Reconciliation CEO Karen Mundine

A new report by the Deakin University has found First Nations-led truth-telling is reshaping Australia’s understanding of history.

The Recognising community truth-telling: An exploration of local truth-telling in Australia report highlights the many different ways community truth-telling can be realised by examining 25 community-initiated projects and 10 in-depth case studies that have helped Australia to understand its violent colonial history and reclaim Indigenous sovereignty.

The case studies come from across the country and include:

  • Renaming of Moreland City Council as Merri-bek, Victoria
  • 1816 massacre at Appin, NSW,
  • Kinchela Aboriginal Boys Training Home
  • Cootamundra Domestic Training Home for Aboriginal Girls, NSW,
  • Freedom Day Festival, which celebrates the ‘Wave Hill walk-off’ in the Northern Territory, and
  • The story of Barbara Thompson, a young British woman, shipwrecked in 1844, who lived with the Kaurareg on their Torres Strait homeland in Queensland.

Many of these community-led truth-telling practices were undertaken without resources or funding and were met with resistance at the time, but despite this, non-Indigenous people have always been invited to take part in truth-telling.

Karen Mundine is the head of Reconciliation Australia, which commissioned the report, and says truth-telling has always been a part of reconciliation.

“This report tells us that truth-telling includes an extraordinary array of ongoing activity including community commemorations, festivals, memorial events, public artwork projects, repatriation of ancestors, return of land, renaming of places and the creation of healing sites.”

Ms Mundine says this report will help inform Reconciliation Australia on the resources, tools, and what things would be helpful to other communities ready to start a truth-telling process for themselves.

“Learning from what’s already happened and what is in process and happening will help us or give examples to other communities to engage in this work. It’s not the only thing that we’re doing, but it’s a starting place.”

The latest Australian Reconciliation Barometer shows very high support for truth-telling among both Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander respondents (87%) and the general community (83%), but Ms Mundine says as Australia becomes more willing to confront historical injustices, it must also recognise the achievements made by Indigenous people.

“Often the story of First Nations people of history is one of dispossession and while that is true, we’ve also continued to contribute in lots of different ways, whether it’s military, whether it’s industries like the pearling industry, or agriculture, not just in the most recent sort of sporting and arts areas as well.

“So when we’re talking about truth-telling and it’s that broadening out of our history, it is about the good, the bad and the ugly.”