Was the Uluru Statement of the Heart a prophetic vision for Australia?

Oct 13, 2023
Uluru Statement from the Heart, May 2017, Aboriginal Convention, Central Australia

‘Prophets nurture and evoke a new way of thinking. They give us images and words which subvert our system and tell us that we haven’t seen the whole picture yet. Prophets are not just concerned about social change for the sake of social change. They are concerned above all with transformation and freedom of the heart, and then out of that free heart, the prophet says, “Listen.” The prophet creates a new, freeing consciousness which allows us to hear the divine word and in the midst of that freedom, the prophets plant a promise, an alternative and new vision.’

These words, by Franciscan Richard Rohr, seem to be calling us to a prophetic vision for our country however, sadly, this opportunity might not be realised.

Pain and deeply renewed trauma, due to unabated bigotry, racism and prejudice in our contemporary society, has been occurring since the announcement of the referendum to give our First Nation Peoples a ‘Voice to Parliament’. Opposition leader Peter Dutton and his obsequious right-wing admirers have pressed firmly on the fear buttons to engage all who have swallowed the dis-information that alleges that their privileged lifestyles could be threatened. Our mining magnates, out of self-interest, lead the brigade of fear.

I would like to bring this disturbing and unbridled result of such untruths, broadcast widely, right back to what is happening in our local communities here on the far-south coast of New South Wales.

I have worked closely with the Indigenous community both in the Snowy Mountains region, and now here on the coast, as a social worker for the past 40 years. Now I am confronted with the vastly increased trauma being expressed by the local Aboriginal community. A direct result from blatant, overt racism by some members of our society.

A friend, Sally, contacted me in distress at having witnessed the pain being experienced by our Aboriginal community as we head to the referendum. Sally has worked tirelessly with many inspiring members of our local community to provide better understanding of what the Voice Referendum seeks to offer all Australians.

These intelligent, compassionate volunteers have formed a close relationship with the local Aboriginal people and something has become concerningly apparent. Non-factual statements, uncontrolled hatred and racism has spread like uncontrolled bushfires. We are witnessing how rapidly abusive and overt racism has drained many of us of pride in our nation. It took such a brief moment in time for us non-indigenous folk to feel this way. Surely, an Aboriginal person living with this form of hatred and racism from birth would feel diminished in spirit, hope, desire and dreams. I certainly would.

Sally spoke of a much respected Aboriginal elder in our community, whom I will call Tom for his protection, who came into the local markets over the weekend.

“He seemed to be trembling and was really upset and concerned for his community and his family members. Tom spoke of seeing people now turn away from him when he approached. People that Tom had thought of as his friends. His resulting fears from extreme racist abuse has caused him to consider investigating security measures for his family. Tom spoke of the abusive and threatening comments that have appeared on his social media page which has caused him to block these people, many whom formerly he had regarded as friends.’

Another Aboriginal woman told Sally that she had been spat upon by someone in the street.

When, personally, I was assisting at our local pre-poll voting centre the other day, one inauspicious male drew his vehicle almost to a full-stop to shout out, “keep Australia white – vote NO”.

One does wonder where this man has been hiding out that his education and life experience has not enabled him a better understanding of our country’s history or an appreciation of our multicultural society today. Our diverse and rich culture, which today is celebrated by those who can understand the rich gifts that diversity offers us as a nation.

There are many caring and compassionate Australians out there about the vote on the Referendum. They aren’t those who are spreading such pain for our Indigenous friends. They aren’t loud or abusive. It is this aspect of our culture that holds me in hope, even though this referendum may fail, that a much stronger bridge has now been crossed in our relationships with our First Nation people. People with compassion and pride, who see the resilience, innate compassion and generosity of our land’s first custodians – they will take this forward. People have heard the stories now that were previously hidden and covering our shame. These stories will continue to be told. It is in the listening we learn; find our hearts; and find our voices to stand firmly against hatred and racism.

Such a prophetic and gracious invitation was extended to us all in the Uluru Statement from the Heart. I hope and pray that our nation’s better angels can lead us to these higher values and deeper compassion.

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