There are many current issues in Indigenous affairs I could write on: the closure of Aboriginal communities in Western Australia, the deregistering of sacred sites, the levels of uncertainty surrounding constitutional recognition, the poor outcomes for Aboriginal people on every significant social measure in Australia.
However, if people already refuse to listen to the evidence and the experts, the reports and the statistics, or to everyone else that talks so powerfully and passionately about these issues, then it’s more than likely that they, and the powers that be, won’t listen to me either. I’m no expert. I’m just a person who, like so many others, quietly and humbly works hard at their job and struggles to ensure that – together with my partner – I put food on the table and keep a roof over my children’s heads.
Instead, I’d like to write about an event that changed my life. It happened in 2000, in my teenage years when I had just started on my journey to discovering who I was and what I believed in. As a 15-year-old boy, I cared deeply for my people. I had ambitious thoughts of social equality for all human beings. I believed that the word “reconciliation” stood for something much greater than what it has now become. I was a boy who resented the hardships and disrespect that we, as the people of the world’s oldest living cultures, encountered every day.
What annoyed me most was not people’s ignorance, but that this ignorance somehow led to their contempt for a race and culture that was much older than their own. How could they hold such contempt for a culture and society that has endured countless ages, countless changes to the environment, to their living conditions and through those changes had not only survived but thrived.
Despite this, I believed in the power of unity and pined for a much deeper meaning for the word “reconciliation”. In that sense, the reconciliation walk across Sydney Harbour Bridge that united many Australians together was a walk that changed my life forever and shaped who I was and what I wanted to be.
The act and symbology of that day made me feel proud to consider myself Australian. It was a feeling that I had not felt much before, and have not felt much ever since that day; not when considering the current state of our Aboriginal communities still fighting racist policies and ignorant attitudes that arise from the misunderstanding of invasion and colonisation as a historical event rather than seeing them as the ongoing process that they are.
The day after watching the march for reconciliation across Sydney Harbour Bridge, my heart filled with pride and I felt compelled to express my feelings in a poem. The words expressed my pride in seeing blackfellas leading white people across this great landmark, above the rolling waves, to make a statement about reconciliation.
But my heart swelled with pride when I saw,
Black and white at war no more,
This is what Australia means to me,
My country, together as many nations, as unity sets us free.
When I look at the narrative of my life since that day, reconciliation has defined it. I can look at the words of my poem through the cynicism of age and see the naivety of a 15-year-old, or I can look at those words and let them take me back to that day, to that sense of hope, of pride, of love for my country.
As an adult, I understand the walk across the bridge did not change the outcomes for our people. But it did change the attitude and path of that 15-year-old boy and helped me become the man I am today.
The walk for reconciliation helped develop in me the belief that we can create a nation where all people will be treated with compassion and respect, and that Australia can become stronger through understanding and appreciating the strength and wisdom that has sustained Indigenous peoples and cultures for countless generations.
None of us can change where we have come from or what has happened but we can learn from it, we can strive to heal the wounds of the past and create a better future for us and for those who will inherit the world we leave behind.
What the walk across the bridge taught me most is that this is not a future that any one person can create on their own. It is a future that can only be created by working together, not just by symbolic gestures but with hard work, compassion, deep respect and understanding for one another. This is the path that I try to follow and is one I invite all people to walk with me.
“Our stories, our way” – each week, a new guest hosts the @IndigenousX Twitter account to discuss topics of interest to them as Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander people. Produced with assistance of Guardian Australia staff.