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Actions speak louder than words

The Rapids on Yarra/Birrarung River in Manningham.

Table of Contents

On the evening of 14 Oct, less than two hours after polling on Referendum Day had closed, Australians gave a clear answer to the request by Indigenous Australians to enshrine recognition through a Voice to Parliament in the Constitution — an advisory committee to provide advice on matters that affect them. The answer was an emphatic no.

For a referendum to succeed, a majority of voters in four out of six states must vote yes, as well as a majority of all voters across Australia. All states voted no, and Manningham voters were no different. The results for the federal seat of Menzies, which encompasses the entire municipality of Manningham, showed 44.26% of us voted yes and 55.74% voted no.

It is the first referendum held in the 21st century and in the era of internet and social media. On the positive side of things, people could easily get the information they needed to be informed on the proposed change. On the negative side, the new online public squares allowed the worst of human character to manifest anonymously. Long after people have move on from this vote, the harmful things said during this campaign about Indigenous leaders and peoples will remain online for future generations.

Michael Long, the football legend, walked from Melbourne to Canberra in 2004 to raise awareness of the plight of Indigenous people and met with then Prime Minister John Howard. He asked, “Where is the love for my people?” In 2023, in the lead-up to the Referendum, he did the walk again. This time, he got an answer from the majority of Australians: we don’t love them enough to grant them their wish to have a permanent say on things that affect them.

Once again, Indigenous peoples came off worst in their interaction with people who came later to this continent. We can add this chapter to the history of dispossession, which included mass killings, diseases, stolen children, etc. After this comprehensive act of rejecting their simple request, will the First Peoples of this country trust us again? We don’t know.  

We do know we live in Wurundjeri country, alongside the Yarra River. A river that is thousands of years old and an important life source for the Wurundjeri people. We know their songlines became our major roads like Manningham and Doncaster Rds.   

It’s up to all of us to repair the relationship now.  We can start by not just talking the talk about reconciliation but walking the walk.  Actions speaks louder than words.