Elizabeth Ann Macgregor, Director of the Museum of Contemporary Art, reflected on the power of art to encourage dialogue between diverse people. She believes that engaging with art involves very special education – giving glimpses outside the familiar, and celebrating difference. This carries us beyond one-sided history with its dominant narratives. She sees a shared love of art encouraging us into multi-layered explorations, which can be transforming and expanding of our worldviews. Art can also often bring us a chance to see another culture outside its own context.
She celebrates the Indigenous pride in work which “belongs” to them, and believes that the sharing of this can give us a role model for a different future, breaking open new perceptions of who we are. She cannot imagine that we would not be enriched by art from a people who have lived on this land for more than 40,000 years.
Karla Grant, an Indigenous woman who is founder and presenter of SBS TV’s Living Black program, personally experienced racism from her early childhood, and in seeing frequent stereotypical portrayals of Indigenous people. She believes that the power of the media brings with it the responsibility to call governments to account, and that this challenge is needed in our day. She wonders when we will face that, in our wealthy country, there are many Indigenous people who live in third-world conditions – that the “Interventions”, supported by both sides of government, have largely been a failure. In telling the stories of Living Black she hopes that people will soon listen, see reality, and dialogue with those who could teach us different ways of living together.
Jeff McMullan, veteran Australian journalist and campaigner for Indigenous rights, suggested that Australian society is still largely in denial in relation to the existence of Indigenous people. We are still in retreat from acknowledging the rights of the first owners of the land and incapable of listening to those who could really advise us. He sees our Constitution as being “stained with racism” and that our present government is still enforcing discrimination. He suggested that we “need to feel the pain”, not just be in solidarity, or living from delusions around assimilation. He hopes that, one day, we will genuinely focus on our common humanity and discover the wisdom which looks at reality and finds a truly just way through to a new day.
Jack Manning Bancroft, CEO of Australian Indigenous Mentoring Experience (AIME), shared the hope which lies within the activities of AIME’s activities for change. The concept of young Indigenous people, 1,000 at this stage, being mentored as they approach tertiary education, is proving truly effective. Of course, this not only helps Indigenous students personally, but equips them to participate in university life in ways which make them successful, proud and strong, and able to engage with non-Indigenous students and staff.
Those present at this forum, indicated by their responses and questions that they agreed with the concern, challenges and aspirations of the speakers. Peace is not simply an absence of war or violence. It is about the evolving of genuine community, based on justice, respect and celebration of the diverse gifts among us.