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Opening up to First Nations peoples

Ann Maria Sabu  |  06 February 2019

The Uluru Statement was a landmark moment for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in Australia, expressing their dreams and desires for acceptance and reconciliation. How can we do our part in supporting those dreams? One of our young writers interviewed Aboriginal Catholic Ministry Victoria Co-ordinator Sherry Balcombe.

Reconciliation, says Aboriginal Catholic Ministry Victoria Co-ordinator Sherry Balcombe, is about making amends for the past in order to move forward with complete integration.


When it comes to reconciliation with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians, then, she says, ‘I think reconciliation is a big picture.’

‘For true reconciliation to occur, Australia needs to face up to what was done to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and consider us as one of their own in every manner’, says Sherry.

Reconciliation is about doing the hard but necessary work. Determination and effort at all levels of government and in all sections of the community is essential to make reconciliation a reality.

Sherry believes that for an absolute reconciliation to occur a treaty needs to be established with the First Nations of Australia. All other Commonwealth countries have already had a treaty with their first peoples.


The establishment of a treaty means recognising the sovereignty of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. This was a key part of the Uluru Statement, which was put forward after Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander representatives gathered for the 2017 National Constitutional Convention.

‘I think the Uluru Statement is monumental’, says Sherry. ‘The thought of us being a part of the parliament and the concept of truth telling excites me utmost. It is like the dream that we have worked on for ages finally being a reality. Yet I wonder how long do I have to wait for the reality to take its shape?’

A large part of the journey towards reconciliation is about recognition.


Sherry looks forward to a time in the future when high school textbooks share the stories and history of Aboriginal peoples, respecting their experiences, and accepting and analysing the mistakes that were made in Australia’s past.

‘We feel happy when people start recognising us, treating us like one of them and accepting the past of Australia be it good or bad’, says Sherry.

The Australian Reconciliation Barometer of 2014 indicates that 84 per cent Australians believe that the relationship between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and other Australians is important and that cultural diversity makes us stronger. This idea is a major underlying factor in the promotion of the Uluru Statement.

‘I strongly believe that the Uluru Statement will pave the way for a treaty and it itself is a major healing for our community’, says Sherry.


Pope John Paul II on his visit to Alice Springs on 29 November 1986 referred to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders as ‘people of ancient cultural heritage’ and affirmed them with the statement, ‘you are a part of Australia and Australia is a part of you’.

He added, ‘The Church herself in Australia will not be fully the Church that Jesus wants her to be until you have made your contribution to her life and until that contribution has been joyfully received by others.’

Sherry recalls the message of the Pope and it was indeed his strong message that ignited her courage to set forth to seek the rights and desirable future for the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders of Australia.


Her message to the wider community is that everyone should be on board with the treaty and the First Peoples of Australia.

‘There is an old saying, “don’t do anything for me without me”. It would be great if everyone worked together for the bright future of a multicultural Australia.

‘To be with us on the journey, open your ears and hear the songs that have been sung, open your eyes and see the stories that have been written.

‘We, the Aboriginal people, stand strong and we want to stand among all other people of Australia.’

Ann Maria is a student at Our Lady of Mercy College Heidelberg in Melbourne, and a member of our young writers’ community.



According to Reconciliation Australia, the five dimensions are:

Race relations: All Australians understand and value Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and non-Indigenous cultures, rights and experiences

Equality and equity: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples participate equally in a range of life opportunities and their unique rights and recognised and upheld

Unity: An Australian society that values and recognises Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and heritage as part of its shared identity

Institutional integrity: The active support of reconciliation by the nations political, business and community structures

Historical acceptance: All Australians understand and accept the wrongs of the pas and the impact of these wrongs. Australia makes amends for the wrongs of the past and ensures these wrongs are never repeated.


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