Closing the gap: it's time
Last month it was announced that finally, Sydneysiders will see the rich red, yellow and black of the Aboriginal flag flying proudly as a permanent companion to our national flag above the Harbour Bridge.
This would not be happening without the dedication and hard work of the many Indigenous groups around Australia. Every year, on 17 March, National Closing the Gap Day, our country is asked to acknowledge the enduring resilience and strength that has been shown by Indigenous Australians. It is a day to come together and reflect on our nation's history and though this is a solemn experience for many, there are some triumphs of culture, community and progress. Undoubtedly, the history of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders is marred by colonial violence. From Captain Cook’s observation of “terra nullius”, the 1835 declaration of “terra nullius” by Governor Bourke, the shame of the stolen generations to the present day systematic inequalities still embedded in our society, First Nations people have been fighting an uphill battle. Their sheer resolve should be celebrated by all Australians as we take steps to close the gap once and for all.
It’s been 5 years since the approach for closing the gap has shifted. Previously, acknowledgement of Indigenous values and culture wasn’t recognised at a political level Now, collaboration with Indigenous Australians is at the forefront of all issues—a motion that is arguably too little too late, but a move towards equality, nonetheless. The closing the gap movement works to ensure indigenous and non-indigenous communities have equal opportunity in societal areas like education and healthcare, with respect to historical events that have caused injustices within our society. There are a multitude of reasons why it is crucial for Indigenous Australians to have a voice in parliament if systemic discrimination against them is to end. The most obvious is that meaningful solutions can only be found if Indigenous perspectives are also considered.
The 2020 Closing the Gap Report is the most recent, and it reveals very disappointing statistics: out of the 7 targets, only early childhood education is on track for 2025. Other target areas such as school attendance and life expectancy require more focus if they are to be achieved. A glass-half-full mindset would be the hope that “the younger generations will have more opportunities compared to their older kin and ancestors”. Sadly, having only one target on track suggests that much more work needs to be done.
Systemic inequality can be a dense topic to unpack; yet, it is crucial if “closing the gap” is to be achieved. During the Black Lives Matter protests in America, author Kimberly Jones gave a passionate speech about why inequality is so palpable between races. Albeit in an American context, her central observation is something that can be transferred to the effects of colonialism globally and is a great way to begin unpacking our own issues. She poses the question; “if we were playing monopoly and for 400 rounds, I didn’t allow you to have any money… or anything on the board…and for 400 rounds you had to play on behalf of the person that you are playing against…how can you win!?”
Indigenous Australians have also suffered from 110 years of gruelling conditions, leaving a deep wound in the community. Today, drugs, alcohol and crime are commonplace among certain communities as the resources needed to recover from this period of brutality have not been provided.
One of our episodes in Series 2: Mental Health, is about Keenan Mundine, a proud First Nations man with connections to the Biripi Nation of NSW and as well as to Cherbourg in Queensland. Keenan, a co-founder of Deadly Connections, reflects on his childhood— riddled with turbulent living environments, drugs and crime. The episode not only provides insight into the lived reality of Indigenous Australians but also shows how this can be changed. Keenan now works alongside young people to help them overcome their challenges and lead constructive and happy lives—it is an eye-opening watch.
As National Closing the Gap Day approaches, it is important to immerse ourselves in the stories of the traditional owners of our land. National Closing the Gap Day is a day to celebrate the strength and tenacity of First Nations people, to celebrate culture and tradition, to acknowledge the past, but most importantly to listen for how we can assist in the journey to end racial inequality. See below for links and resources:
Closing the Gap website: https://www.closingthegap.gov.au/
Kimberly Jones's speech: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sb9_qGOa9Go&ab_channel=Dav
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