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Reconciliation takes action

27 May 2021

Ways all Australians can play an active role in the process

The theme for National Reconciliation Week (NRW) this year is ‘More than a word. Reconciliation takes action’. Shirli Congoo, Salvos General Manager of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander team, shares some ways all Australians can all take action and make an impact in the ongoing process of reconciliation and understanding.


The date for National Reconciliation Week remains the same each year – 27 May to 3 June – because it celebrates two very important events in modern Australian history.

The first date, 27 May, marks the anniversary of the 1967 Referendum, in which more than 90 per cent of Australians voted to allow the Commonwealth to make laws for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and include them in the census. This was the period when many Australians first began to understand that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples lived under assimilationist policies that were completely failing them and denying them their civil rights.

Then, 25 years later, on 3 June 1992, the High Court of Australia acknowledged that, in the face of historical facts and modern attitudes to human rights, the common law of Australia could no longer refuse to recognise the native title of the Aboriginal peoples and Torres Strait Islanders of Australia.  

These two dates are not only significant for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, but to our nation as a whole. They form part of our shared history. Both dates bring light to our individual and collective knowledge and greater understanding of past Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander civil rights breaches and the discrimination that has been faced. They also help us to question what still needs to be done to right the terrible wrongs faced by, and forced on, First Nations peoples.


My hope is for the truth of Australia’s shared history, and the ongoing impact on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, to be heard and acknowledged so that our nation can continue to move forward into a place of healing, peace and unity.

Reading is one way to hear the voices of wisdom, knowledge, humour, spirituality and hope, and to begin to try to understand and help solve issues such as poverty and injustice, incarceration, child removal, poor health outcomes, low educational outcomes, homelessness and more. As we read, we hear other voices and other viewpoints and our understanding grows.

Far beyond the topics that readily spring to mind are many complex and wonderful stories, histories, commentaries and fiction written by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander authors.

I am currently reading Aboriginal Spirituality, edited by Anne Pattel-Gray, written after the first National Aboriginal Conference in 1990. The sub-theme is ‘Aboriginal Spirituality: past, present, future’. The book has multiple authors and is based on a collection of essays in which Aboriginal people explore their spirituality, particularly in relation to Christianity.

What captures my attention and heart is that these leaders were fearless, at a time when their voices weren’t elevated or valued, yet they insisted on the integrity and independence of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander expressions of spirituality.


As we begin to understand more as individuals and as a nation, we must continue to move from being safe to being brave. We need to get out of our comfort zones to listen, learn and then act on our understanding.

Connection is an extremely important way to create better pathways of understanding, mutual trust and respect. It shows we value the importance of building positive and healthy relationships and communities that value Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, histories, cultures and futures.

One effective way to put understanding into action is to host or attend an NRW event or activity. Through this connection we can learn even more, and also move our understanding from simply being head knowledge, to heart knowledge.

The point at which our understanding becomes action is where we put ‘boots’ on our commitment to reconciliation. It is also a way to say to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander individuals and communities that “we see you and we hear you and we are invested in walking with you”.


We can all be influencers for peace, truth, justice and reconciliation within our families, social circle, workplace and on social media.

This is a good week to be intentional about having discussions around the theme of NRW in our areas of influence. There are many activities, television shows, books, music, events, articles, podcasts and videos to talk about and share that can act a starting point.

Also, sharing first-hand stories of our experiences and understanding can be very powerful. The possibilities are endless. 

And, something essential to remember is that in sharing, our words and actions can have a much greater impact for good, or for bad, than we perhaps always understand. It is worth considering whether we would we be proud or ashamed if all the words we spoke or actions we took were there for all to see.

The choices to learn, understand and then share in a positive way are ours alone to make, so let’s all choose to make a positive difference.


The Reconciliation Australia website reminds us that NRW started as the Week of Prayer for Reconciliation in 1993, the International Year of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, and was supported by Australia’s major faith communities.

“In 1996, the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation launched Australia’s first NRW. In 2000, Reconciliation Australia was established to continue to provide national leadership on reconciliation. In the same year, approximately 300,000 people walked across Sydney Harbour Bridge as part of NRW, to show their support for reconciliation.”

So, NRW began in prayer and I firmly believe that prayer is essential to peace, understanding and healing.

This year’s NRW theme highlights the fact that reconciliation requires action, not just words, and aligns with the Bible. In 1 John chapter 3, verse 18, it is written, “Let us not love with words or speech, but with actions in truth”.

For all the Jesus followers, we must ask ourselves the question, “Can we even be truly reconciled while many of our First Nations brothers and sisters continue to live in poverty, injustice and disadvantage?” Our prayer should be based on the biblical principles of being a voice (Proverbs chapter 31, verses 8-9), sharing resources (Matthew chapter 25, verses 35-40) and showing love (Proverbs chapter 14, verse 31).

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