When you remove all the lovely flowery talk of celebrations of history, achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, the festiveness of all walks of life enjoying and participating in Aboriginal culture, you are left with the bare bones of what NAIDOC week is really about.
This week is about the people that came before us, who were fed the fuck up with being classed as animals and plants, people who were smacked down every time they tried to change their lot in life, people who were being told, in no uncertain terms, that for all of their ideas, and for all of their pleas, this wonderful, beautiful, awesome — go crazy, use all the adjectives — country used the Australian constitution to reject all of their petitions.
The theme of this year’s NAIDOC week are the Yirrkala Bark Petitions, which were sent to the Australian House of Representatives in 1963. It is widely held that the Bark Petitions helped kick off the process of constitutional change that led to the referendum in 1967 on giving Aboriginal Australia the right to be counted, as human beings (well shit, we are so grateful) and allowing Aboriginal people the right to vote in the elections for their new sovereign overlords who have consistently and without fail screwed us over for 235 years.
But I have to take a moment here to really pay tribute to the Yolngu people who saw that all attempts to engage with white Australia regarding Aboriginal rights were failing. They saw a very real need for Black Australia to get the government to consider correcting the-then current conditions and in true Black Mad Men style, came up with the hook to get grab their attention.
I imagine the brainstorming meeting went something like this:
Black Peggy: We need something shiny, white people like shiny things.
Black Ginsberg: No, shiny is played out, we need something completely different, something earthy.
Black Ted Chough: Yes, but it has to be modern somehow.
Black Ginsberg: And Helvitica, white people love them some Helvetica.
Black Don Draper: *clicks his fingers* I’ve got it, we do it our way, our paperbark, our art, our words, but we use the Helvetica as well, we blend the two.
Black Captain Jean-Luc Picard: Make it so.
However the idea was formed, it was genius. And a testament to the resourcefulness of the Yolngu people. The petition certainly caught eyes, and to this day they are a work of art that is a perfect blend of ancient and a then burgeoning modernness. I have seen them and they are breathtaking.
So we got some constitutional change — but we still have a very long way to go. It is a wonderful thing to celebrate our culture. It is a wonderful thing to have pride in our race. It is a very wonderful thing to share our very different and vibrant cultures with everyone. But mob, we need to keep pushing, we have to honour those that came before, by not giving up on pushing for full constitutional recognition. We cant stop petitioning, yelling, telling anyone who will listen that we still do not have equality.
Because until this country recognises that we need a more sufficiently inclusive constitution that covers us, as the original inhabitants of this land, and accords us the rights and respects that go with that, celebrating a half measure made in 1967 and allowing Australia to continue thinking it has done enough is no reason to celebrate.
*This is an edited extract of a post first published on @AboriginalOz Blog