Rotaract and the Road to Reconciliation

By Bernadette Barrett

“… A reconciled Australia is one where our rights as First Australians are not just respected but championed in all the places that matter …” Kirstie Parker - Reconciliation Australia


Australia is a land of many people; we are outwardly a proud multi-cultural nation, boasting the merits of equality and ‘a fair go’. For those that have grown up in Australia, these sentiments are shared with us from a very young age. As we grow older and begin to explore these ideas, we start to see that these values, while well-meaning, do not always ring true for all Australians. Australia’s history with colonisation and systemic racism have deep roots and it is within this history that we explore the story of the First Australians. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders have lived upon the land now known as Australia for more than 60,000 years.

In the roughly 59,770 years before Australia was colonised by the British, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people developed deep cultural, artistic and political foundations with approximately 500 distinct language, tribal or nation groups. Sadly, the spotlight often shines on the side of the story that occurred after 1770, when James Cook ‘discovered’ Australia and it was decided that this land would be suitable to become a new British colony. On January 26, 1788, the First Fleet arrived in Botany Bay with over 1,500 people including British convicts and their families as well as British marines and officials. What followed was a rapid dispossession of land, intentional spreading of disease and massacres which killed countless Aboriginal groups. This was the beginning of a long and ongoing history of violence and oppression for Aboriginal Australians.

This is a very short and truly insufficient summary of the early trauma Aboriginal Australians suffered as a result of colonisation. There are far more qualified people who tell this story, but this short introduction is necessary to contextualise the modern issues facing Australia and in particular Aboriginal Australians.

Reconciliation is a term most Australians, Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal alike, will be familiar with. Reconciliation Week was first held in Australia in 1993, then known as Week of Prayer for Reconciliation. In the same year the Native Title Act 1993 (Cth) was passed, this act recognises the traditional rights over land and waters of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Reconciliation in Australia has 5 recognised dimensions; Race Relations, Equality and Equity, Institutional Integrity, Historical Acceptance and Unity. These dimensions form the guiding principles for Reconciliation, and it is recognised that until we progress in all five dimensions, Reconciliation will not be possible.

A work for Kunmanara (Gordon) Ingkatji, 2016, Indulkana and Amata, South Australia


As a club, Adelaide City Rotaract has an active interest in wanting to further Reconciliation and to be part of not just the conversation, but the actions needed to progress Reconciliation. Part of this includes our club creating a Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP), where we authentically and with sincerity and commitment, pledge to take actions that promote diversity and unity and a greater inclusion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians in our future. By committing to a RAP, we show that we support the objectives of Reconciliation and acknowledges that Reconciliation is something that all Australians need to be part of.

I hope, that by leading the way as a club, and hopefully one day as a district, it will show to the wider Rotary community that an ongoing dedication to the elevation and respect of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders not only aligns with Rotary’s goals and values, but is an action that on all levels upholds the Rotary 4 Way Test. It is true that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders have been and still are oppressed by colonialism and need the active support of the community to undo and address this. It is very clearly the fair thing to do and it will build goodwill with the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and we will continue to work on building better friendships. Most of all it is beneficial to all Australians that we all, at an individual and community level, engage with and support Reconciliation as it will bring Australia closer to the values of equality and of ‘a fair go’ that we as a country espouse.

As a founding member of Adelaide City Rotaract Club, I am truly so proud that our club are supportive of this and will be working together over the next Rotary year to develop the very first RAP for a Rotary-aligned organisation.

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