The fruits of 40,000 years of life, freedom and effort by Aboriginal Australians are what the University of New England community is celebrating during NAIDOC Week, according to the Vice-Chancellor, Professor Jim Barber.
Professor Barber was speaking at a ceremony to witness the now-traditional raising of the Aboriginal flag on ‘Booloominbah’, the historic mansion at the centre of the University, to mark the start of NAIDOC Week celebrations.
With the ceremony coinciding with US Independence Day, Professor Barber recalled Thomas Jefferson’s famous words speaking of the ‘unalienable’ rights of ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.’
He said that this passage, which has come to stand for the moral courage at the heart of US patriotism and sensibility, was often used to assert the right of marginalised people everywhere and that it was important to remember that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people had been living, free and in pursuit of happiness, for at least 39,750 years before Jefferson’s words were penned.
‘We look forward to a time when all obstacles to the liberty and happiness of Aboriginal Australians will be wiped away,’ Professor Barber added.
Further inspiration came from speeches by local community member, Gary Strong, and from UNE student speaker, Angelia Ralph, a Kamilaroi woman enrolled in the TRAX tertiary preparation program through UNE’s Oorala Aboriginal Centre.
Speaking on the theme of NAIDOC for this year, ‘Change: the next step is ours’, Ms Ralph said that she preached to her own children the importance of finishing school and setting goals to achieve their dreams.
‘Now I believe it’s time for mum to walk the talk!’ she said, adding that family is everything in Aboriginal communities. ‘That’s where our comfort zone is,’ she continued. ‘But outside of those communities it’s a whole new world. This world intimidates and scares Aboriginal people. But if we as Aboriginal people change our view on that whole new world – ‘WOW’! We as a community could make a difference in every area and aspect of an Indigenous person’s life as well as our own.’
‘Let this be a speech to hear for both Indigenous and non-Indigenous. Because I believe it should go hand in hand for the theme, ‘Change: the next step is ours.’ It’s up to us all to look at ourselves and say “I can make a difference.”
NAIDOC Week celebrations are held across Australia each July to celebrate the history, culture and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. It is celebrated not only in Indigenous communities, but by Australians from all walks of life. The term NAIDOC originally stood for ‘National Aborigines and Islanders Day Observance Committee’.
The photo shows UNE student, Angelia Ralph, speaking at the NAIDOC Week flag-raising ceremony.