Australia Day will be upon us at the end of the week. There’ll be Twenty20 cricket, barbies in the park and citizenship ceremonies. And indigenous Australians will be prominent too.
Some may be protesting at what they regard as white Australians celebrating ‘Invasion Day’. Many more traditional owners of the land will be taking part in the official and non-official Australia Day events.
We broke our road trip up the Hume Highway with a diversion to the national capital, Canberra.
My eye was caught by this memorial I hadn’t seen before, though it’s been there for over a decade. Reconciliation Place was built in 2001 to acknowledge and celebrate the rights of Aboriginal Australians and the contribution they make to this country.
It’s fitting that it should be a short walk from the old Parliament House and next to the High Court of Australia, where legal battles like Eddie Mabo’s land rights claim were fought.
Mevrouw T and I really went to Canberra for the wonderful Toulouse-Lautrec exhibition in the NGA and the newly-opened National Portrait Gallery. The Frenchman was pulling a far bigger crowd than the art on Reconciliation Place, but the temperature was heading towards 40 degrees and he was offering air conditioning.
I admired Reconciliation Place and of course it’s fitting that it should be there. It’s unashamedly modern in design, the work of architect Simon Kringas with Sharon Payne as Indigenous Cultural Advisor. More traditional work of Aboriginal artists features in the detail of the series of art works, or ‘slivers’ as they are named.
There is a tribute to Jagera man Senator Neville Bonner, the first indigenous member of Federal Parliament.
This week the Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard caused controversy by announcing that Aboriginal woman and former Olympian Nova Peris would be the Labor Party’s endorsed candidate for the Senate in the next election. It will be the first time the Labor Party has endorsed an indigenous candidate.
Ms Peris herself is far from controversial – she’s an admired sportswoman and campaigner for improving Aboriginal health and education. The argument will come because endorsing her requires circumventing the normal process of pre-selection by party branch members. ‘A captain’s pick’, Ms Gillard called it.
I wanted to spend more time, but oh dear, it was hot out there! No shade either. Canberra’s weather isn’t always so vicious. We plan to go back later this year. Maybe in spring when the tulips are in bloom.
Meanwhile I commend Reconciliation Place to everyone visiting the capital. It only takes a few minutes to stroll there from the National Gallery.
It’s a symbol of course, but symbols, like Australia Day’s welcome to country, acknowledgement of traditional land owners and apologies to stolen generations really matter. There’s still so much work to be done.