Good morning Ms Euler, Dr Campbell, Mrs Caton, parents, staff and students,
I wish to acknowledge the Turrbal, Yuggera and Kubi Kubi Peoples, who are the traditional custodians of the lands on which our School’s three campuses sit. I pay my respect to their Elders past, present and emerging, and all those who walked these lands before us, sharing their knowledge and caring for Country. I recognise their heritage and uphold their relationships to each other, and to the land and water, and I extend my respect to all First Nations peoples in our community.
My first day in Brisbane, which was a few weeks ago, I was walking along the riverbank—watching the sunset reflected in the water, admiring the lights in the fig trees, and congratulating myself on having made an excellent life choice in moving to Brisbane—when I came across the Mangrove Walk. If you haven’t been, I recommend it. It tells some of the story of Brisbane’s First Peoples and how they nurtured, and were nurtured by, the river. It got me thinking about the fact that as someone who has lived most of her life in Sydney, I knew virtually nothing about the history of Brisbane, and how much of the story of this nation I had still to learn. It made me realise how narrow—and dull—the story of Australia that I learned in primary school is.
And that narrow focus is also part of what is supposed to be our national celebration on the 26th of January. Because that date is about a small group of British soldiers, and British, Irish, African, American and French convicts, making their second attempt at finding somewhere to live in, what is now, Sydney. Yet, Australia is about the 65 000 years that went before, and John Oxley, and the suffragettes, and the union movement and social security, wi-fi, the cochlear implant, Professor Dorothy Hill, and the oldest art, music and literature in the world, and Australia Day should be too. I think Australia Day should be a time that we all learn more about, and reflect upon, the whole history of our nation—women and men speaking hundreds of languages, from hundreds of cultures and every religion, working and dreaming together.
So, I spent the 26th of January learning a bit about the European history of Brisbane—although I didn’t get much further than the heated debate about whether the landing was at North Quay or Milton—and reflecting on the conversations I have had with my First Nations friends about how they feel about this date. And late in the day, I discovered that a woman I am privileged to have known, had died. Her name was Rosalie Kunoth-Monks, and she was at various times in her 85 years an actress, a nun, a foster carer, a politician, an activist, and an important Elder in her community in Utopia, Northern Territory. I have spent many hours in Rosalie’s front yard, sitting under the trees while she explained song lines, and kinship, and the ways her people—Arrente and Anmatyerre peoples of the Central Desert—interact and view the world. Rosalie gave me my Anmatyerre skin name, and she called me Ngarla, which in her culture made me her daughter. So, I listened to her as my mother, and heard her anger about the dispossession of the lands to which she belonged, and the colonisation of her mind, and the need to liberate her people from the welfare system, and I felt her grief and longing. And when I learned of her death, I was sure that Rosalie—the fiercest woman I have ever met—chose the day that represented that grief and loss and anger, to die.
So, in memory of Rosalie, I ask you all to take some time to learn something new about Australia, from someone whose voice you don’t normally hear. You don’t have to travel to the desert and sit in the red dirt. You can Google. Start with Rosalie Kunoth-Monks, if you like. Let’s ensure Australia Day is about the diversity, ingenuity and resourcefulness of the women and men of Australia. Let’s make it about listening to other perspectives and allowing them to touch our hearts and minds.
Ms Sophie Mynott
Deputy Principal (Co-curriculum)