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Brooke Prentis. Photo: Supplied
Brooke Prentis. Photo: Supplied

The Referendum and today’s reality

On 27 May 1967, Australia approved two amendments to the Constitution relating to the ability of the Federal Parliament to legislate specifically for Indigenous Australians and for their inclusion in determinations of population. To mark the 50th anniversary of the Referendum, Brooke Prentis reflects on the historic occasion and what it means for First Peoples today.

The 50th anniversary of the 1967 Referendum will mean many things to many Australians and have specific meaning for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. There will be celebrations and honouring of leaders—faithful and tireless justice warriors for equality. There will also be disappointment. 

Faith Bandler reflected on a conversation with her friend and fellow activist, Ken Brindle, “Ken would say, ‘Referendum. Look, don’t give me that. We are here and you can see us and we have nothing. Nothing.’ ”

In 2017 when we look around our communities like Inala, Logan and Ipswich, Ken Brindle’s words haunt our 2017 reality.

Our reality is that we will pause, reflect and celebrate the great success of the 1967 Referendum. We will also celebrate the leadership role Christians played. But as Christians we have a greater responsibility. When we look at Australia today there is still a fight for Aboriginal peoples, for our brothers and sisters—a fight for equality, for justice, for love.

Where is the church and where are the Christians in visiting us in our reality of a gap that isn’t closing?

We need you. We can’t do Reconciliation on our own.

The 1967 Referendum was a wake up moment for Australia. But we went back to sleep. We also went back to sleep after the 1991 Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, after the 1997 “Bringing Them Home Report”, and after the 2008 apology. Then again after the 2016 video of a boy in a restraining chair, wearing a spit-hood, in an onshore detention centre.

We remain in a deep slumber where we dream of closing the gap, where we dream of an end to racism, and where we dream of an end to Aboriginal deaths in custody.

Wake up Australia. Wake up Uniting Church. Wake up followers of Jesus.

As the Uniting Church we have the building blocks to turn our dreams into reality. My call to you on this 50th anniversary is to re-familiarise yourself with the Uniting Church’s Revised Preamble to the constitution. See if you can hear the call to stay awake and also be moved into action. Get to know your local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community.

Let us work to close the gap, let us act against injustice, and let us write a new story in the form of a Treaty. Let the last 50 years be the end of our deep slumber.

May we all not just follow, but let us lead, as we act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with our Great Creator Spirit in the land now called Australia.

Brooke Prentis
Brooke Prentis is an Aboriginal Christian Leader who is a descendant of the Waka Waka peoples and is the Aboriginal spokesperson for Common Grace and coordinator of the Grasstree Gathering.

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