Australian Dictionary of Biography

  • Tip: searches only the name field
  • Tip: Use double quotes to search for a phrase

Cultural Advice

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website contains names, images, and voices of deceased persons.

In addition, some articles contain terms or views that were acceptable within mainstream Australian culture in the period in which they were written, but may no longer be considered appropriate.

These articles do not necessarily reflect the views of The Australian National University.

Older articles are being reviewed with a view to bringing them into line with contemporary values but the original text will remain available for historical context.

The Quest for Indigenous Recognition

2017 - The Uluru Statement from the Heart
by Megan Davis
Uluru at Dawn (photo by Dean Sewell).

T he Uluṟu Statement from the Heart is an innovative proposal. It recalibrated the skewed reconciliation process in Australia and brought truth and justice back to the table after twenty years in the wilderness.

The Uluṟu Statement from the Heart and a constitutional Voice to Parliament is an unconventional yet compelling invitation to address one of the most acute challenges for Indigenous Australia: getting the government to listen. Persuading the nation of the exigency of change draws on Australians’ observation that the status quo for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples is not working.

The Uluṟu Statement is a beginning. It is about recognition, and it is about renewal. It is a hand of friendship extended to the Australian people, an invitation to come and meet with us. In issuing the statement to all Australians, the First Nations hope to bypass the ritual cynicism of Australian retail politics and ask Australians of all religions, cultures and political persuasions to read the Uluṟu Statement and hear, in our own words, the logic for change:

We seek constitutional reforms to empower our people and take a rightful place in our own country.

Uluru Statement.
We call for the establishment of a First Nations Voice enshrined in the Constitution.

We hoped Australians would listen. And they were listening. They are still listening. Thus, we have a commitment to a referendum, a clear roadmap of reform, a twelve-year recognition process debated by successive governments and parliaments, an alteration to the text and a ballot question. For this referendum to succeed will be a monumental achievement of this nation. But we are not there yet. To arrive at our destination, we need to explain to Australians why the Voice is needed. Indigenous policy issues are alien to most and the loudest voices on the subject are often the politicians who were most ineffective in this policy area.

Some say having a Voice to Parliament before a treaty is counterintuitive or goes against the grain of Aboriginal activism. Yet the sequence of the Uluru reform—Voice, Treaty and Truth—is consistent with Australia’s legal and political culture. It is an Australian solution to an Australian problem.

Parliament has the express power to make laws with respect to the Voice. This power recognises the Voice as sitting within the body politic and not outside of it. This flows from the Uluṟu Statement itself, which states that the ‘ancient sovereignty’ of First Nations as a ‘spiritual notion’ can with constitutional recognition ‘shine through as a fuller expression of Australia’s nationhood.’

The Uluṟu Statement is an invitation, a gift to the Australian people. When people say this is about changing Australian identity, it’s not. It’s about location; we are located here together, we are born here, we arrive here, we die here and we must coexist in a peaceful way. We’re about to face a serious existential crisis as a people, as humankind, as the climate changes and the planet warms up. The fundamental message that many elders planted in the Uluṟu Statement is that to face this battle together, the country needs peace, and the country cannot be at peace until we meet; the Uluṟu Statement is the beginning of that.

Reform is only ever about imagination. We Aboriginal people must suspend our belief that the system cannot change. We must suspend our belief that the nation cannot change. Despite all that has happened to our people, we must dream of a better day.

*This text has been adapted from Megan Davis, ‘Voice of Reason’, Quarterly Essay 90, Black Inc. 2023


left arrow 2008 - Kevin Rudd's Apology
Contributors right arrow