Reconciliation Week 2024 - Reptile Encounters

Reconciliation Week 2024

By Catherine Mallia/23 May 2024

Now more than ever!

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Image by OpenClipart-Vectors at Pixabay


I went to school in the 80’s and 90’s. I remember briefly learning about the Stolen Generations and colonisation. I remember feeling empathy and sadness for the people that endured that period. I remember it was presented as historical figures, a past steeped in pain but very distant to me and my life, and the current world. 

I was an adult when I learned that the damage of colonisation was still in place. I was an adult when I discovered that people suffering those effects are still alive today. I was an adult when I learned about intergenerational trauma. 

I still don’t know enough. 

Reconciliation Week is a time to learn, not just for the week though. We need to keep working until all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples feel heard, understood, recognised, and equal. We all play a role. 

Aboriginal Flag Tent Embassy 1974


The dates of this week are significant. Beginning on 27th May each year, the date of the 1967 referendum where 90% of Australians voted to change sections in the Constitution that discriminate against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders.

These sections referred to:

                    • The power of the Commonwealth to legislate for the people of any race ‘other than the aboriginal people of any state’ (section 51 xxvi)’  and 
                    • ‘In reckoning the numbers of people of the Commonwealth, or of a State or other part of the Commonwealth, aboriginal natives shall not be counted’ (section 127).





With the collective voice of Australians, the Constitution was changed so that First Nations peoples could be included as ‘equal members of the national  community’.  

The week ends on 3rd June, the day of the 1992 Mabo High Court decision, the important day where we recognised formally that Australia was not ‘terra nullius’ prior to European settlement, that First Nations peoples inhabited the land for thousands of years, and have rights to this land. Soon after, the Native Titles Act 1993 was introduced. 


The treatment of First Nations peoples is not some historical atrocity that happened to unknown people in forever-ago land.
The deletion of their rich, ancient culture and language is something we should all be saddened by, and something we should all work to bring back and make right. 

And it’s a culture we can all learn from. 

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rock wallaby image by Nel Botha at Pixabay


Dreaming stories told through art, dance and narrative explain the creation of land and set a code of rules to live by to create harmony in society with a balance in nature. Aboriginal culture, law and life is connected to their country; the lands, seas and skies. All Australian animals are Aboriginal animals. All the animals have a different story, name and importance depending on where they are found. It has been this way for at least 60,000 years

The land is their history book and is to be cared for just as you would a relative. They did not ‘own’ the land but belonged to it. Quite the contrast to our modern way of living, clearing land, removing the trees, and building car parks, houses, roads, shops, because we own it and feel that entitles us to do what we like. We forget so easily that we are nature, and nature is us. It’s not us over here and nature over there on the median strip.


Aboriginal people experience the land as a richly symbolic and spiritual landscape rather than merely a physical environment.”

-Working with Indigenous

So from my early education to now, I’ve noticed a slight shift. While studying bushfire management at Deakin University we had Aboriginal guest lecturers speak on cultural burning as medicine for country and I’ve seen this re-emerging as a vital management strategy for our unique Australian landscape. We now acknowledge our First Nations peoples as traditional owners of the land we live and work on. We have Indigenous rounds in AFL, and we are less tolerant of racism in so many areas. 


Dreamtime war cry 25.05.19

Dreamtime war cry 25.05.19. DustyNail, CC BY-SA 4.0


But even now we still hear echoes of the same old rhetoric;

“We give them so much, why aren’t they helping themselves now?”

“That was so long ago, why can’t they just move on?”

“I wasn’t there, I didn’t do it, why should I apologise?”


All the statements that show a dangerous deafness and unreasonable expectation of a people who have, rightfully and not surprisingly, developed a severe lack of trust in Australian institutions, been denied the right to work in previous generations, living the effects of intergenerational poverty and trauma, and had their families taken away, along with their ability to develop life skills  that would have been passed down for more than 200 years. 


We don’t celebrate January 26th as Australia Day at Reptile Encounters. Not because we don’t love Australia and all the people and animals that call Australia home, but because we hear how painful this day is for so many of our First Nations people and feel saddened by the hundreds of years of disadvantage and trauma this day represents for them. 

We do get right behind Reconciliation Week! We do get behind causes that aim to even the playing field, and bring back a cherished and well-needed Aboriginal culture as the care-takers of our shared land, and work on a shared existence that sees these traumas acknowledged and repaired as much as they possibly can be. 


Now more than ever, let’s all stand with our First Nations peoples and make this the most cohesive country it’s ever been. 


What can we all do?

We can start with listening and learning. What are the real issues facing Indigenous peoples today? Really listen, with open hearts and minds, to what our First Nations peoples are saying and asking for. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking this was a long time ago and should be gotten over by now. Or the trap of thinking that if we acknowledge their pain it somehow makes us guilty and lessens our own belonging to our country. No-one is asking this of us. 


We can call out misinformation when we hear it. Continuing the same rhetoric is slowing down the process, and don’t we all want to move faster towards harmony? 


Get involved in local events. Meet your local Indigenous community! Myths perpetuate when we don’t know people, and we’re more likely to trust people we’ve socialised with, though only 17% of non-Indigenous people have socialised with Indigenous people! Just be mindful though, it’s not their job to convince us to reconcile, and some are tired of needing to explain themselves over and over, as anyone would be, so be sensitive and follow their lead. 


If you’re a workplace or school, consider developing a Reconciliation Action Plan! We’ve just started this process at Reptile Encounters. 


Reconciliation Australia has a great list of actions we can all start with…

So let’s just start!

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Image by curious_collectibles at Pixabay

The 2024 theme is perfect - Now more than ever! Let's do more to reconcile and support our First Nations people.
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