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The Uluru Statement from the Heart by Galarrwuy Yunupingu

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The following is the ‘Uluru Statement from the Heart’ by Galarrwuy Yunupingu which is the forward to A Rightful Place edited by Noel Pearson and Shireen Morris (published by Black Inc and La Trobe University). The book is a collection of essays by several writers and thinkers providing a “a road map to recognition” to “if, and how, Indigenous Australians will be recognised in the Constitution”.


By Galarrwuy Yunupingu

The writers in this book are all serious people, and the knowledge they share with us is valuable. They are sharing with us their learning, experience and expertise at a time of great importance to the Australian nation: when the people will decide whether or not they will deal with the relationship between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and the settlers who came after 1788. As I see it, the nation is at an important crossroads – either a real process of settlement will now
take shape, or the nation will turn its back on these issues.

I recommend that we look to the Yolngu principles of makarrata, which are basic principles that apply at many levels. The essays in this book play an important part in this process. They give us the views and ideas that we must consider and which shall inform us as we go forward.

The starting point for makarrata is a position from  an aggrieved party. The aggrieved party here is the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. I cannot set out here all of the ways in which we have been wronged but they are many, and these are terrible acts that have been committed against my people. Now, in the spirit of makarrata, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait leadership at Uluru has given voice to our grievances in the Uluru Statement. The Uluru Statement has set out
the issues for assessment. It takes us into a process where we can now get serious and look to a proper settlement.

The principles of makarrata that guide us remain the same as they were for thousands of years.

First, the disputing parties must come together. Then each party, led by their elders, must speak carefully and calmly about the dispute. They must put the facts on the table and air their grievances. If a person speaks wildly or out of turn he or she is sent away and shall not be included any further in the process. Those who come for vengeance, or for other purposes,
will also be sent away for they can only disrupt the process.

The leaders must then seek a full understanding of the dispute: what lies behind it, who is responsible, what each party wants, and all things that are normal in peacemaking efforts. When that understanding is arrived at, then a settlement can be agreed upon. This settlement is also a symbolic reckoning – an action that says to the world that from now on and forever the dispute is settled; that the dispute no longer exists; it is finished. And from the honesty of the process and the submission of both parties to finding the truth, the dispute is ended. In past times a man came forward and accepted a punishment,
and this man once punished was then immediately taken into the heart of the aggrieved clan. His wounds were healed by the women of the aggrieved clan, and he was given gifts and shown respect – and this former foe, who had caused pain and suffering to people, would live with those whom he had harmed and the peace was made, not just for them but for future generations.

The parties were able to come together, to trade, to marry, to work together and make their lives together. The dispute was over and peace and harmony was restored.

I seek the same outcome. My people seek that same outcome. I know we are a part of this nation – I want to be a part of this nation – but I want to have my people’s grievances settled in a calm and proper way. And then I want unity and togetherness – a shared future. A rightful place.

This is what constitutional recognition seeks to achieve for Australia. This is the work of the Referendum Council and all the delegates who came together at Uluru to make a united call for serious constitutional reform. This must now also be the work of all Australians. The parties must now sit down together and talk calmly and agree on a path forward.

In the old days the clan leaders would send a gift of cycad bread to the other clan to request a meeting in a peaceful way. So, too, is the final Referendum Council report a sign of friendship and a call to make peace. The essays in this book also form part of that process – these words are a gift to us all. They inform us and guide us as we seek the real outcome of makarrata:
peace and harmony in our shared future.

5 responses to “The Uluru Statement from the Heart by Galarrwuy Yunupingu

  1. I am incredibly moved by this statement of Galarrwuy Yunupingu and its broad application to all kinds of disputes: not only between clans, as he describes its application, but also within contemporary families and certainly between contemporary political adversaries. His common sense and his clear impulse to inclusiveness incorporates a practical strategy to deal with adversaries and those whose ideas are different from one’s own. This truly gives hope to us all. And indeed it provides a lifebelt for those, like me, who sincerely are sorry about our national blindness to the fact that the formation of the Australian nation has been based on the disrespect and the outright land grab from the first Australian owners.

    I’m calling for Galarrwuy Yunupingu as the next Australian Governor-General– Republic or not. Indeed if the not, we can rely on his common sense and his inter-personal understandings and gifts to fix it all.

  2. I am moved deeply by the Traditional Indigenous Australians who have around 70,000 years of history here. Their practices for establishing a meeting and thence discuss the reconciliation process for all Australians is magnanimous and beautifully fitting! I look forward to all of us moving forward.

  3. You are absolutely right Judith. Galarrwuy makes the case in measured tones and it is overwhelming in its logic and conviction. But, even today, there are those who hark back to colonial attitudes toward anyone not of their colour or background, and they are in place in our parliaments. They will delay and obfuscate any meaningful decision in the hope that history will not be rewritten in accordance with the spirit of makarrata. The present continuing confusion over marriage equality demonstrates how difficult it is to move the immovable. An Aboriginal GG would be both a symbol and a challenge too severe for them to accept, despite its perfect persuasion as a signal to all First Australians that the spirit of makarrata was alive and well in the movement to change Australia for ever.

  4. We could all take a lesson from their way of settling disputes. I cannot see why we are not only listening to their grievances but acting to fix them.

  5. Since the indigenous people of Australia were included in the census by virtue of the constitutional change many years ago, what more is needed by way of real constitutional changes?
    I amazed how the expressions of “sorry” by now two prime ministers in effect as already achieved this. Land Rights would also appear to be a consequence of the latest constitutional change.
    I am confident that the political situation of a reliance on the votes from the cross benches will force a bi-partisan approach to ongoing legal difficulties. All this should be possible without further meddling with The Australian Constitution.

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