The Illawarra’s broad and diverse Aboriginal community plays an important role in our region. Our histories are intertwined. How we approach our future together shapes our region and influences how others view us. There is work to be done.
The designation of Sandon Point as an Aboriginal place provides some recognition of its importance. How Wollongong City Council and the broader community approach the development of a co-management agreement for the area has significant potential. It will influence our approach to reconciliation for some time to come. We have already shown significant national leadership in supporting the Sandon Point Aboriginal Tent Embassy (SPATE) and others who have worked tirelessly to protect the area. Many of us have listened and followed their leadership. The foundations are there.
We can look to Canada for inspiration. The City of Vancouver has formally acknowledged that the city is on unceded Aboriginal territory of the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh First Nations. They are now developing protocols for cooperation. Wollongong City Council can implement a substantive policy program, supported by a formal statement of similar recognition. In formally acknowledging country, we will take a big step forward, together.
Where the potential lies is with opening a conversation built on respect and recognition. In short, our city and region is presented with an opportunity. SPATE and others have worked tirelessly to protect and preserve the area. They have a vision for its future. Through supporting their process, we also acknowledge that we value their culture and heritage.
Developing protocols to support them in deciding what facilities are most appropriate is key. This includes their form, design and location. Implicit in such an approach is respect for culture. It is a practical recognition of their history, connections to the land and struggles to protect it. Most of all, it is acknowledgement of country.
In actively listening to the Aboriginal community we are enriched. In taking practical steps towards reconciliation, our relationships are strengthened. As we continue to do so, we provide an example for others to follow.
Colin Salter is an Educational Designer at the University of Wollongong.