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Truth-telling the 'secret sauce' for reconciliation

Darren England/AAP PHOTOS

Truth must sit at the core of reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians, the head of a leading organisation says.

Reconciliation Australia chief executive Karen Mundine says historical acceptance, or truth-telling, is part of how progress is measured.

But it's also more than simply a gauge.

"Truth-telling is really about creating a bigger and fuller story of who we are as a nation and the role of First Nations people in that," Ms Mundine told AAP.

"(It) is absolutely central to identity, but also understanding where we find ourselves today, and how we move forward.

"We can't have reconciliation without truth telling, and we can't have reconciliation without healing, these things are all bound up together."

Reconciliation Australia, the body tasked with fostering stronger relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians, commissioned Deakin University to research community truth-telling.

The report released on Wednesday found community truth-telling initiatives help educate people about the significant contribution of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to Australia's economic and cultural achievements.

"Reconciliation is all about relationships," Ms Mundine said.

"So what we're trying to understand by looking at these case studies, the things that are happening and have happened organically, is what's the secret sauce?"

The report documents 25 community truth-telling projects, which illustrate diverse grassroots engagement with the truths of colonial history.

On April 17, 1816, at least 14 Aboriginal people were killed on Dharawal country at Appin, 60km southwest of Sydney, after their camp was attacked in the early hours by soldiers from the 46th Regiment of the British army, led by Captain James Wallis.

The soldiers fired on men, women and children and chased them to the nearby cliffs of the Cataract Gorge, where many jumped to their deaths.

Last year, the site of the massacre and events related to it, such as the hanging of the bodies of three victims, was formally recognised by the NSW Heritage Council with a State Heritage Register listing as the 'Appin Massacre Cultural Landscape'.

The recognition was the result of significant work by the Winga Myamly Reconciliation Group, chaired by Aunty Glenda Chalker.

Every year the group holds a commemoration at Cataract Gorge on the anniversary of the massacre.

For Winga Myamly Reconciliation Group member Peter Jones, participation in the group and helping to organise the memorial has been a significant learning journey.

"I was a person who lived out here for 50 years before I knew the name of the people whose land I was living on," he said.

"I think it's also a case that it's never too late for us to learn or to be involved."

Mr Jones said he was grateful to the Aboriginal elders in his community for sharing their stories.

"And I wish that I'd had that far earlier in my life and that those stories are heard by more people," he said.

"Because the richness and truth, the ugliness and the beauty of all that is something that we deserve and we should have in our lives.

"So wherever we can listen, we should listen."

Ms Mundine said truth-telling isn't just about Australia's violent colonial history.

"But also about the timeless history of First Nations' connections to and care for this continent and the vast contributions our people have made to Australia's economic development, culture, and defence," she said.

The report says truth-telling includes a wide range of activities beyond commemorations and memorial events, festivals and public art projects.

The repatriation of ancestors, return of land renaming of places and creation of healing sites are also part of this acceptance of history, Ms Mundine said.