The origins of the artwork came from attempting to map the meeting spaces for different cultures.
With my limited artistic abilities, I set out to draw initially and then paint what was in my mind. Of course, there are influences on thinking from others and external environments. My thinking was shaped by the Reconciliation work and Indigenous leadership work. In particular, I was working with Desert Knowledge Australia on an Intercultural Leadership Program. My first drawing of this framework was on the plane trip from Alice Springs to Melbourne. The artwork developed into this basic painting before it was worked on to the form utilised currently in training.
First painting of the Intercultural Framework
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.
I gave a speech at the Citizen’s Parliament in 2009. In that speech I spoke about Australia’s unavoidable course towards a Republic. My reflections on recent events and since 2009 have changed my thinking about whether the Republic is imminent or part of Australia’s distant future.
We have seen the elevation of Prince William in recent years and along with the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II, it would seem that the Royal Family are back in our lives. I used to think this represented Australia’s stubborn fixation with the British imperial and colonial ideal. I used to think it was a signal that Australians were not prepared to sever their ties to their ‘motherland’. I used to think that the Royals were a reminder of what was taken away from us (Indigenous Australians). Now I think differently.
I see the Royal Family as a living cultural institution that links white Australia to its ancestral memory. The Royal Family, and their story of conquest and aristocracy, is a living cultural link to white (British and maybe other United Kingdom peoples) Australia’s ancient story. They represent the elevation of the British Empire that has caused the English language domination of the globe.
We, as Australians are part of the British Empire impact on the history of the world. We are part of the Commonwealth. We are under Her Crown.
When I think of the Royal Family as cultural memory for white Australia I am liberated. I understand the motivation to keep the Royal Family in our lives. I understand this because I know why keeping ancestors and their stories alive is important to culture and identity. I understand that if you have a living line of connection to an ancient story, then they are worth protecting and promoting.
So I find myself in a peculiar position. I am quite uncomfortable and a little vulnerable, but I think it is worth the risk for the spirit of finding common language, values and a common narrative. I am now an Indigenous Australian who is prepared to declare, “Long Live the Queen!” “Long Live the Royal Family!” I can hardly believe what I am writing. But I must declare my support to maintain the cultural link to the Royal Family. I must take a steps into new shared cultural territory. I need to so I can join in the journey of Australia’s future together.
I need to take the steps because that is what I am asking other Australians to do to embrace the Indigenous story into their narrative of Australia.
Maybe Prince William can lend me a hand…
Much of my work involves assisting groups to cultivate and master new language. Sometimes this requires the renewal of existing language and sometimes it requires coming up with new terms, words and ideas.
In the work of Indigenous or Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leadership development the use of language is very important. Who do we see as allies and who we see as enemies? Do we really believe that change is possible, or are we resigned to the inevitable demise of our peoples and cultures? These are some of the uses of language that can either orientate us to a hopeful and purposeful engagement on leadership or it can direct us to merely marking time.
When we try to engage across cultures and engage together we will encounter similar options for the use of language. However, we also have the added dynamic of a fear of offence. This can paralyse us. It can cause us to maintain our estranged positions and not learn new dimensions in our relationships and in ourselves.
But let’s face it. If our public leadership is descending into the kind of language that we are ashamed of, then we are left with a leadership vacuum in national language.
So we are presented with a challenge. How hopeful is our desire for our nation? How much are we prepared to cultivate new language? What new dimensions in relationships across cultures are we prepared to start exploring today?