What is a common vision for victory for all Australians?

Posted on 19 Mar 2024

By Richard Frankland

Richard Frankland art work

Indigenous Australian playwright, author and musician Richard Frankland has devoted his life to trying to advance the cause of First Nations peoples. In the wake of the Voice referendum defeat, he reflects on what comes next.

I’ve been on the frontline since 1987.

I worked at the Victorian Aboriginal legal Service, Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody (RCAIDIC), established Mirimbiak Nations Aboriginal Corporation, and worked at so many different places.

So many lives.

I worked at some vile places too, institutions, full of lateral violence. Some very good people in those places.

Later on, I was a key component in putting the treaty process together, putting it on the agenda at a state meeting.

I went to so many community meetings selling hope, the hope of recognition of our collective past, the hope of another foundation for a future forward, the hope of a common vision for victory for all of us.

A tomorrow Australia if you like.

I recall being on the lawns of Parliament House when the apology happened.

There were tears everywhere, a nation had glimmers of hope. 

A brother of mine and I cried together, and a woman gave me a flag that seemed to represent all of us. 

I walked down the street and people – in this case a family – were saying hello to me. There was no fear in their eyes, just warmth and love.

The hotel I was staying at greeted me warmly, with kindness in their eyes and it made me have tears in mine. 

I thought that the nation had changed and with that a large part of what we as a nation do battle with. Ingrained discrimination.

Aboriginal flag sunset
"There is still hope, I believe, in all of us."

Once we get through this dark period

We will be able to say

We are bound together

We will have reawakened old skills

Reimagined old values

Dusted off old memories and created new ones, golden ones

We will remember

The pain, the loss, the suffering, the fear

And be grateful how these things have bound us together

Tighter, stronger, with more appreciation of our individual and collective humanity

We will remember gentle smiles, hands that have reached out to others with friendship and love

A gift of food, of milk, of a smile or a gentle word

We will look forward to a new day dawning with great hope

These acts will inspire us and from this we will have opportunity to build something new and far more balanced than the system we have come from

Once we get through this dark period

We will be wiser, stronger, walk more gently on mother Earth

We will see the truth in each other

For some of us, some truths will terrify us

There will be other truths

We will unravel the cultural tapestry of a nation

And weave together a new tapestry

A new way

We will take the best of the old

We will rise up from the darkness

We will have a home for us all.

As the lead up to the Voice happened, I recalled when in the late '80s, I was a field officer at the RCAIDIC. It was a hard job. Sometimes my contract was for a month or two, sometimes a bit longer.

It was long hours on the road, talking to family members of the deceased, tracking down witnesses. Hour upon hour, alone, carrying stories of the dead, some of them extended family.

One night, I went to a dinner party and a woman knocked over a glass of red.

Playwright, author and musician Richard Frankland.

“So, tell me,” she said. “Why do your people kill themselves in jail?”

Three things struck me:

We, my people, were the undifferentiated other.

The assumption that all the deaths in jail were suicide.

The tone of her voice. 

In her tone I heard that our misery, this blight on our nation’s soul, was because of us and an inconvenience to her. It was a blame the victim tone.

It was at that time that I realised we were fighting something bigger than a racist member of government, than a racist organisation or individual. We were fighting a socially crafted attitude that is an endemic part of the colonial process.

I decided to become an artist, to get into people’s loungerooms to change the world, my world with art.

The Voice movement represented to me, among other things, hope.

There is still hope, I believe, in all of us.

Our job is to make hope more visible, by being kind to each other, by having good ears so we listen and hear each other, to have gentle tongues when we speak to each other, to have wise hands, so we treat each other kindly and are strong enough to cut the cable ties that bind our children, and to have quiet but strong spirits so we create a common vision for victory.

This is the foundation of hope, it is each and every one of us.

More information

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