Let’s All Reconcile

by Dr. Robbie Lloyd

Dreams are a pretty touchy subject in today’s economically rationalist world, of “efficiency & effectiveness”, KPIs (Key Performance Indicators), and SMART Objectives (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic & Timebound). Even in some relationships and families dreams raise uncomfortable prickles on the back of some people’s necks.

Unless you’ve “done some work on yourself.” Work of self reflection, such as is recommended in psychoanalysis (Freudian work) or psychotherapy (Jungian work). Then dreams are “kosher,” OK to discuss at the dinner table.

But in religious circles dreams are mainstream. The Bible is full of instances where God speaks to people through dreams. So I’m taking that as a sign that it’s OK to tell you all about a dream of mine.

I was born in Katoomba on the Blue Mountains in 1952, with parents (and before them grandparents) running a small watchmaker jewellery business and also heavily involved in local government. In the early 60s, Blue Mountains Council decided to build the Catalina Raceway in North Katoomba Valley, adjacent to the Catalina Swimming Pool, to encourage people from all over Sydney and beyond to come to the area, watch the cars go round and spend their money. That was before Mount Panorama in Bathurst took over big time, and the rest is history.

Trouble was, there were Aboriginal people living in a Methodist Mission in the North Katoomba Valley. Probably Dharug, Gandangarra and Wiradjuri folks, all mixed in together as often happened on resettlement missions, all trying to recover from the shock of “living with whitefellas,” as well as with other tribal groups who were not their own people.

Jump forward 30 years or so and Australia has begun to realise its own troubled history of mistreatment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. In 1991 the Black Deaths in Custody Royal Commission explored in detail the horrendous stories of abuse of our First People, which sadly continue today across all areas of our society. Racism lives in our midst.

So, to the dream. I had journalist friends who worked on the Black Deaths in Custody Royal Commission, and we talked a lot about the whole sorry story, and how it stretched across our nation. It must have sunk into my dull soul, because around 1993 I had this dream.

The elders of the North Katoomba Valley kept coming into my dreams. They reappeared about half a dozen times, until I finally realised why. They were trying to tell me something. And it didn’t take long to realise that my family history of local government leadership had most likely been closely connected with the North Katoomba Catalina Raceway decision, which then led to their removal, yet again “off their country.” Time to make amends.

So began my own personal journey of reconciliation, as I explored Aboriginal community history and connections on the Blue Mountains, Lithgow, Bathurst and Orange, to try to become part of a healing partnership with those people who my tribe had been part of disenfranchising. That journey continues today, and I am now honoured to be part of the Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney’s own journey towards a Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP), which Archbishop Anthony Fisher has just endorsed.

What I have learnt during those 30 or so years since has been mainly about listening. What Barry Pearce, a Mutti Mutti elder from Rainbow on the Murray River told me, when we were working on the Reconciliation community program with the Sisters of Mercy in Orange in the 90s: “When are you whitefellas gonna understand, you’re not in control!” (ie. listen and hand over to the higher power of spirit, just like Miriam Rose teaches us in “Dadirri”).

Barry was working then at OCTEC (Orange Community Training & Education Company), housed in the former orphanage Croagh Patrick, run by the Sisters of Mercy, and housing many Aboriginal children. Some who had been “handed in” by their own mothers, who were desperate to have them safe and looked after. Because their own lives had been so seriously disturbed by what had happened since European arrival, and then being forcibly resettled onto missions in Orange and Bathurst. That cross-generational damage continues to this day.

All of this history is important because in a few days the Australian Reconciliation Convention will occur from 15-17 November 2021. It will mark 30 years since the Black Deaths in Custody Royal Commission of 1991, and 20 years since the famous “Harbour Bridge Walk,” when Reconciliation Australia began its work of encouraging all Australians to reconcile with our past and its ongoing impact on life today.

Check out the packed three day program at: https://2021arc.com.au/day-1/

All Australians have a need to reconcile with the Spirit of this Place, and our history of disenfranchising the First People of this land, who have never ceded sovereignty over it. Although if we’d have asked nicely and been respectful things could have worked out very differently, knowing how generous my Aboriginal friends always are. What are your dreams asking you to reflect on? And what has your own family history got to tell you about your forebears?

I will end with three paragraphs from the Reconciliation Convention Program from the Day One sessions, which reflect ways of thinking that all of us need to come towards, if our country is really going to heal from its penal colony past and ongoing denial of what has happened and continues to happen to our First Peoples:

“Reconciliation is more than raising awareness and knowledge. As a nation, and importantly, as individuals, we need to move from ‘safe’ to ‘brave’ action to expedite change and ultimately achieve reconciliation and justice.

“Reconciliation is an ongoing journey, a work in progress, but the progress is impressive. Let’s never lose sight of those who paved the way, of our achievements to date, and how we can build on those foundations.  

“Australians like to be appalled by racism, but we often can’t hear the hard truths about why it is so persistent. Why is racism so hard to shift? What are the keys to a racism-free future?”