There were many stories and insights generously shared by many of the speakers at this symposium, and these moments will stay with me for a long time, moments like the performance by Gina Williams and Guy Ghouse. Stories can be shared in many ways and doing so through music and song was so beautiful.
Robert Eggington’s presentation reminded me of the historical lineage of the ongoing fight against white supremacy which continues to occur globally. All who benefit from colonisation must always listen to the truths told by First Nations people about Australia’s brutal colonial history. Every time I hear these truths, I am reminded again of the strength and resilience of First Nations people who have fought for the lives of younger generations.
The Federation of Australia and Australian society was built on racism and othering. The discussions around decolonising our cultural institutions also apply to our laws and our legal system. How can we begin this task? Our laws are a result of settler colonialism. As a law student, this is something that I struggle with constantly.
Two things from Dr Perera’s presentation about the Deathscapes project really stayed with me. Firstly, that an aspect of sovereignty includes the right to offer or withhold hospitality, and secondly, how carceral institutions “manage” bodies through a modality of killing or letting die. The project provoked many thoughts for me about Australia’s obsession with controlling borders and non-White bodies.
Lastly, if you do not know much about Wadjemup (Rottnest Island), please explore the Wadjemup Aboriginal Burial Ground project and the incredible work done by Ezra Jacobs-Smith. His encouragement of those who live in Western Australia to engage with the dark history of the place was a sombre and empowering moment of the symposium.
There can be a great temptation to present the past through a single prism, particularly when you feel that a great wrong has been done and no-one is accountable. The three speakers who presented the session on ‘Darkest West Australia’ had a difficult task. Clearly, as Dr Chris Owen showed from his meticulous research at the State Library archives, there was much documented evidence on the inhumane treatment of Aboriginal people at the hands of the colonists. However, the two speakers after Dr Owen, Jim Morrison, a Goreng Noongar elder and the Aboriginal Heritage Officer for Rottnest Island, both spoke eloquently on the need not only to understand the past but also to frame present discussions in a way that allows healing to take place and for people to move forward. I personally found the short story on how the spirit of a deceased aboriginal passed through various stages in nature before finally being taken by a whale out to sea, very moving. It is stories like these that resonate deeply and, particularly in the case of Rottnest Island which is a huge tourist attraction in Western Australia, to learn of the sacredness of this island made me ashamed and saddened by my ignorance when I’d visited it in the past.
Going into the symposium, I had no idea what to expect. I just knew that it would be thought provoking and I looked forward to it. After 2 full days of getting my mind stretched, prodded and absolutely challenged, my mind cannot return to its previous state of blissful ignorance.
One of the highlights for me was hearing Robert Eggington speak with such candour. He was unapologetically himself and inspired boldness in me to speak the shattering truth about Australia’s dark history. This cannot be hidden nor twisted any longer. Every Australian today must know about the atrocities that happened since the British colonisation that has led to the massive dysfunction and need in our communities today. Understanding our history is key to unlocking empathy and ultimately, the right set of actions to reinstate the freedom and life back to the Aboriginal community. Aptly said by another keynote speaker, Ezra Jacobs-Smith, ‘We don’t need guilt, we need empathy and action’. We need to own this, listen more and be courageous in not just facing the truth but acting with respect, integrity and kindness to everyone in our community.
The second highlight was hearing Patrycja Slawuta speak on ‘The art of heart and healing’. She was able to articulate deep complexities of the mind and human behaviour in a simple and relatable manner. Learning about how our primary emotions are such strong forces in war and destruction was fascinating and powerful.
Lastly, I was deeply moved by the screening of ‘How I became a refugee”. Up till this point, I had never met another refugee, or even heard a second hand story of a refugee. To be able to meet the entire Ni Chin family after watching the film, chat with them and see them in their traditional clothes just made everything more real. The global refugee crisis seems too big of a problem. I want to help but I don’t know how. Knowing about this from my privileged position as an Australian citizen is heartbreaking. They didn’t choose to be refugees and I didn’t choose the family I was born into. Australia can do better and it starts with me. Working at The Platform as the Community Manager, we partner with organisations that work to address 6 key issues: poverty, human exploitation, youth at risk, indigenous disadvantage, environment care and health/mental health. Knowing what I know now not only confirms the pressing need that these affected communities have, it highlights the mind-boggling magnitude of the problem that requires a ‘whole village’ approach to solve. I look forward to starting conversations that bring awareness to our network and further connecting all sectors and together, we can make a difference.
The vibrant and diverse discussion at the “In Visible Ink” symposium made all the different parts of me cry. But it also helped me understand what I can do to heal — both myself and the people and communities I love.
I regularly struggle to pick a label to use to describe myself. I am a woman; a person of colour; a migrant born in a colonised county now living on colonised land; a native English speaker who cannot read or write in my ancestors’s language; a person with neurological diversity; a feminist; a daughter named in honour of my father and father’s father; a lawyer; a teacher; a social justice advocate; a writer; a reader. Each identity hurts different parts of me at different times; sometimes all at once.
What struck me most as I listened to the many ideas and topics presented in the master classes was: how intricately everything is connected. How trauma, fear and social exclusion arise when those connections are broken. How in order to heal, we need to work on ways to reconnect those broken connections. And how moving towards healing in each and every small way, we can create changes that move through us and beyond us.
All these connections means that rather than individuals, we are interdependent beings who exist within nesting ecosystems — connections that expand continually further around us.
We heard about and contemplated so many kinds of connections where fissures and tears have led to the pain and suffering we seem to be constantly surrounded by.
Connections to land, cultures and communities severed by colonialism.
Connections between people and their purpose, resulting in unconscious consumption used to fill gaps in our broken hearts leading to unconscionable environmental destruction.
Connections between communities shattered by way of one-sided histories and incomplete stories leading to barriers and divisions among races and ethnicities.
Connections between families ripped apart by laws and policies that cater to fears created by misunderstandings and deliberate falsehoods.
Connections within one person to all the feelings that tear them apart because they didn’t realise they don’t have to be perfect to be whole.
Connections lost by those who feel alone after we stay silent out of shame, and couldn’t see ourselves reflected because nobody felt safe enough to let everyone know we all are the same.
Telling stories about things we are supposed to never mention can be an act of resistance against forces that seek to break us apart and trap us, scared and alone. Sharing stories that have been silenced allows us to rebel and rebuild those broken connections. And listening to different and sometimes-confronting stories, truly and wholly listening despite the discomfort, can help us see the many ways we are connected, were never really alone, and have always belonged.
Right Now is proud to support The Museum of Freedom and Tolerance’s In Visible Ink Project. The aim of In Visible Ink is to make visible the often invisible stories and lived experiences of Australia’s First Peoples, migrants and refugees in meaningful ways that create opportunities to increase empathy and diversity, to address prejudice, and for truth telling, healing and reconciliation. Find out more about the work of the speakers mentioned in these reflections here, and about the In Visible Ink project here.