By John Paul Janke
I’ve always had a special connection to NAIDOC Week; it holds such special memories for me.
In the 1970s, I remember gatherings and street marches in Cairns with my family and when we moved to Canberra in the late 1970s – attending many community and public events across National Capital.
Back then, NAIDOC had just expanded from one day called ‘National Aborigines Day’ to a week of celebrations. National Aborigines Day was the second Friday in July. Nationally that was the one significant day for events, marches and celebrations.
My dad worked in the Department of Aboriginal Affairs and he organised many of the public events here in Canberra. I recall handing out posters and stickers with him at the local shopping malls, meeting iconic Aboriginal identities like David Gulpilil, Lionel Rose, Evonne Cawley, Charles Perkins and seeing how traditional performances of songs, culture and dancing captivated a wider non-Indigenous public.
Sadly, I also recall the taunts of kids at school on National Aborigines Day saying to me that it was ‘National Boong Day’, ‘Abo Day’ or even ‘my birthday.’
We’ve worked hard to move past that kind of school yard ignorance.
More than ever before, our nation is embarking on conversations about its history – our real history – and about the ‘unfinished business’ of this country – its relationship with its First Nations people.
For me, NAIDOC Week plays such a vital part in these discussions through the hundreds of events each year organised by our communities, government agencies, corporates companies, local councils, universities, schools, and workplaces.
We all know it is beyond time for these conversations.
NAIDOC Week each July unfurls such an enormous sense of pride for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people across the Country.
All Australians should share that pride – celebrating and acknowledging with pride that this continent is home to the oldest living continuous culture of the planet.
Is that not something that all Australians should celebrate?
As the Co-Chair of the National NAIDOC Committee, it gives me enormous satisfaction to witness the growing enthusiasm and interest for NAIDOC Week each year and the sheer diversity and breadth of celebrations across the nation.
I sometimes smirk when I think back to those school kids who taunted me decades ago in that their children or grandchildren are now learning more about Indigenous history, culture and achievement than ever before.
As Co-Chair of the National NAIDOC Committee it is my role to help facilitate their understanding and awareness.
That awareness can be as easy as learning whose traditional country you live on, learning the names of other Indigenous clans or nations, learning some local language, or knowing of the sacred places in the country that surrounds you.
It is language and knowledge spanning the rise and fall of every other great civilisation on the planet.
Take this challenge: Ask yourself how many First Nations of North America can you name? Maybe like me you can name a few: the Cherokee, Apache, Navajo, Sioux, Cheyenne, Iroquois, or Lakota nations.
Can you recall the same amount for this continent’s Aboriginal nations?
For me, it also time to start engaging in conversations about sovereignty, of Frontier Conflict, of Invasion, of theft of land, of massacres and of the fiction of terra nullius. They are the stories of our shared history – our nation’s story.
Without learning of them – we have been robbed of the history of this country.
I love the opening line in the 2020 Midnight Oil single Terror Australia (written by Peter Garrett & and the late Bones Hillman and sung by Naarm (Melbourne) based Wergaia/Wemba Wemba woman Alice Skye):
“You can’t think about the future still running from the past.”
We must never forget that NAIDOC Week is a week borne from a day of protest, a movement towards justice, equality, and freedom and basic human rights.
It’s a week that celebrates and acknowledges our history, our present and looks with hope towards the future.
There is no other week quite like NAIDOC Week. Join Us.
Happy NAIDOC Week 2021.