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My Reconciliation Story by Dan A'Vard - Engineers Without Borders Australia
My Reconciliation Story by Dan A'Vard

I’m writing this on Noongar country – what we now call Perth and the south west of Western Australia. Why is that important? This country (and anybody’s home country) was, is and will continue to be Noongar land, the land that their ancestors watch over; their mother, and their provider. To the Traditional Owners, their Country is their responsibility.  

A year ago, I found this interesting, but not particularly important. I had bigger things to worry about, apparently.  In 2011 though, I was privileged enough to begin a journey that so far has taken me to remote places, introduced me to incredible people and helped me begin to understand reconciliation. I’m not Aboriginal, so I can’t speak on behalf of Aboriginal people. What I can do is share what reconciliation means to me and how the EWB mob has contributed to this.

Reconciliation is a tricky word. It has different meanings to different people, that range from atonement through to assimilation and some consider it to even be a waste of time. It is a word that’s worth thinking about though, because with each of our individual twists on the meaning we create a fabric of ideas reflecting the diversity of our community. More formal visions for reconciliation (including EWB’s and Reconciliation Australia’s) centre on recognition, respect and relationships – all of which are important to me. By developing our own vision for reconciliation, we can each play a role in achieving a reconciled Australia.

Through my involvement with EWB my own vision for a reconciled Australia is taking shape, funnily enough this started whilst working overseas. It seems that a lot of people develop an interest in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities whilst living overseas. Working away gave me a new perspective on the opportunities in our country that are inaccessible to many Australians.  Upon my return, Lexi Randall-L’Estrange and Claire Dixon re-introduced me to the EWB fold and in particular the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Focus Group in Victoria. This group exists to be a first step of learning for EWB volunteers and last year was my entry point into the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Program (the Program) and my personal learning journey. It achieves this through regular meetings and events, each with a cultural and learning focus and also contributes to the Program knowledge hub (a national committee of volunteers who share knowledge and assist with co-ordinating the program).

At a planning retreat for the knowledge hub I was lucky enough to meet Kargun Fogarty, an Aboriginal man from the Kooma and the Jagera nations in Southern Queensland.  He discussed how Aboriginal cultures are celebrated as the oldest living cultures in the world and while we normally focus on the word ‘oldest’ when talking about this – more important to Kargun was the word ‘living’.  In celebrating the Aboriginal cultures, we sometimes think of them as museum pieces, not adapting, and being stuck in a pre-colonisation time trap.  Much has changed in Australia since 1788, including Aboriginal cultures, which continue to change and adapt to meet the requirements of a modern world.  Quite often though, the resources (technological, educational, etc.) to participate in this world aren’t available to all communities. It is regularly thought that the problem can simply be solved through a charity/aid model where infrastructure or other items simply ‘given’ to a community will resolve the challenges. However, the longer term and sustainable approach is to support communities seeking to develop their capacity.  Non-Aboriginal Australians may be able to support communities through providing the resources and opportunities for capacity development.

Similarly, in October last year, I was fortunate enough to participate in a two week long tour through the Murray-Darling Basin with 13 others. The Dialogues on Country (now Dialogues on Development) Study Tour was an opportunity to meet Aboriginal people and communities in a region that contains over 40% of Australia’s farms and where the health and sharing of land and water are on the political agenda. Through the Dialogues on Country tour we had opportunities to meet Aboriginal elders, community members and non-Aboriginal Australians who work with or have relationships with the Aboriginal communities – people who we would otherwise not have had the opportunity to meet. Throughout this tour, the living culture theme was often-repeated as was the concept of respect and honesty.  Uncle Roy Barker in Lightning Ridge, NSW said: “..mainstream Australia celebrates Aboriginal culture but has forgotten the Aboriginal people”, which set the tone for the rest of our tour. 

In response to our questions on reconciliation many people we met expressed a desire for Australia to acknowledge the Aboriginal history (which is not taught at schools) and for us to all move forward together as one Australia. This desire for honesty about our shared history and respect for each other and the future underpins a direction for Australia and all Australians to move forward together and reconcile our different and diverse cultures. To this end, my personal vision for a reconciled Australia is one where: “All Australians understand and acknowledge our shared history, no matter their cultural background, and work together to ensure that each and every Australian is able to achieve their dreams and live according to values important to them.”

What’s yours?

To find out more about the Victorian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Focus group click here.

To find out more about the 2012 Dialogues on Development study tours click here.

By Dan A'vard, Victorian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Engagement Champion

Engineers WIthout Borders Australia