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Changing the future of reconciliation

AIEF Scholarship Graduate Jackson Dowling is one of a growing number of students who have gone on to complete both Year 12 and a tertiary education on an AIEF Scholarship.

On 30 May 2018, Jackson gave the following speech to the national offices of the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) at their event marking National Reconciliation Week, following a Welcome to Country delivered by Gadigal Elder Uncle Allen Madden.

Just before I begin I’d like to acknowledge the Traditional Owners of the land on which we meet, the Gadigal people. I want to extend my respect to any other custodians of the Eora nation - from the Hawkesbury River in the north to the Georges River in the south and the Nepean River in west.

I want to pay my respects to their Elders both past and present, acknowledging them for their knowledge, practices and customs which have shaped and continue to shape the country we live in today.

I’ve been here in Sydney now for seven years, but I’m a visitor on this country. I was raised in north of mid north coast where the fresh water murmurs of the Doongang River meet the roaring mouth of the Tasman Sea. I am a salt water man from the white sand and the blue horizon of the Birip. Port Macquarie is my home.

My name is Jackson Dowling and I want to share a story.

A long time ago, the emu had wings and he could fly real fast… he used to show off a bit though. The curlew was jealous of that big emu being that fastest bird of all the skies. One day he came up to the big emu and said, “I betcha I could beat you running.” The big emu looked at the little curlew and laughed: “You can’t beat me runnin’ cause I can run just as fast as you can fly.” Curlew said: “We’ll just see about that, we’ll have a race you and me. What’a ya say to that Mr Emu?”

Well. That big flyin’ emu said “Yeah, alright.”

The curlew said, “Listen, one other little thing. Your wings bein’ so much bigger than my little wings, it wouldn't be fair if you was to start flyin’ ‘stead of runnin’.” Emu said, “No, it wouldn’t.” The curlew said, “How ‘bout we both just cut off our wings; then no one can fly.”

Well… that silly big emu said, “Yeah, alright. Come on, we’ll see who’s the smartest.” The curlew told the Emu to give him the knife first and he’d cut off his own wings. So the emu gave the knife to the curlew and the curlew went off in the bushes with it and pretended to be cuttin’ off his wings, all yarmbul-cryin’ real loud so the emu would hear and think the curlew was really hurtin’ himself cuttin’ off his wings… yarmbul-cryin’, it’s what you might call foxin’ a bit. Anyway, that curlew went on with his cryin’ yowlin’ and makin’ a noise… an’ he got a dish of clay- that was filled with blood, and he poured all the blood over his wings and rubbed in some dirt and then he come out again to the emu and gave him the knife and said, “Now it’s your turn.”

And that silly emu was tryin’ to be fair so he took the knife an’ cut off both his own wings straight away right in front of everybody. He turned to the curlew, ready to race, and the curlew said, “Yes, let’s go”, so they lined up and the race was off - GO!

Well, that big emu took off fast as hell he did, and when he thought he must be far enough in front he peeked back but he couldn’t see the curlew anywhere. He heard laughin’ and stopped right there. He just looked up at the curlew flyin’ over the top of him. He didn't know what to do. Poor old emu just put his head down and snuck off into the bushes for a long, long time.

Like the emu, my people were one of the biggest, fastest and most beautiful birds occupying the skies. However, the acts of mass genocide, intergenerational trauma and social breakdown as a consequence of colonial Australia have left my people as one of the most impoverished in the world. Literature unequivocally attests to this.

However, I’m not here to prove my point through statistical data or research papers, I’m here because I want to ask each one of you if together we can reconcile the tragedy of our country’s past.

As a group of people, ‘how are we supposed to do that?’ you’re probably thinking… We can start by acknowledging what has happened:

1. Our land was taken - under the premise of terra nullius, despite us being the oldest living culture in the world.

2. Our children were taken away from our communities, but that was in the past… However, the number of Indigenous children in out-of-home care has doubled in the decade since the 2008 Apology to the Stolen Generations, with approximately 17,000 Indigenous kids in out-of-home care in 2017.

3. And it wasn’t until 1967 that we were recognised as human beings in our own country.

After acknowledging what has happened we have a responsibility to educate ourselves, our families and friends.

Through education we can prevent the atrocities of the past from resurfacing in the future. By all means go and do some reading, however I’d encourage you to come down to one of our cultural events, come down and have a yarn; I guarantee you’ll learn more speaking to our mob than you ever will from a text book. Sounds funny but in some circles in the city it would be pretty easy to go through your life and never really get to know an Aboriginal person.

Education is what has helped me get to where I am today. I finished Year 12 at The Scots College in 2013 on an AIEF Scholarship. Last year, I graduated with a Bachelor of Nursing from The University of Sydney on an AIEF Tertiary Scholarship. I’m currently working as a graduate registered nurse at RPA Hospital in Sydney and one day hope to work for the Royal Flying Doctor Service. I’m grateful for everything I have learned on my journey so far and everything I have to look forward to.

Finally, to move forward with reconciliation we need to take some personal responsibility. While I know it wasn’t us as a collective group of people who were responsible for what has happened, we can prevent it from happening again.

Thank you, ASIC, for inviting me here to speak to you today. By raising a mirror to the circumstances of the past we can see our current position with critical eyes and combat the existing inequities. We have the potential to change the future of reconciliation by starting the conversation, here in this office and as we go home to our friends and families.

Nothing will change unless we make it change, so I plead with you to make this more than an awareness week. While the emu will never get its wings back it may one day come out from the bushes and proudly reveal its beauty as one of the biggest birds in world.

Thanks, Jackson Dowling.

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In my own life, education has been a key to unlock both opportunity and ambition. For young Indigenous Australians, the same key should be available and AIEF makes that possible.

Ann Sherry AO
AIEF Ambassador


The AIEF Scholarship Program and the AIEF Pathways Program are supported by the Australian Government in collaboration with individual, philanthropic and corporate supporters from the private sector.