The following is a piece written by University of Melbourne Vice-Chancellor Glyn Davis.
Each month I circulate a short reflection on issues for the university, trying to capture something about a short moment in the long life of our institution.
Nothing I can write, however, could approach the eloquence of a statement read by Professor Megan Davis, from University of New South Wales, on behalf of Indigenous Australians gathered last week at Uluru. Its words, I suspect, will long resonate on this campus and across Australia. The Uluru statement, short and powerful, says in full:
We, gathered at the 2017 National Constitutional Convention, coming from all points of the southern sky, make this statement from the heart:
Our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander tribes were the first sovereign Nations of the Australian continent and its adjacent islands, and possessed it under our own laws and customs. This our ancestors did, according to the reckoning of our culture, from the Creation, according to the common law from ‘time immemorial’, and according to science more than 60,000 years ago.
This sovereignty is a spiritual notion: the ancestral tie between the land, or ‘mother nature’, and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples who were born therefrom, remain attached thereto, and must one day return thither to be united with our ancestors. This link is the basis of the ownership of the soil, or better, of sovereignty. It has never been ceded or extinguished, and co-exists with the sovereignty of the Crown.
How could it be otherwise? That peoples possessed a land for sixty millennia and this sacred link disappears from world history in merely the last two hundred years?
With substantive constitutional change and structural reform, we believe this ancient sovereignty can shine through as a fuller expression of Australia’s nationhood.
Proportionally, we are the most incarcerated people on the planet. We are not an innately criminal people. Our children are aliened from their families at unprecedented rates. This cannot be because we have no love for them. And our youth languish in detention in obscene numbers. They should be our hope for the future.
These dimensions of our crisis tell plainly the structural nature of our problem. This is the torment of our powerlessness.
We seek constitutional reforms to empower our people and take a rightful place in our own country. When we have power over our destiny our children will flourish. They will walk in two worlds and their culture will be a gift to their country.
We call for the establishment of a First Nations Voice enshrined in the Constitution.
Makarrata is the culmination of our agenda: the coming together after a struggle. It captures our aspirations for a fair and truthful relationship with the people of Australia and a better future for our children based on justice and self-determination.
We seek a Makarrata Commission to supervise a process of agreement-making between governments and First Nations and truth-telling about our history.
In 1967 we were counted, in 2017 we seek to be heard. We leave base camp and start our trek across this vast country. We invite you to walk with us in a movement of the Australian people for a better future.
The message points to unresolved issues for Australia and every Australian organisation, including this one. This University supports practical actions through the University’s Reconciliation Action Plan, and is enriched by the fine work of the Murrup Barak Institute, the Indigenous leadership at the Poche Centre, the Wilin Centre and the Atlantic Fellows Program for Social Equity, the Chancellery strategic partnership with the Yothu Yindi Foundation, and our initiatives in the Goulburn Valley with the Yorta Yorta nation.
Yet beyond all this important work are fundamental questions for this nation we share. I hope the voices of colleagues from across the University will participate in the important conversation that must surely follow the Uluru Statement.
It is timely therefore the University continues to build its senior Indigenous leadership. With much pleasure I can announce today the appointment of Professor Shaun Ewen to the role of Pro Vice-Chancellor (Indigenous). Professor Ewen is the Foundation Director of the Melbourne Poche Centre for Indigenous Health, a position he will continue to hold. He is an Aboriginal academic who has spent the past two decades living on Wurundjeri country, and has family connections to Gunditjmara country in Victoria’s Western District. Professor Ewen has a clinical background in physiotherapy and personal research expertise in Indigenous health and health professional education. As the Pro Vice-Chancellor (Indigenous), Professor Ewen will have responsibilities for leadership of the University’s Indigenous higher education strategy and development, working closely with the Associate Provost, Professor Marcia Langton. The University is proud to have two outstanding Indigenous academics in such vital Chancellery leadership roles.