RIDE FOR THE HEART – Reflections
by Ros Bradley
They say timing is everything. RIDE FOR THE HEART scored well here. One week before our departure, Labour leader and Prime Minister-elect Anthony Albanese used his election night victory speech on 21 May to ‘commit to the Uluru Statement from the Heart in full’. True political bravery!
A sense of optimism and fresh energy has prevailed since. This is really going to happen, I thought. During the PM’s first week of office, the Uluru Statement was much in the news (and still is) and I knew our ‘Ride’ was part of a movement of support, gathering momentum.
The Uluru Statement is a blueprint for the future of First Nations peoples, an invitation “to walk with us in a movement of the Australian people for a better future”. It was delivered in May 2017 after years of consultation with local communities, yet ruthlessly rejected – with no debate and little explanation – by PM Malcom Turnbull later that year.
This both enraged and puzzled me and got me going. It led me to become committed to the Statement and educating myself more about it … which I’m still doing!
Fast forward to April 2022 when I saw a flyer for RIDE FOR THE HEART. Phil Jamieson, with the backing of the Uluru Dialogue at UNSW, was organising a ‘Ride to Uluru’, via motorbike, promoting awareness of the Uluru Statement en route. A lawyer and motor bike enthusiast, Phil wanted to celebrate the 5th anniversary of the Statement and express his full commitment this way. Impressive!
Would cars be welcolme too I wondered? His simple answer YES and I was in. My kind friend Sylvine was equally committed, and I was delighted that she agreed to accompany me on this purposeful journey.
Our route was to Broken Hill – via Cammeraygal, Wiradjuri, Murdi Paaki, Paarkantji and Wilyakalilands (or Orange, Dubbo, Cobar and Menindee) – and back to Sydney.
Starting off – Saturday 28 May Smoking Ceremony
Excitement and apprehension were in the air as twenty of us gathered together on a crisp and sunny Saturday (28 May) in Kirribilli. Uncle Colin generously performed a smoking ceremony offering us protection and safety on our journey. Holding hands in an intimate circle, the smoke gently curled and ‘cleansed’ us and our transport (four bikes and a 4WD) connecting us together and giving us time to pause and reflect on our mission. Then we were off – Sylvine and I to Broken Hill, Phil on the long road to Uluru (and a few other starters).
Conversations and sharing the Statement
Armed with several hundred leaflets we found there was positive interest in the Uluru Statement. People of all ages were keen to read it and know more. I loved engaging people in conversations, listening to their diverse views.
Our A4 leaflets helped: the complete canvas of the Uluru Statement from the Heart with text, artwork and signatures (over 250) on one side, and the full text of the Statement on the reverse, plus links to various website and videos. Aesthetic and powerful, we hope people keep their leaflet and spread the word to produce a lasting ripple effect.
Although people’s responses to the Uluru Statement were encouraging, in reality, there were few people walking around the towns to converse with. Maybe too cold and wet? We became opportunistic: posting the leaflet on notice boards, speaking to people in caravan parks where we stayed or to coffee shop owners. People seemed genuinely interested and pleased to support it especially those who had connections, professionally and personally, to Aboriginal people.
Reading the leaflet led to some heartfelt and meaningful conversations ranging from fairness to outrage as well as ‘will the Voice really make a difference?’
We listened to Michael Newman, the young and dynamic Chief Operating Officer at the Orange Aboriginal Medical Service (OAMS). Giving up two hours of his precious family time on a Sunday, he proudly described (and showed us) some successful Indigenous-led solutions which assist the wider Orange community as well. They include community justice, health and well-being services for men, women and kids. Sadly, he also mentioned the on-line abuse facing young Aboriginal people in Orange today.
His views on the Uluru Statement: ‘inspirational and aspirational’.
Other encounters included Jane at Broken Hill who knew about the Statement but wanted clarification on some Constitution matters (thanks Phil).
There needs to be more practical solutions to help – a huge injection of funds to ensure long-term solutions.
Likewise, an artist living in Wilcannia, who currently attends one funeral a week, (often alcohol related), is worried about the young folk who, despite being bright and creative are not reaching their full potential and ‘don’t really know who they are’. A Voice won’t change things straight away but it’s a start.
Many wanted to know ‘what does the Voice mean?’
We tried to keep it simple: The Voice is a permanent body advising Parliament on policies and laws that affect First Nations peoples. If you want better policies which help Close the Gap, have them at the table. Makes sense.
Inspired by the weekly zoom with Tracy (from Women’s Reconciliation Network) on the Uluru Statement, we recited the Statement most evenings and occasionally at breakfast. Discerning this richly layered document, we were struck by
– how the Statement is grounded in country and tradition – “this sovereignty is a spiritual notion: the ancestral tie between the land, or ‘mother nature…It has never been ceded or extinguished, and co-exists with the sovereignty of the Crown”. Shared sovereignty really is the heart of the message in the Uluru Statement; we have to coexist in a peaceful way.
– the pain and anguish, the discrimination and dislocation and the need for structural change:
“Proportionally, we are the most incarcerated people on the planet, we are not an innately criminal people. Our children are aliened from their families at unprecedented rates. This cannot be because we have no love for them. And our youth languish in detention in obscene numbers. They should be our hope for the future.
These dimensions of our crisis tell plainly the structural nature of our problem.
This is “the torment of our powerlessness”.
– how “with substantive constitutional change and structural reform, we believe this ancient sovereignty can shine though as a fuller expression of Australia’s nationhood”. Here is an opportunity to heal and mature as a nation; a time to work together through some of the wounds and their implications. A sense of unity for all Australians.
– the spirit of generosity throughout the Statement – its invitation “to walk with us in a movement of the Australian people for a better future”.
– the Voice is a modest reform – setting up an enabling provision in the Constitution. If you want better laws and policies for First Nations peoples, have them at the decision- making table.
Economically it makes sense. If the laws and policies work then you’re going to save money in the long term. A fair and practical solution.
Proud of his Indian bike, Phil invited Sylvine and I to be pillion riders for a few hours. Fun, cold and liberating! We enjoyed Phil’s easy- going nature and knowledge and were sad to say ‘au revoir’ at Broken Hill – only halfway to Uluru.
We had time out in the beautiful freshwater Menindee Lakes recently transformed from a vast, dry expanse of cracked dirt into a freshwater oasis. Hauntingly beautiful, there is devastation from excess upstream irrigation with many dying red river gums. A mob of inquisitive emus made our day as we strolled around our base, Kinchega National Park.
The Sundown Nature Trail, 10 km from Broken Hill beckoned us. A stunning hilly walk full of winter wildflowers, grasses and ancient rocks that have populated this area for millennia. So good to stretch our legs after hours in the car.
Cobar Sound Chapel: despite the rigid entry rules, this immersive walk-in sound installation, set within a concrete cube, was surreal and innovative. Set in a 10m high disused water tank and designed by Glen Murcott, the Georges Lentz music echoed the stark surrounding environment. Highly recommended!
Overall, the trip was meaningful and worthwhile as we connected to this national cause. Grateful for the friendliness and support we received in regional NSW, we savoured the raw and unfiltered conversations. All of us felt part of ‘living history’, proud to play a small but significant part in the next phase of our nation’s history. Sylvine and Phil were great companions and sounding boards. Sincere thanks to them both for their friendship, wisdom and enthusiasm with a special mention to my wonderful co-driver.
I’m still grappling with some parts of this Statement and, in the run-up to the referendum, I hope it will trigger some deep discussions about Australia’s identity and our maturity as a nation. I believe the Uluru Statement is a nation building measure, and the timing is right for these conversations to take place. Or, as one commentator put it, (Scott Stephenson from ABC’s The Minefield), ‘the soul of the nation depends on it’.