When was the last time you listened to someone? When you truly sought to understand a person’s point of view, before formulating or giving any response or solution? When did you – to use an old George Michael album title – listen without prejudice?

What about a time when you actively listened to the voices of the oldest continuing culture on the planet – right here in Australia? Have you been paying attention to what Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are saying?

Often the answers are right in front of us and we just need to take the time to listen to those who have the answers and who have the deep cultural understanding and experience to lead the way.

NAIDOC Week presents an opportunity to focus our listening on a continuing narrative dating back 65,000 years. A narrative which connects us all to country and which understands our country. It connects us to people who have answers to our questions, if only we asked them.

We have not listened enough. Historically, our tendency has been come up with our own solutions whilst only understanding what we are trying to solve on our own terms. In doing so, we have not always been led by the knowledge of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

Voice. Treaty. Truth is this year’s NAIDOC Week theme, acknowledging the importance of listening to the voice of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Most importantly, the theme speaks to the need to ensure Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have the platform their voice deserves, one that shapes the decisions that impact them in Australia’s democracy.

In May 2017, more than 250 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders met at the foot of Uluru in Central Australia on the lands of the Anangu people. The result was a powerful union of voices speaking the Uluru Statement from the Heart and calling for change:

“We call for the establishment of a First Nations Voice enshrined in the Constitution. Makarrata is the culmination of our agenda: the coming together after a struggle. It captures our aspirations for a fair and truthful relationship with the people of Australia and a better future for our children based on justice and self-determination.

We seek a Makarrata Commission to supervise a process of agreement-making between governments and First Nations and truth-telling about our history. In 1967 we were counted, in 2017 we seek to be heard. We leave base camp and start our trek across this vast country. We invite you to walk with us in a movement of the Australian people for a better future.

I’d encourage you to read the full statement this NAIDOC Week.

The theme of NAIDOC Week this year incorporates the key elements of the Uluru Statement and invites all Australians to work together towards significant and lasting change. We have heard a unified statement from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and the onus is now on us to listen.

To embark on a personal learning journey and learn the history of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who are the custodians of the land we walk and work on. To take the time to research the history of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and learn how recognition of their voice will be of benefit to all Australians.

There are many gatherings across the country which celebrate the rich history, culture and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people where we can all listen and learn more this week.

Listening can be a challenge. It is tempting to rush to answers and jump to conclusions, but we’ve seen the consequences of blindly ignoring the voices of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and leaping to speak on their behalf.

My own listening journey is always evolving. Earlier this year I went on a Darug language course to increase my understanding. Does that mean I can now speak another language? No, but it does mean that I have opened my ears to the possibility that the answer to my question is closer at hand than I might have thought.

This year has also been declared the United Nations International Year of Indigenous Languages. It provides an opportunity to celebrate traditional languages and their importance in maintaining strong cultural connections. It is also an opportunity for all Australians to celebrate and engage in a national conversation about our Indigenous languages and the fact that 90% are considered endangered.

So this NAIDOC Week, let’s ask questions without prejudice and listen to the answers. They are there if we take the time to ask and truly listen. Then we can move forwards in unity towards a shared future.

Photo of James Toomey, CEO of Mission Australia


James Toomey
CEO Mission Australia


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