NAIDOC Week spotlight on oldest cultures

Andi Yu
·3-min read

Australia's identity as an ancient land occupied by the oldest cultures on earth is the focus of this year's NAIDOC Week.

"Always was, always will be" is the theme for the annual celebration of First Nations peoples' history, culture and achievements, highlighting that Indigenous Australians have walked the continent for more than 65,000 years.

Usually held in July but delayed this year because of the coronavirus pandemic, dozens of events - many of them virtual - will be held across the country between November 8 and 15.

Gunditjmara man and educator Mark Rose told AAP the 2020 theme is a reminder that "every step we take on this country, we're on Aboriginal land".

"Non-Indigenous people in celebrating NAIDOC Week have a right to learn about that heritage and be part of it," Dr Rose said.

As pro-vice chancellor of Indigenous Strategy and Innovation at Deakin University and vice president of the Victorian Aboriginal Education Association, he often addresses the lack of knowledge non-Indigenous Australians have of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander history and culture.

"I always giggle to myself when I do a keynote and I put up the word 'dispossession' and I can see the collective eye-rolling of people saying, 'he's going to bang on about Aboriginal dispossession'," Dr Rose said.

"But when I say I want to talk about white or non-Indigenous dispossession the mood of the room changes.

"If you live and work and raise a family on this land you've got a right to know what's gone on.

"If you haven't received that in your compulsory years or your tertiary years, you've been robbed."

He then likes to joke that those who attended private schools paid extra for their ignorance and those who attended government schools got it for nothing.

NAIDOC stands for National Aborigines and Islanders Day Observance Committee and its origins trace back to Aboriginal groups that formed in the 1920s to raise awareness of the status and treatment of their people.

Indigenous Australians Minister Ken Wyatt said the limitations of lockdowns this year would not diminish NAIDOC Week's significance.

"Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people were Australia's first explorers, first navigators, first engineers, first farmers, first botanists, first scientists, first diplomats, first astronomers and first artists," he said in a statement.

"This year's NAIDOC Week is an invitation for all Australians to reflect and understand our nation's shared history."

In Western Australia's Kimberley region, the "always was, always will be" theme is at the heart of Nyikina woman Anne Poelina's work.

As chair of the Martuwarra Fitzroy River Council she is advocating for the water system in her region, which traditional owners fear is under threat from agricultural development and mining.

She wants a statutory catchment framework established for the management of the Fitzroy River involving all stakeholders.

"How do we work together ... so we're not always in a conflict paradigm, but we can sit around the table and determine what is best for us as a collective?" she told AAP.

"Not touting Aboriginal people against non-Aboriginal people."

Dr Poelina, who is an adjunct professor at Notre Dame University and research fellow at the Australian National University's Water Justice Hub, is giving a keynote speech for the CSIRO on Wednesday.

Information on NAIDOC Week events can be found at naidoc.org.au.