Forty years ago, 90% of Australians voted YES to include Aboriginal people in the census. It remains the most resounding referendum result ever.

Momentum for reconciliation seemed to peak in 2000 with marches across the country following the Bringing Them Home report into the Stolen Generation and the inaugural Sorry Day in 1998. By 2006, the shine had worn off. Aboriginal Australia had become mostly a bad-news story, with recurring headlines about paedophilia, failing health, alcohol, dislocated communities and many other negatives.

That’s why in September last year, Crikey asked five leading Australian PR experts how they’d approach a brief to reform indigenous Australia’s image while respecting cultural sensitivities. In the age of spin, we asked, what if indigenous communities hired some spinners?

Adam Kilgour (CPR), Harry M Miller (Harry M Miller and Associates), Noel Turnbull (Turnbull Fox Phillips), Bronwyn Morgan (Buchan Communications Group) and Kirstie Parker (The Koori Mail editor) responded thoughtfully. Parker wrote:

I’d involve some persuasive, charismatic, admired messengers. Who truly “speaks to” who? There’d have to be some obvious candidates: sportspeople, musicians, entertainers, all-round good blokes and good sorts. I’d chuck a few surprise packages in there, too, for example a pastoralist, a miner, an old white fella or old duck, a few groovy young things, a conservative or distinctly “right” politician, a suited businessman or businesswoman. Again, some would be well known, some would be “everyday”. 

That concept has now become reality at where the “Too Big A Story” campaign developed by Saatchi & Saatchi in partnership with Reconciliation Australia unfolds. Apparently the Crikey PR series was used as a resource.

The idea behind the campaign, launched across TV, radio, print and the internet, is simple — asking people from Missy Higgins to Leah PurcellMichael Caton and AFL player Michael O’Loughlin what they think reconciliation means — though the aim is not to simplify the message itself but rather recognise the complexity. All ads lead to the website where discussion is encouraged.

The web-based approach is a nod to the growing importance of the web in community interaction; since people marched on Sydney Harbour Bridge in 2000, the MySpace era has marched apace. Interesting to note what a difference less than a decade makes.

In phase two of the campaign, Crikey hears that a series of very high-profile musicians will get in on the act, apparently with special music content for the website.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey