For many of us, 10 years may seem like an eternity. For our long-suffering Indigenous brothers and sisters, it is not. The national apology to Indigenous Australians came fully 220 years after European settlement, when these lands, which were their lands, were taken from them. And European settlement itself had come 60,000 years after our first peoples first came to this ancient continent, or the nation we now call Australia.
We, therefore, have lived through little more than the blinking of an eye. So when taken across this great arc of time, what is it that we sought to do in this place, in what was said here, a decade ago? Of course, the answer we are quick to give is reconciliation. Or at least with a national apology, one long step along the road to reconciliation whereby we could begin to look each other in the eye without recrimination and, instead, with respect and as equal members of our national family. No one can deny that this is good, particularly where we have been, as a nation, in the past, in the difficult history of race in this country.
Yet the uncomfortable truth is that this is only one part of the answer and, perhaps in the larger part, a whitefella’s answer, as if it was as much a need for Indigenous Australians who had done no wrong to us to be reconciled with white Australians, as it was our need as white Australians to be reconciled with our Indigenous brothers and sisters whom we had demonstrably wronged – remembering all along that the power in this relationship remained comfortably in the hands of those of us who are white. So, to go to the heart of the matter, the time has come for us to listen to the considered voice of our Indigenous peoples themselves, rather than our interpretation of what we think Indigenous Australia ought to be saying about their future, including the long national discourse with have had on constitutional recognition.