I know this is a bold claim. Actually, I have no proof of an historian’s love. However, in my work I make people curious about history. I create a curiosity about cultural history. I develop a desire to know personal family history. This is why I make that claim that historians love me. I am no real student of history, but I am what I call a ‘champion of history’. I understand it’s value and base my work on joint investigation and appreciation of history.
This week I worked with a number of organisations. In all of the work I used a methodology I am calling, “Retrospective Momentum”. That is, looking back at history to gain momentum for us to move forward. I know this is not a new idea. There may even be someone out there who is already using the phrase – sorry in advance.
The clever part is using Retrospective Momentum to assist groups to gain a better understanding of Indigenous cultures and simultaneously a better understanding of their own. Through history we realise that we all have ancestors and cultural memory. We can also appreciate that our parents and grandparents were trying to pass on culture and identity to us in the best ways they knew how. When we explore history together we can appreciate that some of us were delivered clear instructions on cultural practice and identity, while others received hit-and-miss directions. History helps us to realise that we all have inherited cultural practices, but not always the key reasons and tools for explanations. For example, in Australia, we have forgotten many of the ancient reasons for traditions that we have imported from Europe. We have simply copied their practices here. Retrospective Momentum helps us to realise the origins for practices, beliefs and traditions. It also helps us to navigate modern expressions of those ancient origins.
Retrospective Momentum doesn’t always have to reach back into ancient memory to assist us moving forward. It can be used to reach back years or decades to gain understanding and perspective. During this week I have helped a group to look back 20 years to appreciate the amazing steps forward in dealing with racism in Australia. I helped another group recall their organisational memory and discover relationships to some political history highlights for Indigenous Australia. Finally, I helped a group ground themselves in a common story of 20 years of working in industry together and 5 years of collective planning. All of the work helped the groups to understand the past, appreciate the present and gain momentum for the future.
If we, as Australians, are to gain our own Retrospective Momentum in our relationships, then we need to explore, share and understand our histories. These are our character-forming stories. These stories help shape the who we are now. They should help us to gain momentum for being the people that we hope to be in the future.
Reconciliation Week is a powerful symbol for Retrospective Momentum. It was created to keep people engaged with history by setting the opening date of 27th May to connect to the 1967 Referendum and setting the closing date of 3rd June to connect to the High Court Mabo decision. Both of these historical events powerfully point to our collective work in relationship building in Australia. The 1967 Referendum gave birth to a consciousness of possibility in our relationships. We had the makings of a fabulous future when the country overwhelmingly voted in favour of Aboriginal people and their rights. The 1992 High Court decision on Mabo was a heart-stopping moment for the nation. We recognised that the founding claim of our ancestors was not lawful and proper. Nobody likes to think ill of ancestors. It was a heart-stopper because we were still so tender in our relationships that this news proved almost too much and it threatened to break us apart. Luckily we had solid believers who called for our better angels. The Mabo decision made it clear that the British claim to Australia was wrong. It did not say that our claim TO BE Australians was wrong.
Reconciliation Week gives us every reason to hope. We should hope for the best in our relationships. We should hope for the best outcomes in Closing the Gaps. We should hope for the best for recognition through Constitutional reform. Reconciliation Week reminds us of the profound changes that have been made possible in history. This is the Retrospective Momentum we need to hope for and work for the profound changes to come.