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Spirited women share the journey

When the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation announced that the first National Reconciliation Week would be held between May 27 and June 3, 1996, they decided to hold a women’s reconciliation celebration – a passionate “Spirit Event” that would touch and inspire women of all ages and ethnic backgrounds.

The Dixson Room in the State Library of NSW was booked for what was expected to be a group of 50 or so, but the word spread and about 300 women gathered for two hours of moving and inspiring storytelling and sharing. It was an experience of becoming a community determined to work for justice and reconciliation.

Since then the Women’s Reconciliation Network has continued, with its vision to “open our hearts to the experience of others, accept our traditional wisdoms, acknowledge the past, heal ourselves and teach others”. The network meets in the Redfern Community Centre on the fourth Thursday of every second month (the next meeting will be on July 28, from 10am to 12.30pm), and has held a Spirit Event most years.

The Spirit Event on June 2 was a wonderful 20th-anniversary celebration. About a hundred women ranging in age from two to 80-something years attended, including several who were at the 1996 event. Some spoke of their memories and experiences since then. We remembered those who are no longer with us as we watched part of the WRN video Around the Kitchen Table, made in 2005, in which Indigenous women told of their life experiences and their culture and spoke together with non-Indigenous women about the consequences of racism and injustice in our personal and national lives. We shared our responses to the video in small groups and then with the whole gathering.

Aunty Joan, an Aboriginal woman who is researching her history, told of a Welfare Board document that gave permission for her to be taken to visit her mother, an overworked domestic servant who died of “extreme exhaustion” in her 30s, “as long as it (that is, me) is kept out of the house”! Vivi, a woman of Greek heritage who grew up in Redfern, wept as she told us of trying to unite grieving mothers with their stolen children. There were some tears, and a lot of hope too.

Aunty Ali Golding, well known in Redfern from her years on The Block, started our day, dancing to Monica Brown’s One People One Land (watch it on YouTube). Another very moving experience. After lunch she led us in a smoking ceremony to cleanse and inspire us all to continue in hope and solidarity. Political leaders come and go, but real reconciliation is a slow, patient process that depends on the day-to-day commitment and actions of all of us.

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