Finding the Heart of the Nation: The journey of the Uluṟu Statement towards Voice, Treaty and Truth by Thomas Mayor, is one of the most powerful books I’ve ever read.
Here is a video of Thomas Mayor reading the Uluṟu Statement:
The Uluṟu Statement was issued on 26 May 2017 as an invitation from First Nations Peoples (Aborigine and Torres Strait Islanders) to all Australians. It was the culmination of a series of twelve Dialogues across Australia, from which over 250 delegates were selected to attend the meeting in May 2017 to finalise the Statement.
You can find out much more about it on the dedicated website, including educational materials and translations into a huge range of different languages.
Finding the Heart of the Nation introduces and explains the Uluṟu Statement, and shares the voices of 21 different First Nations people, including Thomas, and through them the stories of many more. It shows the extent to which colonisation and subsequent government policies have impacted on the people, the land and their culture over time, not just in the distant past, but right now. This includes policies which are still in place as I write this in 2022, and ones which have been brought in as recently as since 2000. This demonstrates why a First Nations Voice enshrined in the Australian Constitution is so necessary, and is a tiny part of the truth-telling which the Statement demands: showing what has really happened.
I bought the book during my recent trip to Australia because I wanted to learn more about First Nations culture and people. Growing up, I had heard Dreamtime stories told by both indigenous and non-indegenous storytellers, and I now know that Dreamtime is not the best term, but rather Dreamings. I had done an art project at school where we had to produce a piece of art in ‘an Aborigine style’ which I understood to be made of dots. Through my trip and this book, I understand that First Nations culture is so much richer and deeper than this. Of course it is: it goes back over 60,000 years.
Dancing, storytelling, and visual arts are the way that history, law, ethics and knowledge about the landscape are passed on. Every element has a meaning, which can only be understand if culture is allowed to be shared and passed on without interference. There are trustees of particular stories and dances (Songlines) who are responsible for maintaining them and passing them onto the next generation. This rich and peaceful culture cannot be lost because of the way that First Nations people have been treated and mistreated: too much of it already has been.
If you’ve read this far, you might think that the book is depressing, but it’s not. It’s a story of hope, resilience, and human ingenuity. It tells stories of tireless campaigners, pushing back against what has been done to them, with the aiming of making life better for the generations to come. Often this has been done in isolation, with small communities fighting locally to get better conditions. There have been national movements in the past, such as towards the referendum in 1967 which changed the Constitution to count First Nations people as part of the Australian population. However, the Constitution still allows race-based discrimination (in 2022!), which is why changes still need to be made.
I chose the hardback copy of the book, which is full of beautiful photographs and illustrations, showing the diversity of people and Country affected by the Statement. If you have a choice, I would recommend this copy, as it brings everything to life.
The book changed my perceptions of what it means to be First Nations in Australia. It gave me an insight into both the struggles and the triumphs that these communities have experienced, and the importance of joining together to fight for progress. It made me reconsider how I feel about trade unions, and made me understand better how they can work and why they are important.
I would urge anybody with an interest in Australia to read this book, and anybody in Australia to support the Uluṟu Statement and the referendum that I hope will come one day. I would urge everybody to find out more about First Nations culture, and to consider what non-indigenous cultures can learn from indigenous cultures all over the world.
Find out more
AIATSIS is the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies. Their website contains a wealth of information to explore, including about Country, songlines, stories, art and Aboriginal astronomy. One of their publications is the AIATSIS map of indigenous Australia, showing the diversity of languages, tribal and nation groups across the continent and in the Torres Strait Islands. I recommend visiting their site to see it.
Apart from the book I wrote about above, I bought two others in Australia, both of which were fascinating and which I would recommend:
Astronomy: Sky Country by Karlie Noon and Krystal de Napoli is part of the First Knowledges series which is currently being published by the Australian National Museum. It’s a short read that will introduce you to the depth of Aborigine and Torres Strait Islanders knowledge about the sky, and the connections between the sky and the land. I’d recommend it to anybody interested in science, particularly astronomy, or anybody who wants to find out more about how people have successfully lived in Australia for so many thousands of years.
Making Australian History by Anna Clark gives an overview of various events in Australian history, but not in the typical chronological manner. Instead, each chapter is based around a theme, such as Gender, Country, or Emotion. The chapter starts with a particular ‘text’, which may or may not be a written text, and explores that theme, its connections to Australian history, and to the recording of History (capital ‘H’) itself. It made me rethink my understanding of what History is and how it influences people. It also holds questions for the future of History, including how the Western idea of History can be reconciled with the First Nations way of passing on History, or even whether it should be. I’d recommend it to anybody interested in History on any level, whether or not you’re interested in Australian History specifically.
Finally, I would strongly urge you to visit Darwin if you ever get the opportunity. If you’re in Asia, you’re most of the way there already! The four pictures above are the smallest taste of the amazing street art all over the city. The Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory showcases indigenous art and tells First Nation stories (and has amazing food too!) Darwin is completely different to any other part of Australia that I visited during my trip, and I could have spent much more time there. Highly recommended!