As you and I fly over, or drive through all the great country that is encompassed by the Manning Valley, what do we see, what do we really see?
Forests, hills, mountain ranges, crops, cattle, sheep, beaches, rivers, towns, schools, factories and lots of people. We may even see you the occasional koala or kangaroo. In the shops, businesses and streets, we see many different people of lots of differing races.
But do we see many of Australia's First Peoples enjoying the benefits of all I have described?
Nations and peoples who had survived and prospered in this land for the 40-50,000 years before the colonisers arrived must have something worthwhile to share with us.
At least 50,000 years of diverse cultures, lore, understanding of nature ,relationships and the land, lore and law, respect, ingenuity, language, Dreamtime stories of creation, survival in a difficult land - all these things and more.
Many years ago I was aware of all these things and more - but in my head more than in my heart.
There is a big difference between heart changes and head changes. It wasn't until I recognised this and really asked God to change me, that things started to happen.
One of those vital change agents was really meeting Aboriginal people face to face, and developing heart to heart relationships and friendships with a large number, men and women, youth, children and elders.
As I looked back over these many years of my involvement with and acceptance into the Biripi community, I realised that much of my interaction has largely been facilitated by women.
"Because of her, we can.” This is the NAIDOC theme we are concentrating on this year.
NAIDOC Week is one of the best opportunities to celebrate Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island culture, talent and resilience.
NAIDOC week, which is celebrated annually in the full first week of July, stands for ‘National Aboriginal and Islanders Day of Observance Committee’.
The week began in the 1957 when Aboriginal organisations, state and federal governments and a number of church groups came together to support its formation. It’s a week when Australia celebrates Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, cultures and communities and recognises the valuable contributions that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people make to our country.
I will now note a few past national NAIDOC themes to give you an idea as to the wide reaches of both Aboriginal culture and deep longing: 2017 “Our Languages Matter”; 2016 “Songlines: The living narrative of our nation”; 2015 “We all Stand on Sacred Ground: Learn Respect and Celebrate”; 1987 “White Australia has a Black History”; 1986 “Peace - Not For You - Not For Me But For All”; 1983 “Let’s Talk - We Have Something to Say”; 1973 “It’s Time For Mutual Understanding”; 2018 "Because of her, we can.”
As you can see from a sample of NAIDOC yearly themes, they cover a wide range of topics.
There are many Aboriginal women listed on the NAIDOC website, a good place to delve into. If you can’t access this at home, it is worth doing so at the library.
Please take the time to look at the really interesting programs on ABC and NITV around this time, and also try and be involved in the local celebrations.
Unwrapping the gift of NAIDOC - a gift? Why do I say that?
It is easy in our minds to look at our interaction with the First Peoples of this land from a social justice point of view.
It is true that there are many social justice inequalities to be honestly grappled with. The more one is welcomed into Aboriginal hearts and community, the deeper is the understanding we each develop of the magnitude of the problems that need to be honestly and compassionately dealt with.
Many people have been trying to deal with these issues for very many years, without very much success. I think the best results for us all are most likely to come when heart to heart deep relationships are established first, when we really respect and eagerly learn all the First Peoples can teach us.
This is what I mean by “unwrapping the gift of NAIDOC”.
I like to think of all my interaction with the First Peoples as a gift given to me by God that I am progressively unwrapping and enjoying. Maybe this is a gift to us all, which contains innumerable blessings. Have we looked at it this way? We only really get to properly enjoy any present if we accept it, unwrap it and then use it. The same applies to the gift of NAIDOC Week and indeed to all our interactions both with the First Peoples and with each other.
What can we each do? Here in the Manning-we are blessed to have the Biripi people as our welcome travelling companions as together we explore each other’s rich histories and cultures.
Are we willing to further unwrap this potential present to us and enjoy to the full all the richness the First Peoples have to offer us? There will be lots of battles for justice that we will need to fight together but unity brings strength.
Relationships and friendships are vital for real and lasting progress to be made.
Please enjoy unwrapping your NAIDOC gift!
What is our dream for the First Peoples living within this Manning Valley? What is our dream for each one of us living within this Manning Valley - a place we all call home?
I am always happy to try and answer any questions whenever they arise. Enjoy your present!