Change is slow and deliberate

My five year old grandson started school last Monday with all the other new kids from all backgrounds in this great country we call Australia. He was a few months old on the day Kevin Rudd, as Prime Minister, delivered his speech to parliament on 13 February 2008 and gave the long-awaited national apology to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

“To the mothers and the fathers, the brothers and the sisters, for the breaking up of families and communities, we say sorry.”

I cried with these words. I imagined living under the kind of laws that my grandmother lived. Laws that would, had it not been for the fights for justice by Aboriginal people and supporters, permit my grandson to be taken from his family, never to see father until he was old enough to find him himself - or not at all. I thought about what it would be like to feel powerless to stop those laws.

Yet change is slow and deliberate …

My grandmother stood up against these laws in 1938. Fortunately today we live in an Australia where my grandson is not under threat of being taken from his family for the sole reason that he is an Aboriginal child.

When I was his little sister’s age - she's two - I was not counted in the Australian census. The laws that governed the lives of Aboriginal people were the purview of each state. In NSW, my life was constituted under the NSW Flora and Fauna Act, amongst others. Such were the policies for Aboriginal people. In 1967, the Australian people voted for the constitution to be changed. Today the Australian Parliament will receive a Bill to recognise Australia’s First Peoples in our constitution. It is complex business to change the constitution and being informed is the first step to understanding why this is important.

At The George Institute we work in an area where we strive to make a difference to Indigenous people’s lives - to close the life expectancy gap between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders and other Australians. To reflect on Kevin Rudd’s words from 2008, ‘Let us seize the day. Let it not become a moment of mere sentimental reflection.’