Indigenous Australians has been defined by some as a process of creating mutual understanding, recognition and respect. Since my arrival in the Kimberley late last year, I’ve found myself regularly reflecting on the complexities of this process. Not that this subject had not occupied my mind in the past. Having lived in Sydney for almost twenty years, I had many opportunities to demonstrate my support for this process, albeit often only symbolically.
For example, in late 1990s, at the beginning of the “Sea of hands” movement, I solemnly signed and planted cut outs of red and yellow hands on the sand of Bondi Beach. A few years later, I proudly marched with thousands of Sydneysiders across the Sydney Harbour Bridge in support of reconciliation and, not so long ago, I examined the NT Intervention and applauded the National Apology to the Stolen Generations. I watched Indigenous films at the annual Message Sticks Festival, raved about the performances of the Bangarra Dance Theatre, wept listening to Archie Roach singing “Took the children away” and delighted in Aboriginal art exhibited in Sydney gallery space.
Then I arrived in Broome, a place where reconciliation is a matter of daily choices and encounters. Not that I discredit my earlier experiences; they certainly were not just empty gestures. But their significance has taken on a slightly surreal shape in the grounded reality of my life here.
I now have the privilege of working, with my Indigenous colleagues and students, on a campus dedicated to the process of reconciliation. The beautiful building housing the campus library exists thanks to the generosity of Indigenous artists and other benefactors of the Kimberley where Aboriginal artworks adorn the Library walls. Our Library holds materials dedicated to Aboriginal Studies where I often see how confronting it is, for our first year students, to discover the brutal aspects of encounters between white settlers and the First Australians.
I too keep learning, even though my “lessons” might be as simple as chatting to library patrons or talking to people on the street. There have already been so many unforgettable encounters: the lovely women from Balgo who visited the Library last year in search of photos, the ‘cheeky’ Aboriginal five year old near the entrance to BRAC, the animated Fitzroy Crossing artists at the Short Street Gallery or the elderly Aboriginal man who had come to town to visit his relatives, spent the night in the bush and when the family still wasn’t at home the following day, knocked on my door, asking for a lift to the roadhouse on the outskirts of town so he could catch a ride home from there. Our short car ride to the roadhouse gave me more food for thought than any of my Sydney-based experiences.
I am learning how to walk that fine line between political correctness and insensitivity; the fine line between the desire to help and the fear of being patronising or, even worse, appearing indifferent.
But, as they say, sometimes the journey becomes the destination.