Friday 25 May 2018

Of National Significance

May 27th to June 3rd is National Reconciliation Week, and with it, an opportunity to look with regret on the mistakes of the past and commit to a future where all – Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians, can embrace a society based upon mutual inter-dependence and equity. Given the last 200 years, equity does not equal equivalence. Many First Nations communities currently find themselves in arrears having suffered discrimination, deprivation and marginalisation through the forces of settlement and history; both of which need to be redressed as we face the years and the decades ahead.

The dates associated with Reconciliation Week hold their own historical significance. On May 27th 1967, Australians overwhelmingly voted in favour on a referendum to include Indigenous Australians in the census and for the Commonwealth to make laws on behalf of all in the country. It was the first of many steps forward that needed to occur. Thirty five years later, on June 3rd 1992, the High Court of Australia recognised the inherent land rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, opening up the legal precedent for Native Title rights after 200 years of settlement. Both were landmark occasions and ones that we celebrate today. But, there is much more work to be done.

On Wednesday the annual Reconciliation Assembly was held in the Gartlan and what an extravagant celebration of First Nations cultures was seen. Dance, theatre and story, animated by the haunting and mystical tones of the yidaki(didgeridoo), profiled the significance of First Nations cultures in the school and more broadly across the nation. Few schools are so gifted as to have such a large number of First Nations boys who bring their lives, their perspectives and their cultures to the College. But this is not new. 6,000 years ago, the land upon which Riverview stands was occupied by the Cammeraygal people, and their children were schooled in the ways of culture and life relevant to the day. In protected sections of the property, the past reaches out to the current generations via rich ochre drawings and precious artefacts that are being stewarded through the Heritage Management Plan that has been approved by the College Board, in accord with external heritage agencies. Living, learning and the transmission of culture on this site continues as core business, as it did thousands of years ago.

Top: Captain College Matthew Dutaillis addresses the college at the Reconciliation Assembly | Our First Nations students perform a special dance
Bottom: First nations students explore the Ancient Middens Site | Handprints of the Cammeraygal people

National Reconciliation Week asks all Australians to take positive action to build relationships with all cultures. This includes:

  • Valuing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and non-Indigenous cultures, rights and experiences
  • Equal access to fundamental rights such as health care and education
  • Responsibility to ensure that political, business and community structures uphold equal opportunity for all Australians
  • Recognising and valuing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and heritage as part of the nation’s identity

Throughout the course of Reconciliation Week, may we be reminded of the words of the East Timorese Poet Laureate, Xanana Gusmao: “Owning the past is an exercise in releasing a truth imprisoned by silence.” Owning our past with a commitment to create equitable futures for all Australians is a moral imperative as we enter the next phase of our history.

Last week, Fr Jack and I had the pleasure of sharing a pizza lunch with the student leaders from the Regis Campus. These young men had the courage to nominate for leadership early in the year and they have since been popularly elected by their peers to serve the greater interests of the student body. It was instructive to hear the insights of the boys and to respond to the questions they had – both about the challenge of leadership per se, and how they can respond with integrity to lead the affairs of their campus. Beyond the confines of the College there are many leaders; in the corporate world, in civic affairs, in government and in the community. That accepted, there is every reason to question that among the multitude of leaders, to what extent are they models of leadership? Are our political leaders men and women of vision or expediency? Do our community leaders serve their constituents faithfully? Are our corporate leaders preoccupied with balance sheets or the ethics upon which they are predicated? These are questions not to resile from. Such questions reside at the heartland of leadership and our young men grapple with their own appropriation of these values as emerging leaders. Between the pizza and the discourse, it was indeed a pleasurable and worthwhile exchange with some of our youngest leaders, a number of whom will continue to explore the institution of leadership as they move through secondary school over the years ahead.

While the boys basked in the competitive spirit of the co-curricular program under magnificent autumn skies last weekend, the boarding confraternity headed to Dubbo and Narromine for their perennial country roadshow with the local community. The Western District region formed part of the foundational story for the College: the first boarder to arrive from the Western Plains District, Francis Souter, arrived via ferry to take up schooling on the very first day, February 14th, 1880. This intrepid adventurer joined the first class of 10 boys, later going on to study medicine and practising in Australia before joining the war effort as a medical officer. This was to be a portent for the future, with dozens of boys from lineage families – Dunne, McKay, Scott, Noonan and Anderson, who have kept coming from the region ever since. There is a temptation to look to the present without adequate knowledge of the past and it is these families whose initial trust encouraged so many others from regions far and wide to join the enterprise of the Jesuits and contribute in their own inimitable way to the fabric of community that we enjoy today.

 Let us be reminded that National Reconciliation Week is the business of all Australians. May we embrace the future in an open and inclusive way, for if one culture or group are disadvantaged, then our country as a whole is impoverished.

Dr Paul Hine