Reconciliation in focus: activities

Gubur Dharura.PNG

National Reconciliation Week in May is a great time for families – and school communities – to explore and celebrate Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories, cultures and achievements. There are many ways your family or parent association could be involved.

What  is National Reconciliation Week?

National Reconciliation Week (NRW) is a time for all Australians to learn about our shared histories, cultures, and achievements and to explore how each of us can contribute to reconciliation. It is a great time to reflect on the achievements so far and what must still be done to achieve reconciliation.

NRW is held from 27 May to 3 June, the dates of two significant milestones in the reconciliation journey — the successful 1967 referendum and the High Court Mabo decision. Each year, the week has a different theme. The 2020 theme is Always Was, Always Will Be, recognising that First Nations people have occupied and cared for this continent for over 65,000 years.

Getting involved

In the ACT, Reconciliation Day, in NRW, is a public holiday – June 1 this year. Community events and activities mark the occasion. Keep an eye out for family fun days and other large-scale community events, or exhibitions and displays where you can learn more about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories and cultures.

Alternatively, use the holiday to visit one of Canberra’s cultural or information sites. We’ve compiled some suggestions below.

Better still, your P&C or school might be interested in running an event to celebrate NRW. Again, see some ideas and resources below.

Make a visit

The ACT region is rich with cultural sites (more than 3,500 Aboriginal heritage sites). The Ngunnawal people, as Traditional Custodians of the Canberra region, have a continuing sense of responsibility to preserve the spirit and stories of their ancestors throughout the landscape. Neighbouring nations including the Ngarigo, Wolgalu, Gundungurra, Yuin and Wiradjuri people, also gathered here for ceremony, marriage, trade, seasonal foods and lore.

A good place to appreciate this is Tidbinbilla(from the Ngunnawal 'Jedbinbilla' meaning a place where boys were made men). You can join an Aboriginal Ranger for a guided activity, examine displays at the visitor centre or take the easy one hour loop walk to Birrigai rock shelter where people have sheltered and practiced culture for over 21,000 years. A ranger suggests you call to his ancestors as you approach.

Namadgi National Park is home to a rock art site at Yankee Hat. As an important site, considerable effort went into protecting it this fire season.

While Tidbinbilla and Namadgi are the obvious places to explore local Aboriginal culture, there are many other opportunities nearby.

  • The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heritage Trail at the Australian National University (ANU) explores the significance of the campus area. Guide brochures for the self-guided trail are available online, from ANU libraries, or use the ANU Walks App.
  • The National Botanic Gardens’ Aboriginal Plant Use Trail is one way to learn more about and appreciate Aboriginal people’s knowledge and use of plants in Australia.
  • Canberra parks and reserves protect a range of heritage sites such as Gubur Dharura ochre ground in Diane Barwick St Franklin, Scarred trees in Langtree Cres Crace, and grinding grooves near Christmas St Theodore. At Girrawah Park in Ngunnawal (Gamburra St) learn about local stone artifacts via the Canberra tracks App. Of course, treat these areas with respect.

Create an event

NRW is a great opportunity for P&Cs or schools to host an event to celebrate Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and promote understanding and reconciliation.

Host a film or TED talk screening

Reconciliation Australia has a list of suggested TED Talks on their website which highlight personal stories told by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Sharing these is an important part of the journey towards reconciliation (see www.reconciliation.org.au).

A great selection of films and documentaries from leading Indigenous filmmakers is provided at the Reconciliation Film Club. The website walks you through the process of organising a screening and handles licensing arrangements (modest licensing fees apply to screen the films, like all public film screenings), as well as providing discussion guides and articles to support the event. Hosting a film night is a great way to bring people together to develop a deeper understanding of Indigenous perspectives and histories, ignite conversation and spark change.

Start a book club!

Reconciliation Australia have a book list to guide your selection. You could hold a one-off book club during NRW, or continue through the year, holding a discussion group once or twice a term (in person or online). It is a great way to learn more, build community and demonstrate your love of books to your kids. If your book club successfully runs for a year, you could vote on your favourite book and host a reading of selected passages during the next NRW!

Other ideas for celebrating the week:

  • organise a disco featuring music from indigenous artists
  • hold a flag raising ceremony
  • work with an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander artist to produce an artwork representing the theme
  • invite Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander dancers to perform or artists to visit school
  • host a community BBQ or picnic.  

This article appeared in ParentACTion Magazine, Term 1, 2020.