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Gadfly 176

By Robert Macklin

In Canberra last week the students in a regular secondary school began wearing their new uniform - a very colourful and attractive one it was too. And not just the usual pants and shirts for both boys and girls but t-shirts and hoodies incorporating the school colours.

I guess that’s happened before. But at Namadgi School in suburban Kambah, the ensemble had been designed by a small group of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students with the help of a local business, Darkie Designs. It not only looked great, it was replete with unmistakeable Aboriginal motifs. And you didn’t have to be of Aboriginal heritage to wear it. Indeed, that was one point of the exercise.

Year Nine student Tyreece Lewis told the local paper, ‘It makes you feel proud to be Aboriginal. It’s a good way to represent our people.’ Classmate Shannon Williams said the design showed ‘a meeting place to represent the school with various pathways leading to a good education and meeting new people, followed by an eagle representing the [local] Ngunnawal land.’

The initiative flowed from the Principal, Tiffany McMahon to the Aboriginal education officer and then to the students. And when they posted a picture on Facebook with a mixed bunch of kids wearing it they quickly drew 40,000 ‘likes’!

It follows the path of sporting teams in the two big AFL and NRL codes to celebrate our Aboriginal heritage, but it demonstrates a huge communal leap from the days when Aboriginality was a source of embarrassment and denial.

And here’s the rub: the report hit the media three days after the big-spending Commonwealth Budget tossed no more than a few paltry coins to the Indigenous community, all prettied up by headline figures. For example, it offers $31.6 million for a personal safety survey for First Nations women. But that’s over five years and ‘run through the Australian Bureau of Statistics to record how prevalent violence facing Indigenous women and girls is’.

As if we didn’t know already.

There are other similar offers for statistical gathering and funding for housing in remote communities but it was basically just more of the same old story and not a single mention of the national movement towards reconciliation and ‘closing the gap’, much less a commitment to the Voice from the Heart.

It’s a little like the Morrison approach to climate change – do nothing unless forced, then make a splashy announcement and hope no one notices that it’s never actually implemented. Meantime, the corporate world and the people, unencumbered by political obsessions, get the job done in spite of the Feds.

It’s the people, not the politicians who are changing Australia. Anthony Albanese’s Address in Reply speech hardly set the pulses racing. He’s trimmed down and polished up, but his delivery is masticated, as though there’s a piece of Mintie stuck to a molar; and his ‘on your side’ peroration was more repetitive than rousing. But his commitments to action on climate change, to a Federal Integrity Commission and to Makarrata were totally believable. That’s no more that a community deserves, but it does make a welcome change.

As Namadgi student Shannon Williams said, ‘A whole bunch of people came together and we voted on which designs were the best. On the front it says, “One Mob” meaning we’re all together at the school and one big community.’

Sounds like a pretty good way to start closing that gap.

robert@robertmacklin.com


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