Whadjuk Elders Richard Wilkes and Nan Doolan bring in the Welcome to Country to NAIDOC's 1200 guests

Whadjuk Elders Richard Wilkes and Nan Doolann Leisha Eatts bring in the Welcome to Country to NAIDOC’s 1200 guests

Ten Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders were honoured for their contributions during the National Aboriginal and Islander Day Observance Committee’s (NAIDOC) week at the 2013 awards and evening ball in Perth last Friday – 1200 people attended, filling the ballroom of the Perth Convention and Exhibition Centre.

NAIDOC is a celebration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and an opportunity for all to recognise the contributions of Aboriginal peoples in various fields. The National Indigenous Times (and The Stringer) was seated at the table with the two highly respected Noongar Whadjuk Elders who delivered the Traditional Welcomes and opening remarks to the 1200 guests. Senior Whadjuk Elders Richard Wilkes and Doolann Leisha Eatts said that this was the biggest NAIDOC event yet.

Ms Eatts paid tribute to all those who struggled for the right to have an Observance week, to have what is now NAIDOC

“I remember all those years ago when we marched through the streets calling for a NAIDOC and to remember our peoples and their struggles and to acknowledge the work of those in the present. I remember us marching through the streets of Perth and the onlookers would just stare, and some would hurl comments, ‘What do you think you’re trying to achieve?’”

“They tried to keep us down, but we kept on getting up, we kept on rising, and here we are tonight – look at us – all of us from far and wide.”

Galarruwuy Yunupingu was acknowledged with the 2013 Lifetime Achievement Award as he remains a strong voice for the Yolgnu peoples of the Arnhem Land.

The 2013 Person of the Year award went to Perth’s Noongar rights stalwart Darryl Kickett who has dedicated his life to community development, land rights, education, health and policy.

Far north Queensland’s 83 year old Rose Richards picked up Female Elder of the Year, Noongar John Hayden picked up Male of the Elder of the Year. Caring for Country went to the Kimberley’s Jimmy Edgar. Youth of the Year to Noongar Kate Malpass, Artist of the Year to NSW’s Tony Briggs, Scholar of the Year to Victoria’s Dr Mark David McMillan, Apprentice of the Year to the Arnhem’s Danny Bromot and Sportsperson of the Year to Queensland’s Jonathan Thurston.

The evening was hosted by Ernie Dingo and Perth’s Narelda Jacobs, and featured an impressive line-up of Aboriginal entertainers.

The celebratory week culminating in the awards and evening ball was themed by a remembrance of the Yirrkala Bark Petitions 1963 celebrating the 50th anniversary of the presentation of the Yirrkala Bark Petitions to the Federal Parliament. Many have applauded what the petitions catalysed, the rights struggle, but the justice is not yet done. The Yirrkala did not win their justice, not yet, though what they inspired in the human rights struggle has unfolded in the ongoing social justice that is prevailing, this cannot be denied.

The celebratory week praised the work of those who have meritoriously grabbed their opportunities in a new world that allows them to stand alongside the privileged and then to work alongside those from among them who continue to be downtrodden by this same new world because of historical disenfranchisement, apartheid and contemporary Government neglect.

Minister Jenny Macklin, who was booed at last year’s NAIDOC Ball in Hobart for her hard as nails role in Stronger Futures (the Northern Territory Intervention) presented the first of the awards. She was not booed on this occasion but was neither roundly applauded as were other presenters who followed.

The demographics of Aboriginal Australia are changing but the cultural longings still have their grip, of historical identities in the contemporary – the past should not be forgotten and should remain in the present and preserved into the future. There are 570,000, or 2.5 per cent of the Australian population, who are resident Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, 90 per cent are Aboriginal, 6 per cent are Torres Strait Islanders and the remaining 4 per cent are both Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

A significant statistic is that 5 per cent of Australia’s children identify as Aboriginal, double the total Aboriginal population percentage of 2.5. The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population is a relatively young population with a median age of 21 years compared with 37 years of age for the non-Aboriginal population. Nearly 40 per cent of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are aged under 15 years of age. My research and findings have culminated in a soon to be released book, ‘The Aboriginal Clock’, which in part gives rise to the looming defeat of the racisms that this nation was plagued with, many which still remain, and the rise of a new world that does not deny its Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander identity and concomitant rights in this blossoming multicultural nation.

But the job to get the justice done for Aboriginal peoples has its way to go – with Aboriginal peoples still living well shy of the median age non-Aboriginal peoples enjoy. Only 3 per cent of the Aboriginal population is past the age of 65 years – a third-world statistic in a first world nation.

Despite the rise of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander middle and upper classes, despite the rising working classes, there still remain more than 150,000 impoverished Aboriginal peoples, a majority of these people in third-world conditions in this first-world nation. It is for the new leaders, who are  now many, and who enjoy more voice than ever before, who do not have to compromise that voice any longer to get somewhere, to holler louder than ever on behalf of their peoples – who can challenge and keep Governments accountable and bring on some justice for those who our parliamentarians keep on neglecting because assimilation and draconian policies are all they are prepared to offer them.

These new leaders will be supported by the rise in Aboriginal specific news media, and multicultural news media. The rise of National Indigenous Television (NITV) free to air is now a reality, and a game changer, and then there is the National Indigenous Radio Service (NIRS), the National Indigenous Times (NIT), the Koori Mail, the Tracker, CAAMA radio, Noongar radio, Gadigal, 98.9FM and The Stringer, and so on.

There are still between 150,000 to 200,000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples whose ongoing wellbeing depends exclusively on leaders, old and new, because still they cannot depend on Governments.

Next year’s NAIDOC week will be held on the Gold Coast.