Scott Morrison
Scott Morrison

Prime Minister, it's time to acknowledge first nations

If the Prime Minister of our land was to really and truly link sacrifice and courage and take steps to honour those who have given their lives for this country as part of his new formula or version of an Acknowledgment of Country, then I for one say go for it!

I'm referring, of course, to the emerging practice of Prime Minister Morrison thanking ex-servicemen and women for their sacrifice and courage, at the same time as he acknowledges traditional owners, on formal occasions.

I've witnessed thousands of Acknowledgements of Country and Welcomes to Country in my time. Some have been truly awful - patronising, hurtful, disrespectful and ignorant. One of the standouts in this category was from a local educational leader: "Thank you for looking after the land for thousands of years. It's our turn now."

Or something along those lines.

I have also witnessed the humble, the insightful, the magnificent. Former NSW Governor, Dame Marie Bashir, falls into this latter category, linking so many formal occasions with the Wiradjuri, the keepers of the land on which she grew up.

From these observations over the years, I have gathered that the purpose of an Acknowledgement of Country is to honour and share the history and culture of the First Nations people on the particular place on which we gather. It is a way of linking the story of those gathered with the longest continuing human society on planet earth.

When done well, it acknowledges and owns the pain of the past while also committing to walking towards a better future together. It is not politically correct: it is a sign that we might just be maturing as a nation.

So Prime Minister, if you want to link Acknowledgement of Country with people who served and sacrificed for love of country and freedom, let's go there.

Let's acknowledge the Aboriginal soldiers who went to fight for the British Empire in the Boer War but were never permitted to return to their homeland because of the White Australia Policy.

Let's acknowledge our First Nations' servicemen who returned to Australia as second-class citizens. They were good enough to fight for this country but on occasion were refused entry to the local RSL.

They were deemed worthy of the slouch hat overseas, but couldn't draw a soldier settlement block when they got back to the home of their ancestors.

When you stop and think about it, these Aboriginal servicemen and women were doubly magnificent. Those who served gave their all in the defence of a freedom that could be enjoyed at home. Our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples gave their all defending a freedom that for the most part they could not yet enjoy.

But let's not stop there for a Prime Ministerial acknowledgment. Let's also acknowledge the incredible warriors who organised, strategized and led resistance campaigns across this vast country. They gave their lives defending their people and their place.

When you're next in Roma, try acknowledging Bussamarai, the great Mandandanji warrior of that place. When you drop into the Lockyer Valley, acknowledge the feats of the magnificent Multuggerah, a true freedom fighter for Southern Queensland. When you head to Western Australia, take time to acknowledge Jandamarra from the West Kimberley, or Yagan from the Perth region.

When you're next in Bathurst, NSW, take some time to recognise and honour Windradyne, leader and warrior of the Wiradjuri nation. When you are next at home around Botany Bay, Prime Minister, take some time to share the story and feats of resistance warrior Pemulwuy. I could go on.

Dear reader, some of you might see my take on this new form of Prime Ministerial acknowledgment as somehow divisive, or creating an "us and them". It is in fact the opposite. One day, in the not too distant future, we will have grown up enough as a nation to finally admit one of our foundational stories, the story of the frontier wars, into our Holy of Holies, the Australian War Memorial.

And on that day, the Scott Morrison Acknowledgement of Country might really make sense.

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