Looking to bridge the gap that still remains with us

By Charmayne Allison

WHEN Uncle Rick Ronnan begins a smoking ceremony, he always opens with three words.

‘‘Gulpa gaka anganya’’ — welcome friends.

And closes with: ‘‘gaka yawa angala yambina Yorta Yorta Wollithiga waka’’ — come walk and talk with us on Yorta Yorta Echuca country or land.

They are some of the few words Uncle Rick knows of Yorta Yorta — precious remnants of his mob’s ancient language, now near-extinct, erased by years of colonial oppression.

‘‘When Aboriginal people from this area were put onto Maloga Station and later on, Cummeragunja, if they spoke in their language they were hit in the mouth and told not to talk the Devil’s talk,’’ Uncle Rick said.

‘‘It was because the managers of Cummeragunja Station thought they were conspiring against them.

‘‘So we lost a lot of our language. It was spoken secretly behind closed doors and that’s about it.

‘‘A lot of our customs and ways of life were lost when we were put onto Cummeragunja.’’

But now, Aboriginal people across the country are calling for an end to the silence.

Which is why this year’s NAIDOC theme is Voice. Treaty. Truth.

It acknowledges Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples want a voice when it comes to decision-making in Australia’s democracy.

And highlights the need for a substantive treaty — Australia is one of the few liberal democracies globally which still does not have a treaty or treaties or other formal acknowledgements or arrangements with its Indigenous minorities.

Finally, it emphasises the necessity for treaties to be connected with the truth of colonisation and the history which brought Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to where they are today.

‘‘A lot of the truths of the past need to be told about this country and the history of how it was settled,’’ Uncle Rick said.

‘‘Then maybe mainstream would have a bit more empathy towards our causes.

‘‘While we were on Cummeragunja the rest of society was forming and we weren’t a part of that.

‘‘Then all of a sudden we were told to integrate and mix with non-Aboriginal people in towns.

‘‘So it’s like we’re just thrown a hub cap while the mainstream had their car driving around. That’s how far behind we are in health, education and employment.’’

While Uncle Rick acknowledged the recent introduction of Australia’s first treaty law, the Advancing the Treaty Process with Aboriginal Victorians Act 2018, was a positive step forward, he argued that wasn’t enough.

‘‘If we’re looking at treaty in Victoria, it’s only going to be recognised in Victoria,’’ he said.

‘‘I think we need to go for sovereignty and be compensated for the land we have lost.’’