Truth telling is making a difference in how Australia thinks
The Sector > Workforce > Advocacy > Telling the truth about First Nations history is having an impact on the broader narrative

Telling the truth about First Nations history is having an impact on the broader narrative

by Freya Lucas

September 06, 2023

A new report from Deakin University has shown that ‘truth telling’ initiatives led by local First Nations communities are having a significant impact on the national narrative about Australia’s history, including a growing recognition of the frontier violence that accompanied colonisation.


The findings will be of interest to the early childhood education and care (ECEC) community, given the recent updates to the approved learning frameworks, which encompass strengthening Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander perspectives throughout the frameworks including the vision, principles, practices and outcomes. 


The Recognising community truth-telling: An exploration of local truth-telling in Australia report, commissioned by Reconciliation Australia, also found such initiatives helped to educate the Australian public about the significant contribution of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples to Australia’s economic and cultural achievements. 


In ECEC settings across the country, celebrations such as NAIDOC Week play an important role in sharing these achievements with children, and celebrating the contributions of First Nations peoples in local community contexts. 


“Communities across the country have already shown enormous persistence in the task of truth-telling and we are determined to ensure these grass-roots initiatives continue and grow,” said Reconciliation Australia CEO Karen Mundine. 


“However, there is still much work to do. Many critical historical events and First Nations achievements remain unrecognised. Truth-telling is not just about Australia’s violent colonial history but also about the timeless history of First Nations connections to and care for this continent, and the vast contributions our people have made to Australia’s economic development, culture, and defence.”


Community support for truth telling is strong, with the latest Australian Reconciliation Barometer showing very high support for truth-telling among both Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander respondents (87 per cent) and the general community (83 per cent).


For lead author Dr Vanessa Barolsky, the achievements of ‘truth tellers’ are significant, with local communities showing significant leadership in driving the process of truth telling, often with very few resources. 


The work of ‘truth-tellers’ includes an extraordinary array of ongoing activity including community commemorations, festivals, memorial events, public artwork projects, repatriation of ancestors, return of land, renaming of places and the creation of healing sites.


The report documents 25 community truth-telling projects, including 10 in-depth case studies that illustrate diverse grassroots engagement with the truths of colonial history, including more recent colonial violations such as the Stolen Generations. 


These case studies provide easily understandable examples of what truth-telling looks like, what constitutes best practice and how to ensure safety and protection from re-traumatising. 


The case studies come from across the continent and include:


  • Renaming of Moreland City Council as Merri-bek, Victoria
  • 1816 massacre at Appin, NSW
  • Kinchela Aboriginal Boys Training Home, NSW
  • Cootamundra Domestic Training Home for Aboriginal Girls, NSW
  • Freedom Day Festival, which celebrates the ‘Wave Hill walk-off’ in the Northern Territory
  • The story of Barbara Thompson, a young British woman, shipwrecked in 1844, who lived with the Kaurareg on their Torres Strait homeland in Queensland. 


Additionally the study offers important lessons for how the vision of truth-telling in the Uluru Statement from the Heart could be realised and supported to build a fuller understanding of Australia’s history and the need for lasting structural transformations. 


Ms Mundine said these lessons include the key role for local government and the importance of providing resources, emotional support, legal assistance, and access to historical records for individuals seeking to explore their own and their community’s history. 


“We must support communities, both First Nations and other Australians, to come together and recognise the often brutal truth of what has happened in the past,” she said. 


Download and read the report here.

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